Yes, this may seem like the oddest idea for a comparison test but bear with me. Both the 4Runner and Sienna SE have three rows of seats (holding 7 in the SUV, 8 in the minivan), offer plenty of family friendly options and are the types of vehicles most Americans choose for transporting their loved ones. So which one suits you best?
Well, I had the privilege of testing both of these vehicles for a week each and in the end I got a distinct sense about their unique strengths and drawbacks. I believe that if you have a big family you can probably have all of your personal and familial needs met by these two vehicles.
However, choices in life do need to be made no matter if it means defeating a family member. So here are two Toyotas battling it out for family transportation supremacy. Let’s see who wins.
This one aspect is, of course, down to your very own personal preference. The 2010 Toyota 4Runner Limited that I tested looked angry and very muscular even in white. Now, if an SUV can look menacing in white like my tester, you know it can easily frighten young children. But hopefully not your own.
The Sienna SE, on the one hand, is easily the most stylish minivan ever made. The fender spoilers, side skirts, rear spoiler, smoked tail lamps and sporty alloy wheels help make the Sienna look smaller than it is. It also makes it look much more athletic than your average Sienna minivan.
Still, the Sienna is a minivan and most people would rather have the image than an SUV projects. (Advantage: 4Runner)
Both the 4Runner and Sienna have high quality, expertly crafted interiors that are roomy and offer most of the creature comforts a family could want. The 4Runner has an angular and very macho dashboard with huge knobs to adjust the climate control and myriad other functions. It almost seems like everything on the dash was sized for people with huge hands.
The Sienna has a more organic dashboard shape that spreads the controls across the center so the passenger and driver can easily access them. There is tri-zone climate control available with both the 4Runner and Sienna SE and it is a highly recommended feature. Let’s just say it reduces the chances of arguments on family road trips.
Now let’s go to passenger and cargo hauling. The Sienna SE’s 8-passenger capacity just pips the 4Runner’s 7-passenger maximum thanks to a tiny “occasional seat” that fits between the second-row captain’s chairs. It isn’t very comfortable and most people won’t want to ride there but it is nice to know you have it. And it stores neatly in a cubby next to the cargo hold when not in use.
Now load lugging ability is where the Sienna SE wipes the floor with the 4Runner. As follows are the cargo hold cubic feet measurements first behind the third row, then with the third row folded down and last is the measurement behind the front seats. 4Runner: 9/46.3/88.8. Sienna SE: 39.1/87.1/150.
The interior of the Sienna is simply more versatile. (Advantage: Sienna SE)
Fuel Economy and Value
Although you would expect the 4Runner to lose by a wide margin, both of these vehicles are very heavy and not the incredibly fuel efficient. The Sienna SE returns 18 city/24 highway while the 4Runner returns 17 city/23 highway. It may just be one mile per gallon that separates them but a win is a win.
Now, the Sienna SE starts at $30,750 while the 2WD 4Runner limited has an MSRP of $47,746. One issue with the Sienna SE and 4Runner is that you can’t order them with rear seat DVD entertainment. But in a case of rather ill-advised logic, it is available on Sienna XLE models and is standard with the Limited.
I realize the SE is the sporty version of the Sienna but these DVD systems are near essential to parents nowadays. This one misstep may cause families to decide against picking the far more fun to drive SE version. And after you read the “fun to drive” section you will know exactly why that is tragic.
But, as I have said before, a win is a win. And a $7,000 price difference is a win. (Advantage: Sienna SE)
Fun to Drive
If you went by the numbers you might be fooled into believing the 4Runner had a much stronger feeling motor than the Sienna SE. The 4Runner has a larger 4.0 liter 270 horsepower/278 lb. feet of torque V6 than the Sienna SE’s 3.5 liter 266 horsepower/245 lb. feet of torque V6. Just so you know, when it comes to cars the numbers don’t tell you everything.
Where the 4Runner’s engine is reluctant to rev and seems to struggle during passing maneuvers, the Sienna SE’s V6 lets out a rip snarling growl and rockets you forward. Then there is the Sienna SE’s heavenly steering calibration which helps keep you engaged as the driver. Sportier suspension settings also aid in giving the Sienna SE a very predictable yet fun to drive nature with minimal body roll.
The 4Runner, however, needs to be off-road capable (even in 2wd form) so the steering is slow and somewhat numb and body roll is constantly in evidence. One thing Toyota did manage to fix was the issue of ride quality as the 4Runner has the best ride of any body-on-frame SUV I have ever driven.
Still, unless the 4Runner is off-road it isn’t fun to drive. And this is a family friendly contest. (Advantage: Sienna SE)
Number of Cupholders
Both of these vehicles have TWELVE cupholders. Who needs twelve cupholders? Oh yeah, parents do. Good work Toyota. (Advantage: Tie)
The Winner is…
Well if you can’t add up the winners here you go. It may not be as cool as the 4Runner Limited but the 2011 Toyota Sienna SE is less expensive, offers more family friendly utility and is easier to get in and out of. It is also, by some miracle, more fun to drive.
Vehicles Provided by: Toyota Motor Company