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2006 Toyota Sienna Review

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2006 Toyota Sienna

This Is No “Mini” Van

By Steve Purdy Detroit Bureau

In the beginning there were cargo vans. Built on light truck chassis they were big and mostly built to haul cargo. Some were dressed up to be luxurious people haulers with captain’s chairs, cup holders and shag carpet. A couple of cute little variations came from GM and Ford – the Corvan and Econoline. That was a long time ago.

Then Lee Ioccoca and his pals built the iconic Chrysler minivan, only about two-thirds the size of a cargo van, it was an iteration of the K-Car family of vehicles that saved the company. That small van on a car chassis was so well designed, functional and easy to drive that it created and defined an entirely new market segment in the auto industry when there were few segments to begin with.

As with any successful product the imitators and innovators were on it like flies on old meat. Soon GM had a whole bevy of vans that looked like Dust Busters. At the same time ford built the slovenly and rust-prone Aerostar. And on they came, getting better and bigger until minivans were so pervasive in the suburbs, where all the kids needed to be hauled and domestic cargo schlepped, that the minivan engendered disrespected as being too common and mundane. Bold, brash sport utilities began to take their place and put some excitement into kid hauling.

But the minivan survives because of amazing practicality, though none are as small as the originals. Our test car this week is the second generation ‘06 Toyota Sienna, one of the best of the genre, introduced in March of ’03 as an ’04 model. With typical Toyota quality the Sienna has all the practicality a soccer mom could want, with cubbies and cup holders everywhere, plenty of power, easy to drive and not bad looking. But no one could refer to its size as “mini.” Sienna is a large, front-wheel-drive, luxurious 7- or 8-passenger kid hauler, with lots of amenities and a reasonable price.

Outside the Sienna resembles the league-leading Honda Odyssey with a long snout, backswept headlight housings, and a smiling countenance. Stance is low. Nicely sculpted character lines lead to a rear view with a little character. No one could accuse Sienna of being bold, but its styling is not just white-bread either. With the 17-inch alloy wheels and 225/65R17 all-weather tires, Sienna looks strong and competent.

Luxury is the theme inside in our XLE. The top-of-the-line Limited will make you think you’re in a Lexus, with wood and leather coordinated beautifully, and our XLE is very nearly that well dressed. The center stack is set high on the dash and attractively styled. The seating position in relation to the driver’s surroundings is excellent. I feel comfortable and upright in the driver’s seat, sort of like a combination of a luxury sedan and a full-size sport-ute.

Power comes from a DOHC 3.3-litre V6 with variable valve timing (Toyota’s VVT-i) making 215 horsepower and 222 lb.ft. of torque, though it feels like more. The engine was formerly rated at 235 horsepower but the new SAE rating system dropped it to 215. I found the engine to be more than adequate even with lots of guests aboard. EPA fuel economy estimates on our all-wheel-drive test van are 17mpg city and 23 highway, though you can get a bit more with the basic front-wheel-drive version. With a 20-gallon tank you can expect about 400-mile range.

Power is managed through a smooth 5-speed automatic transmission. All wheel drive is available on all models as an option. ABS is standard on all models, of course, and Vehicle Stability Control and Traction Control are optional on all but the XLE Limited where those are standard. Three-point seat belts are provided at all seating positions.

Utility is also first-rate. The 60/40 split third seat folds flat. With the second row folded as well an amazing 149 cubic feet of cargo space opens up within which one can stow a standard 4X8 sheet of plywood, just like a good pickup. Even with all the seats in place, we still have 46.3 cubic feet of grocery or soccer gear space in the rear between the third seat and the tail gate where a deep well, for third seat storage, makes for easy loading. A special rear view mirror, like on the school bus, lets the driver keep track of the miscreants in the back seat. And, our test car even has the DVD Rear Entertainment System with two wireless headphones, part of the #10 package detailed below.

Bottom-of-the-line, Sienna CE starts at $23,775. Our test vehicle, the XLE AWD (All-Wheel-Drive), shows a base price of $32,630. With the #10 package at $3,850 (leather trim seats, front seat heaters, side door and quarter window sunshades, DVD rear entertainment system and two 115-volt outlets), $214 for floor mats and $49 for the cargo net, and $605 destination charge the bottom line is $37,348.

Warranty is 36-month/36,000-mile comprehensive, 5-year/50,000 drive train and 5-year body perforation corrosion guarantee.

If image is not so important to you, and practicality with a good measure of luxury is what you need, this van could be for you. Have a look, count the cup holders and cubbies and climb in and out of the back. See if you don’t think it beats the heck out of a $50,000 sport-ute.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions All Rights Reserved