The minivan is now sexy, hip and cool — at least that’s manufacturers want you to believe. It started with a new advertising campaign for the 2011 Toyota Sienna. Instead of screaming kids and exploding yogurt cartoons the new minivan is all about rapping parents and their posse of cool kids in their “swagger wagon.”
So does the new Sienna live up to the cool, rock style its “swagger wagon” reputation? No.
It’s still a front-wheel drive minivan with seating for an entire Cub Scout troop. But Toyota, like the rest of the automotive industry, has made the minivan more burly, more manly.
It starts with the look and styling of the new generation of minivans. Toyota and Honda have been inspired by the F1 aerodynamics (Toyota claims a low 0.31 coefficient of drag) when penning their new generations of kid-haulers.
The Sienna is especially sporty with a chiseled jaw that suggests it could be lowered to hug the ground and raced on the weekend.
The sporty changes go beyond the surface and deep into the bones of the Sienna. The suspension set up provides lively feedback while the steering can be flicked to almost throw the car around an especially fun corner of the nearest highway ramp.
With a lively and direct six-speed automatic suspension, and a 3.5-liter engine that produces 266 horsepower and 245 lb-ft of torque, the Sienna is no wall flower when it comes times to dance with the Honda Odyssey at the red light.
The base engine is a 187-hp, 2.7-liter four-cylinder that also comes with a six-speed automatic that gets 19 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway. My test car was the SE trim level and had the bigger engine. It’s available in every trim level (standard on SE, XLE, and Limited) and gets 18 and 24 mpg, respectively.
Keep in mind that while my tester (priced at $33,518.00) was equipped with front wheel drive. The Sienna is also available in a cold-weather-friendly all-wheel drive set-up.
The Sienna’s interior includes all the stuff excepted in a minivan including 12 cupholders on eight-passenger model and 10 on seven-passenger model.
There’s a clever available set-up where the second row seats turn into recliners with a comfortable footrest. The uber-wide second-row TV screen can show two programs simultaneously. And there’s plenty of room for groceries or baggage in the back of the Sienna with the third row of seats up. And there’s enough room to land a small jet with the third row seats folded down.
Unfortunately, the second row seats don’t “stow and go” into the floor like, a feature available with the Chrysler Town & Country.
The Sienna is perhaps the most open and airy vehicle I’ve driven in the last year. I feel like I could practice ballet in in the Sienna and still have enough room to carry the family dog to the vet without fear of kicking her during a pirouette.
I don’t love the vast swaths of plastic and the gigantic controls designed for the Jolly Green Giant’s hands. I understand I can change the radio station in work gloves, but who wears work gloves in a minivan? I also wasn’t impressed by how long it took to heat up the Sienna on a cold morning.
While the minivan may be the most useful car design, it’s utilitarian. No matter how you sex it up in ads, you’ll always end up wit exploding tube yogurts and frazzled soccer moms and dads on their way to junior’s swim meet with the rest of the team in tow.
Roman Mica is editor and publisher of www.TFLcar.com.