Quick Drive: 2011 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD

By Winding Road Staff

August 27, 2010

When we get in nice, executive cars—you know, the ones with the long wheelbases and massaging rear seats—I like to think about what it would be like to actually spend a lot of time as a passenger rather than a driver. What car would I like to be chauffeured in, if you will? The Toyota Sienna finds itself somewhere near the top of that list.

Once the power sliding door opens to allow you easy ingress into the second row of the Sienna, reclining chairs await. In front of these is a super-wide, flip-down LCD screen. It even comes with RCA inputs, so one can hook up a gaming console, and perhaps get in a virtual lap on the Nürburgring while Seyth pilots the Sienna to the Indian buffet.

Winding Road, Junior: For (spoiled) passengers.

But, really, the Sienna isn’t even terrible to drive. Compared to other people haulers I’ve steered, the Sienna has pretty good road manners. It’s quick enough, and it doesn’t feel like it’s going to spill on every corner. Limits are actually quite high for a minivan. Yes, it’s isolated and numb, but it’s not too vague, it’s comfortable, and it looks less frumpy and generally terrible than the competition. I think the Sienna deserves some aftermarket attention, just not from me.

—John Beltz Snyder, Production Editor

The Swagger Wagon surprised with the level of luxury it presented. Navigation, a JBL stereo, and a seriously cool wide-screen monitor that pops out of the roof for the backseats are just a few of the goodies that will entertain families en route to Disney World. That same wide-screen monitor allows you to split the screen, so there will be no backseat wars over the TV. You get the sense that everything on the Sienna is designed to make the burden of travelling easier on a family.

The Sienna features a smooth 3.5-liter V-6 mated to an equally smooth six-speed automatic. While the numb steering and squishy suspension would be a major issue on a lot of other cars, it’s not such an issue on the Sienna. The ride is shockingly comfortable and quiet, which makes the lack of driving dynamics tolerable.

Ultimately, all of this comfort comes in at a hefty price, $42,000. At that price point there are crossovers that can haul just as many family members while still being far more enjoyable to drive. None of them, however, offer the Sienna’s level of luxury. If keeping the kids quiet is all you care about then the Sienna is a great choice, but if you want to occasionally have some fun when you drive, you might also want to look elsewhere.

—Brandon Turkus, Fleet Manager

I attended the national media introduction for this new Toyota Sienna, though I did spend most of my time at that event with the slightly harder-edged SE version. (Please note that “harder-edged” is very relative to the minivan world here.) The softer, more mainstream Sienna proved a pretty good companion for the week though.

Our Sienna was trimmed as an XLE and was, as John and Brandon amply point out, extraordinarily well appointed. I won’t take away from the majority of their impressions, save to say that those reclining captain’s chairs in the second row are really only sized to be fully laid back by kids or small adults. If you’re over about 5’7” and you try to take a little nap, you’ll definitely have to contend with your feet hitting the front seat.

Though I appreciate that Toyota will sell you the Sienna with a four-cylinder engine—the van actually doesn’t feel completely underpowered thus configured, either—I’ll admit that the six-pot is smoother and well suited to the vehicle. A “magic carpet” ride quality is evident and correct here, while the light, quick steering feels great around town. Highway stability is good, too.

When I was growing up, my parents and my friends parents valued their minivans for the stuff-hauling ability, almost as much as they did for the passenger space. The numbers don’t lie, and the Toyota just doesn’t offer as much total open space as other players in this segment—including the major Chrysler Town & Country. With that said, I was able to load a medium-sized sofa into the Sienna with the tailgate closed behind it, as well as (later, when the sofa was safely in my living room) an assembled, six-piece patio set.

I guess my point is that, while more space is an attractive selling point, the Sienna seems to have just about as much load space as you’d really need. Unless you have your eye on that eight piece patio set, I guess.

—Seyth Miersma, Editor-In-Chief


  • Can be spec’d out as a lavishly comfortable rolling space for passengers—video games in the car!
  • V-6 engine feels powerful, smooth, and quick
  • Drivers in cold-weather climates will appreciate available all-wheel drive


  • Awfully spendy versus the mainstream minivan competition
  • Driver’s seeking a more dynamic experience have plenty of large CUVs to choose from these days
  • Fold-down cargo area is a touch on the small side, if you really need floor space