First Look: 2011 Toyota Sienna

Making the minivan cool?

by on Dec.02, 2009

Toyota launches its 3rd-generation Sienna minivan and aims to make gains in a market other brands have abandoned.

Toyota launches its 3rd-generation Sienna minivan and aims to make gains in a market other brands have abandoned, including GM and Ford.

Soccer Mom wagons, rugrat haulers, the minivan may be one of the most functional and efficient forms of transportation on the market, but it just doesn’t get much respect.  Now, Toyota is out to change that with the third generation of its Sienna people mover.

Based on the radical F3R concept that first debuted in Los Angeles two years ago, the 2011 Toyota Sienna doesn’t disguise its purpose, as some manufacturers tried, in years past – recall the unloved Pontiac Montana?  But it’s a cleaner, more stylish vehicle than the classic two-box family hauler, with some nice detailing like the virtually invisible rails for the van’s sliding doors.

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Some question Toyota’s commitment to what they see as a dying segment; other makers, notably Ford and General Motors have pulled out.  But that, insists the Japanese maker, is precisely why it expects to do well.

“While the minivan segment is shrinking, other manufacturers are leaving the segment,” says Bob Carter, general manager of the Toyota division, “and that’s why we see an opportunity.”

Can a minivan be sexy? The 2011 Toyota Sienna SE features 19-inch wheels, low profile tires, a sport-mesh grille and sporty gauges.

Can a minivan be sexy? The 2011 Toyota Sienna SE features 19-inch wheels, low profile tires, a sport-mesh grille and sporty gauges.

While Carter insists that improved styling could win back former mini loyalists who still like the van’s flexibility, there’s no question that functionality is where the fundamental appeal lies.

Toyota is offering five different grades with the 2011 Sienna, with 7- or 8-passenger configurations, two separate engine packages and the choice of front or all-wheel-drive.  In fact, since Chrysler abandoned that feature, the Japanese van is now the only model to offer AWD.

Due to role into Toyota dealerships next February, company officials aren’t discussing price yet, other than to say it will start around the same figure as the current Sienna.

That will include a number of all-new features, such as a panoramic rearview camera, and an optional rear seat entertainment system that uses a 16-inch widescreen LCD display that can either show a single movie or be split-screened to present separate images simultaneously.

Toyota will offer two engines, a base 2.7-liter inline-four currently used in the Venza crossover, rated at 27 mpg Highway, and a 266-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 that can tow up to 2,500 pounds.

In the end, functionality is still a critical selling point for minivans: lots of passenger and cargo space and easy access.

In the end, functionality is still a critical selling point for minivans: lots of passenger and cargo space and easy access.

The real test will come with the SE edition, which Carter described as decidedly cool, with its 19-inch wheels and low-profile tires, sport-mesh grille and sporty instrument package.  “I never thought I would use the words, sexy, and minivan in the same sentence,” the executive joked, during the preview of the 2011 Toyota Sienna minivan at this year’s Los Angeles Auto Show.

The Sienna, by the way, could qualify as “the most American minivan,” asserted Carter.  It was designed at CALTY, the maker’s styling studio, in California, engineered in suburban Detroit, and will be build in Indiana.  The industry’s collective best-seller, Chrysler’s various minivan models, are assembled in Windsor, Ontario.

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