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SEE ALSO Side By Side 4 Car Compare: Sienna, Pacifica, Odyssey, Sedona

The Best Yet Soccer-Mom Van
Review by Steve Purdy
The Auto Channel
Michigan Bureau

The largest and most efficient kid haulers, erroneously called minivans (there is nothing miniature about them), are down to a few really good ones. You’ll find my colleagues’ reviews here on TheAutoChannel of the Pacifica, freshly-redesigned minivan from Chrysler. It’s getting great reviews. Chrysler created the genre, by the way. You’ll also find reviews of the Honda Odyssey, also recently updated and the Kia Sedona that offers great content and is in the hunt. It’s fair to say all are huge inside and filled with thoughtfulness like cubbies, cup holders and entertainment systems. The newest ones will even get up and go when you ask them.

Our flavor of the week is a vibrant, dark-red (they call it Salsa Red) Toyota Sienna XLE 3.5 (top-of-the-line but one of 5 trim levels) with all-wheel drive. Even though the Sienna is about due for redesign it’s been regularly massaged to keep it current. It’s the only one in its class to offer all-wheel drive. The bottom line on the sticker shows a reasonable $40,175 and it comes mighty well equipped. New for 2017 are an upgraded 3.5-liter engine (more power and slightly better fuel economy) and a new 8-speed automatic transmission.

We could call the exterior styling of the Sienna conservative compared to other vehicles in the Toyota lineup, and conventional when compared to its challengers. We find it attractive enough with some special details. The front fascia has a classically Toyota look with projector beam headlights and fog lights integrated into small cheek vents. Body sculpting around the sides and rear of the van give it some personality and the stylish 18-inch alloy wheels make it look modestly meaty and ready to roll. Unless you saw the badging on the front or rear you’d likely not distinguish it from its competitors.

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The Sienna XLE interior is cavernous, comfortable and convenient with enough luxury touches to make us feel pampered. Faux wood and nice leather trim are complimented by other high-quality materials that fit together flawlessly. We have the 7-passenger configuration with captain’s chairs for the second row. The shifter emerges from the center dash leaving vast amounts of space on the flat floor in front of the center console. The second-row seats slide fore and aft for access to the third row, but little ones couldn’t do it by themselves because they don’t slide easily. Cargo capacity is surpassed only by small trucks and seating space only by a limo.

Only one powertrain comes in the Sienna, this 3.5-liter, naturally-aspirated, V6 making an impressive 296 horsepower and a good 263 pound-feet of torque. Under normal, gentle driving conditions it feels a bit tepid but put your foot in it charging down a freeway ramp, or getting out into heavy traffic and you may gasp with surprise, as did I. The 8-speed automatic holds lower gears longer than expected, and that contributed to a bit of buzzy feel, but only on heavy acceleration. The EPA says we can expect around 24 mpg on the highway, 18 in the city and 20 mpg combined using regular fuel. Our experience this week tends to support those numbers.

You can get a bottom-of-the-line Sienna L for a base price of $33,535. Our XLE starts at $38,520 and the Navigation Package that also includes a lot of extra entertainment content adds another $715. Then, the $940 destination charge gets us to that $40,175 figure referenced above. The Sienna’s pricing is very close to the competitors.

Driving dynamics are good but no one would ever accuse it of being sporty. It feels big but not cumbersome. Steering is slow, suspension soft and it leans on fast cornering. But, of course, those attributes are expected and perhaps even necessary in this kind of vehicle. So, let’s cut it some slack on the handling thing.

Sienna’s claim to fame is capacity, that is, interior volume and usefulness. Maximum cargo space is 150 cubic feet but to get that much you must remove the second-row seats, and that ain’t easy. Otherwise, seatbacks lean forward, third row seat backs fold and the whole rear seats fold right into the floor. With the third-row seats in position a deep, deep well presents itself for the swallowing up of detritus, or the careful packing of possessions, whichever fits your lifestyle.

All of Toyota’s safety systems – they are comprehensive – come standard.

Toyota’s new vehicle warranty covers the whole thing for 3 years or 36,000 miles and the powertrain and driveline components for 5 years or 60,000 miles.

Minivans, as a class, have lost ground to SUVs and crossovers for aesthetic reasons primarily, certainly not for functionality. My enlightened daughter with three lively little boys prefers her three-row Honda Pilot to anything that could be called a “soccer-mom” van, even though she is a soccer mom.

If you need this kind of space and don't need to project a sporty, or trucky image take a look at the Sienna and its small cadre of competitors.

© Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions, All Rights Reserved.

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