2011 Sienna SE minivan: Toyota attempts to offer fun for the whole family.
Base MSRP: $30,550. The SE Preferred Package added $1,545 for automatic climate control, hands-free phone capability, and steering-wheel audio controls.
Marketers' pitch: The "Swagger Wagon," featuring nerdy dad and mom (love the nurse outfit!) in a series of YouTube videos. Toyota tries to give the much-maligned soccer-mom mobile a hip edge.
Conventional wisdom: Recent issues with sticking accelerators notwithstanding (not on the Sienna), Toyota has long been at the top of the heap for quality and amenities. And Siennas have topped minivan safety lists from the beginning.
Reality: Redesigned for 2011, the Sienna is a roomy van, priced from budget ($25,000 for the bare-bones four-cylinder model; that still offers plenty) to luxury (climbing to $50,000 with all-wheel drive).
The test drive: The Sturgis clan puts minivans to the test, with Kids 1.0 through 4.0 filling up seats and cargo space.
Back in the Driver's Seat, I found the 3.5-liter six-cylinder engine and six-speed transmission ran smoothly and quietly. Road noise was a little more than I expected, though.
The carlike seating position, almost-vertical hood, and minivan-square back leave drivers with few of the traditional markers for staying in lane, even for a minivan veteran like myself. But after a couple of days, it wasn't a problem at all.
Modern amenities: It's a minivan from Toyota: It has practically everything imaginable. Three zones of heating and air-conditioning. Four cup holders in the front seats alone. Purse-sized bin between the seats (yes, men, you'll appreciate this, too, when you need a tissue or change for the turnpike).
Inside: We all traveled to the Poconos one day, and the teens pronounced the rear seat spacious and great for napping, as evidenced by the lack of squabbles.
This minivan touts itself as an eight-seater. It took me a couple of days to find the eighth seat, tucked in the wall of the cargo area. It attaches to the center-row captain's chair - not easy, and with just 10,000 miles on the test model, the connector pieces already looked a little beat up.
My 10-year-old tried it out on a short trip and pronounced it "Fine." I kept referring to it as "The Naughty Chair." But if you need that eighth spot on occasion, it's there.
The minivan sits lower than most, so getting inside is easier for older people and youngsters.
The info center on the dashboard offers ways to easily adjust settings for the automatic door locks and locking the doors with the key fob.
Cleanup on Aisle 2: Seat fabric and rugs seem to grab on to hair and dirt. I had hoped to give the van a quick brushing before returning it, but a full vacuuming was a necessity.
Outside: More square than wedge-shaped, the Sienna sports more of an SUV look than a minivan, reported the beautiful Mrs. Passenger Seat. I actually prefer the previous-generation Sienna.
Passing lane: Room with a vroom. The 266 horses really get this thing onto the Schuylkill or 95 in a heartbeat. Even the 2.7-liter four-cylinder has a healthy 187 horsepower. I was heartened to see a shift mode on the automatic transmission, but Toyota has so many overrides that it designed all the fun out of it.
The night shift: An icon on the dash lights up when the headlights are on. A great idea - it's an extra reminder when you leave the lights on when you park. Six map lights shine on each of the outside seats and cast a nice, direct light.
Friends and stuff: Bring the kids, friends, dogs - everyone fits in nicely.
And the rear seats fold to make for a nice deep luggage compartment. We took Sturgis Kid 1.0 and a friend back to college in Washington, and the Sienna offered tons of room for dorm accessories behind the second row of seats.
Stopping for gas: The handy onboard computer told me the Sienna averaged 22 m.p.g. Not bad. And with a 20-gallon tank, the visits to Wawa will be spaced out well.
Quality surveys: Toyota ranks only "average" these days for J.D. Power's 2010 initial quality survey, and "above average" in three-year overall reliability.
Where it's built: Princeton, Ind., home of the Highlander and Sequoia.
At the end: The shortcomings I've pointed out here are mostly nitpicks. Sienna continues to be a contender.
Next week: The Sienna's main new-for-'11 competitor, the Honda Odyssey.
Watch the YouTube "Swagger Wagon" video: http://www.philly.com/swaggerEndText