With all the emphasis on stylish crossover vehicles, some might suspect that the generally dull-by comparison minivan is dead. But the 2013 Toyota Sienna shows some minivans still sell at a brisk pace.
That’s because it’s hard to beat a minivan for sheer practicality and family utility. After all, a minivan’s boxy shape provides lots of interior space, and it has carlike manners.
The 2013 Sienna is designed, developed and assembled in America. However, it isn’t purely apple-pie American because it is, after all, a Japanese brand. But, with the growing worldwide sharing of vehicle components and manufacturing because of economics, does anybody really care anymore?
The new Sienna feels very “American.” Anybody who has been driving a U.S. brand vehicle for years should feel right at home in it.
This minivan can seat seven to eight occupants. It starts with the base front-wheel-drive (FWD) $26,585 L model and goes to the luxurious $41,475 all-wheel-drive (AWD) Limited, which I tested. In between are the LE, XLE and SE models.
Those who enjoy driving a lot might want the $33,725 SE. It comes only with FWD but offers a bolder front look, sits lower on a sport-tuned suspension for sharper handling and has side skirting—besides 19-inch alloy wheels, exclusive instrumentation and unique interior colors and trim. New for the 2013 SE are chrome-accented outside door handles.
Many who live in the snowy Northeast, however, want AWD. The Sienna is the first vehicle in its class to offer that feature. AWD is available on LE, XLE and Limited models.
The 200.2-inch-long Sienna looks fairly sleek, at least for a minivan.That’s largely because it has an aerodynamic body with a low drag coefficient. One nifty feature are aerodynamic under-body elements. Sliding door tracks hidden within the side window frames complement the Sienna’s profile.
The Sienna’s base four-cylinder engine is gone. All 2013 Siennas now have a smooth, standard 3.5-liter, 266-horsepower V-6, which provides fast 65-75 m.p.h passing on highways.
A six-speed automatic transmission is standard and helps fuel economy and noise reduction—and thus enhances cruising ease. For instance, the engine loafs at 70 mph.
Estimated fuel economy is 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on highways with FWD and 16 and 23 with AWD. Not bad, considering the Sienna 2WD model weighs 4,320 to 4,515 pounds and the AWD version weighs 4,590 to 4,735 pounds.
Only 87-octane gasoline is required, although the sophisticated dual-overhead-camshaft, 24-valve V-6 with variable valve timing has a fairly high 10.8:1 compression ratio.
The Limited and XLE have a standard Blind Spot Monitor (optional in the SE). It uses radar to detect vehicles in the driver’s blind spots. The system now incorporates a cross-traffic alert that’s especially helpful when backing out of driveways or parking slots. Minivans are largely work vehicles and thus often are backed up a lot from crowded or tight parking areas in such places as shopping centers.
The popular LE adds a backup camera and standard three-zone automatic climate control system with temperature settings for the driver, front passenger and rear-seat passengers, which have a separate digital control panel.
A standard acoustic windshield is new on XLE and Limited models.
All Siennas are well-equipped. Even the L has an AM/FM stereo, CD player, multizone air conditioning, cruise control, adjustable wheel, keyless entry and powet windows and mirrors.
The LE adds the new three-zone automatic climate control, power front seats, dual power-sliding doors and a handy power rear tailgate, backup camera and AM/FM/MP3 CD player.
The XLE adds leather-trimmed seats, tilt-slide sunroof and heated front seats. Options include a 10-speaker premium JBL premium sound system with voice-activated DVD Navigation and Panorama rear camera with integrated back-up guides.
The Limited’s extensive standard equipment includes second-row “lounge seating,” a power 60/40 split-and-stow third-row seat, front/rear parking sonar and independently powered, slide-opening dual sunroofs. Optional is a pre-collision system with “dynamic radar cruise control.”
Here’s something for family kids: An optional rear-seat Dual View Entertainment Center that uses two side-by-side displays to create a seamless 16.4-inch widescreen image from a single source. The system can split the screen into two individual screens, each with input from separate sources. Using a single screen, it can easily be seen from the third row and can be operated from any seat via remote control.
The Sienna has large door openings and a low floor for easy entry. The cargo opening is low and wide. With the third-row seat in place, there’s enough room for five golf bags or four large suitcases.
Large, comfortable front seats offer good under-leg and thigh support, but should have more lateral support in curves. The third-row seat provides decent legroom and can easily be reached.
The quiet interior’s gauges can be quickly read, and major controls are easy to use—although some pushbutton controls are somewhat hard to reach, even for drivers with long arms. There are plenty of cupholders and cabin storage areas. The short transmission shifter is out of the way, situated on the center dashboard.
Visibility from the driver’s seat is good, and large outside mirrors assist visibility.
A sliding center console on the XLE AWD and Limited models can be shared between the front seats and second-row passengers. The illuminated console slides into the second-row area to provide convenient access for both rows.
Close your eyes and it’s easy to feel as if you’re driving a car. The light electronic power steering has the right amount of quickness. The ride is smooth, and handling is decent for a big, high vehicle. Assisting handling are stability and traction-control systems and front/rear stabilizer bars.The brakes work smoothly and have electronic brake force distribution and a brake-assist system.
Safety items include seven air bags, including dual-stage front and seat-mounted side air bags for front-seat occupants, besides a driver’s knee air bag. Side curtain air bags cover the length of the cabin.
The Sienna has good maneuverability for in-town driving, and also would be a good long-distance interstate highway cruiser.
Pros: Potent standard V6. Roomy. Carlike. Available all-wheel drive. Sporty SE model.
Cons: Average handling. Some pushbutton controls hard to reach. Awkward hood prop.
Bottom Line: This minivan combines practicality with good general performance.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.