I am a single guy with one dog so when I heard I was going to be road testing a 2011 Toyota Sienna SE for a week I wondered what I was going to do with a minivan for that long. Minivans, I thought, were for those guys encumbered by things like wives, children, mortgages and male pattern baldness. Okay, I may have the male pattern baldness but none of the other things really apply to my life.
Buying a minivan is, whether you are a man or a woman, a symbol that you are responsible for a great many things. Responsible for your family, for your children, for your pets and in the past the main focus of a minivan has been to help lift that burden from these overstressed moms and dads.
But what if you need to carry 7-8 passengers (and still have luggage space) but you want to look cool doing it and still actually enjoy the driving experience? Is that just too much to ask out of your typically pleasant suburban life experience?
Silly goose, having a fun to drive car is for your mid-life crisis only and minivans are NEVER supposed to be fun to drive. It might lead to bouts of uncontrollable giggling stemming from an ability to outmaneuver those smug SUV drivers.
Well, it appears Toyota has built the world’s first mid-life crisis minivan with true performance handling in the form of the 2011 Toyota Sienna SE. As follows are five things that make this van special as a family car and a driver’s car. Yes, I said driver’s car.
The Steering, Ride and Handling
My Sienna SE was a pre-production sample and SE models, while they are being advertised, have not yet hit dealers. There is as of yet no official price on Toyota’s website but it should slot somewhere below the top-line Limited variant. But damn the torpedoes man and buy the SE version when it comes out! This minivan is so fun to drive that I was making excuses to go driving in it by myself. I don’t think that has ever happened in a minivan before.
The most impressive piece of the Sienna SE is without question the steering rack which offers more feel than some sports sedans I have driven. Also note that when using the steering wheel you will be amazed by the super tight turning radius of this very, very long van. Again, many sedans that are much shorter have much larger turning radiuses. Not only is the Sienna SE and agile performer, it feels that way from behind the wheel.
Besides working on the steering for the SE model, Toyota engineers also did some work on the suspension and I really don’t see why this set up wouldn’t be perfect for every model. The ride is compliant but body roll is kept to a minimum and road noise is very low. This handling composure makes the Sienna SE civilized for passengers and fun for the driver.
So, when I encountered an improbably empty parking structure with slalom course sized spacing between these soft barriers I couldn’t resist. I knew if the Sienna SE perchance hit one of the barriers it wouldn’t be damaged so I did the ill advised thing and wove in and out like I was in a weekend track car.
The steering suffered from zero-kickback and the van felt like it could have handled a much quicker slalom course. No doubt, driving the Toyota Sienna SE minivan can make you stupidly giddy and (occasionally) do stupid things. But first and foremost all of this makes the Sienna not only a fun minivan but a fun vehicle to drive.
The Clear View of the Road in All Directions
The design of the 2011 Toyota Sienna is unique because it doesn’t have the usual minivan long-nose design element that feels so disconcerting to many drivers. The front end of the Sienna is short and blunt almost like a dog’s snout and as a result the windshield doesn’t feel ten miles away.
However, I might recommend buying the navigation system so you get a larger backup camera screen than the standard small unit in the SE as the back of this vehicle is REALLY far from the driver’s seat. Total length is 16 feet making the 2011, I am quite sure, larger than my apartment.
The 6-cylinder Engine
Toyota offers a more economical 2.7 liter 187 horsepower 4-cylinder but I can’t imagine how well that would handle 7 morbidly obese Americans on their way to the Hometown Buffet. The 3.5 liter 266 horsepower V6 that is standard in the SE is smooth yet when you really punch it there is a really aurally pleasing metallic resonance to it. I don’t know if the engine noise was tuned for the SE sport model I drove but it enhanced the driving experience. Oh yeah, and it makes the van very quick. Mileage isn’t bad either at 19 city/24 highway.
The Aggressive Exterior Styling
Simply put, this is the minivan Darth Vader would have used to drive Luke and Leia to school. From the semi-smoked alloy wheels to the flared wheel arches to the menacing front end, the 2011 Toyota Sienna SE makes one thing clear. It is not only the new class leader but it is also one cool looking piece of design. Again, I can’t believe I am saying this about a minivan but in the metal the Sienna SE is truly impressive.
Room, Cupholders and Seats for Everyone!
Enough with how much fun the 2011 Sienna SE is, how does it handle family duties? Well, all the seats slide and fold in so many different manners that you could spend five months in your garage trying to figure out all the seating variations. Even with the third row of seats in place there is a huge and deep storage area leftover that is perfect for oversize strollers and the like.
The 2011 Sienna SE is built to be used as a workhorse and with cupholders galore, comfy seats and even a split screen rear seat DVD entertainment unit available, everyone in the family will be kept happy. Especially the driver.