2004 Toyota Sienna LE
Space and power highlight Sienna test
By Bill Roebuck
If you're a road trip aficionado, you quickly grow to appreciate good design in a roomy vehicle. That's what happened on a recent family vacation, driving from Toronto to Prince Edward Island and back this summer.
Our ride for the trip was a seven-passenger Toyota Sienna LE minivan, all new for 2004. We already had high expectations, since it was the winner in the minivan category of the 2004 Car of the Year awards organized by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.
Highlights of the vehicle, after we completed our 4,000-km, 12-day adventure, were the extremely comfortable and supportive seats, a smooth powertrain that didn't baulk at any road conditions, and innovative and useful storage capacity.
As you might expect in a minivan, the Sienna boasts lots and lots of storage space, from small cubbies to flip-and-fold seats that vastly extend cargo-carrying capacity and flexibility. Total cargo volume is rated at 148.9 cu ft, with 43.6 behind the third row and 94.5 behind the second row.
There are cupholders galore -- two in the front of the centre console, another that pops out of the dashboard, and bottle holders moulded into the spacious door pockets. Centre-row passengers get two on the rear of the centre console and bottle holders in both sliding side door pockets, while third-row passengers also get a pair on each side.
However, the console cupholders almost completely swallow a medium Tim Hortons coffee, making it a challenge to retrieve a full cup from them.
There are two glove compartments, a medium-sized one for the owner's manual and other tidbits of travel, and a smaller one just above for even more items. This is smart design. You'd expect the upper compartment would interfere with the passenger air bag, but Toyota designers made the layout work.
There also is a shallow slide-out tray under the passenger seat for maps and guidebooks, and a small covered slot on the dashboard that held a cell phone nicely.
Another large drawer angles out from the instrument panel stack, ideal for storing CDs. They also can fit into the fairly large box in the centre console, as can many other supplies. We even used this compartment one day as a cooler to store a bag of fresh iced fish fillets we'd picked up one afternoon. There's nothing like same-day-fresh fish, mussels and lobster from the shops beside the fisherman's shanties around P.E.I.'s glorious shores.
Notably, the lift-up lid of this box reveals yet another storage area, plus the underside of the lid has a clip for a notepad and it is angled nicely for scribbling.
The console box can re removed and installed between the second-row seats, if desired. A separate tray unit is provided to replace it between the front seats.
Grocery bag hooks are provided on the back of the front-row and third-row seats, plus there's a handy purse hook on the passenger side of the front console/instrument panel.
But that's just the small storage stuff. The real ingenuity of the Sienna is its split, flip and fold third-row seat. It folds into a carpeted storage tub in two sections; you can fold away one seat, two seats or all three, depending on your cargo needs at the time.
It's probably getting a bit tiresome to mention it, but there's yet another storage spot in a side compartment of the rear cargo area that nicely fits a jug of windshield washer fluid.
I'm still not sure I've covered all the cubbies. In fact, all these places to store things could prove to be a disadvantage when you try to locate something you've left behind in the van.
The third-row seats each have two clearly labelled straps that make folding and unfolding them a breeze.
Passenger access to the rear is eased by the fold and tumble second row seats. We tried out all the seats travelling around P.E.I. with friends and everyone commented on how comfortable they were. A handy switch on the dashboard allows you to quickly turn on all the lights in the cabin for loading and unloading passengers after dark.
The seats in all rows have adjustable tilt for the backs, so there are no complaints from the peanut gallery on long drives. It's also easy to talk to passengers in the rear thanks to a small conversation mirror that folds out of the overhead console. Another trip-friendly feature is the dual trip odometer.
The lack of road and wind noise made the Sienna an ideal road trip vehicle. It was a good thing it was so quite, as the only big complaint I had was with the weak, muddy sound system. The single-disc CD/cassette stereo certainly didn't seem designed to be used in a cavernous minivan.
The suspension provided a smooth ride over all surfaces but the roughest of P.E.I.'s red dirt roads. The van had plenty of power too, and was especially satisfying on our trek through Quebec's hilly terrain along the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. The Sienna, even using the competent cruise control system, strode up 14% grades without any sign of sluggishness.
Down the other side of these tall, rocky hills, it was simple to shift the five-speed automatic transmission to fourth or third to take advantage of engine braking. The gated shifter is in the centre stack of the instrument panel, but the lever never got in the way of other controls.
The 2004 Sienna is powered by a new 230-hp, 3.3-litre V6 engine that meets upcoming ULEV2 emissions regulations. We averaged 11.2 L/100 km on our trip and got an outstanding average of 700 km between fillups.
The powertrain gives the Sienna a towing capacity of 3,500 lb (1,587 kg).
The brakes, which on all Siennas include ABS, Brake Assist and Electronic Brake Force Distribution, felt strong, but were somewhat sensitive in slow-speed situations such as parking lots, where they would jerk you to a fast stop.
The Sienna has the usual assortment of safety equipment and air bags, and the 2004's new body design boasts extra impact resistance.
All the controls and instruments were easy to use and read. As well, the view of the road ahead is vast, although the front of the vehicle slopes quickly away, making it difficult to judge where the bumper is.
There seems to be a significant number of first-generation Siennas on the road and I'm sure their drivers would be a bit envious of those who have the second-generation 2004 model. It has many improved features, such as the new seating configuration and more powerful engine.
Also, the new model is 4-in. wider and has a wheelbase that is 5-in. longer, providing more interior space. The base CE seven-passenger model has more than $1,500 in new features compared to a 2003 model, yet its price is $30,000 or $655 less. The LE model adds another $2,600 in features for $1,365, for a total of $34,750. The model tested was an LE with the $2,495 leather package.
The Sienna also is available in a new all-wheel drive version and you can pay as much as $51,845 for a fully-loaded 4WD XLE LTD with options such as a DVD entertainment system, backup sensors, laser cruise control and more.
Just as P.E.I. is a great place to visit, with country charm, interesting places to see and superb beaches to stretch out upon, the Sienna is a great minivan to stretch out in, providing impressive amenities, excellent performance, good gas mileage and very practical passenger and cargo space. Both are highly recommended.
© 2004, Bill Roebuck, CarTest.ca