By on April 4, 2013

Your humble author’s affection for the Pentastar-powered Chrysler minivans is relatively well-known within these electronic pages. In the interest of examining the so-called “alternatives”, however, I’ve been attempting to rent non-Chrysler minivans during my travels. A 36-hour unscheduled trip to San Francisco gave me a chance to do just that, deliberately walking past the six Corvette droptops in the Hertz #1 Gold Choice spaces and picking up a Toyota Sienna. The things I do for you, dear readers! My appointment was a couple of hours inland, in Lodi, CA; the thought that I was pedaling a minivan away from the ocean when I could be driving a topless ‘Vette along it had me sobbing lightly behind my Prodesigns.

I was eventually able to screw my courage to the sticking-place, as it were, and get on with business. What follows is a 388-mile review of the Toyota Sienna LE, but there’s one little catch: if you want one just like my test vehicle, you’re out of luck.

For 2013, Toyota has discontinued availability of the 2.7-liter paint-shaker four-cylinder in the Sienna. As we’ll soon see, it won’t be missed by most potential buyers. All Siennas are now powered by the appears-in-just-about-everything Toyota 3.5-liter V-6. The equivalent 2013-model V-6 Sienna to the one I drove would cost you a whopping $30.980 plus the usual reprehensible Toyota-dealer stripe/tape/paint protection/frottage charges. That’s a full eight thousand bucks more than the Caravans I normally rent would cost before incentives. It also represents a considerable price increase over last year. The 2012-model-year four-banger Sienna I rented would only cost you $26,990, assuming you could find a time machine or a dealer with some overstock, and that about splits the difference between a Caravan SE and the current Sienna LE.

This generation Sienna acquired what John Updike would call “minor fame” as the chosen ride of a swaggering MILF, but the gap in desirability between the fully-loaded SE and this poverty-spec LE is apparent from two hundred feet away and becomes more so as you draw closer to the thing. Opening the door reveals an unpleasant sea of elephant-testicle polysomethinglene in a color best described as “dirty ivory”. The odd texture molded into the door panels can’t hide a series of waves and ripples seemingly baked into the plastic during manufacture. I was initially willing to attribute the warping to 31,600 miles in the California sun, but even where the tinted windows protected the plastic, there were visible finish imperfections. If Toyota was trying to channel the spirit of the original K-car-based minivans, they’ve done it; I remember similar defects all over the place in those ancient Voyagers. Of course, the current Caravan is well beyond that standard, and comparing it back to back with the Sienna the much cheaper Dodge comes off as the upscale contender.

While the Chrysler minivan’s dashboard has always been intended to mimic that of a traditional sedan as closely as possible, the Sienna goes the other way, splaying an array of oddly oversized controls over an asymmetrical plastic wave between driver and passenger. The climate controls are frankly ridiculous, particularly the fan control which uses two buttons and multiple LEDs to unsatisfactorily accomplish what’s done with a single knob in better cars. Blank panels are everywhere. This van doesn’t appear to have any features except cruise control. The steering wheel has no secondary buttons whatsoever. Perhaps the kindest thing one could say about the Sienna’s controls is that they would all be easy to operate using gloves. They’re also perhaps deliberately optimized for Toyota’s aging customer base. The Avalon’s like that, too; every button and knob in the thing appears to be designed for people suffering a combination of Alzheimer’s and loss of motor control. The 12-volt outlet is too close to the floor — this is one detail that the Sienna has in common with the Caravan. One bright spot: the stereo is actually pretty decent. My two current test tracks (“English House” by Fleet Foxes and “My Activator” by 100s) were easily capable of annoying pedestrians in the vicinity and, in the case of the latter song, earned me a knowing nod from a stunning chica working the Jack-in-the-Box drive-through.

While the Sienna has about the same mouse-fur bucket seat for the driver you get in the cheaper Chrysler minivans, the story is completely different for rear-seat passengers. Chrysler offers their outstanding Stow N Go seats as standard pretty much everywhere in the lineup. They work just like you’d expect, folding quickly into the floor without fuss and turning the Caravan into a very capable work van in the space of five minutes. The Sienna, on the other hand, has two very conventional and very large bench seats in back. They’re well-bolstered and, for this writer at least, are usefully more comfortable than the Stow N Go. If you never expect to do anything with your minivan besides drag people around in it, the Sienna scores a big win here. If you need flexibility, the Chryslers are untouchable in that regard.

On the move, it’s quickly apparent that the Sienna and Caravan are from two entirely different schools of vehicular-dynamic thought. Simply put, the Sienna sucks as a driving proposition in every way that matters. The engine is completely gutless and feels thoroughly overmatched in this application, lugging against too much gear before giving up, changing down with an audible clunk, and hellishly moaning at its retro six-grand redline. The brakes feel completely worthless in hard usage, although that can probably be at least partially attributed to the miseries of rental life. Fast lane changes in the Sienna are positively nautical; my Town Car is noticeably better at controlling its body motion in the same situation. In the evening cut-and-thrust around the SFO airport, I gave up early and resigned myself to being dive-bombed for lane position again and again. My knee repeatedly turned off the low-mounted cruise control, exacerbating the situation somewhat and no doubt further alienating my fellow motorists.

I had hoped that the Sienna’s futuristic shape might pay off in wind noise reduction, but it was louder inside than the Caravans by some margin. There’s an extra A-pillar window as a consequence of that sleek silhouette, but as far as I can tell it’s completely worthless in actual use and I’d rather have a lower sticker price with a GM-style modesty panel shoved in the gap.

After a pair of 115-mile jaunts in the Sienna, I was more or less sick of the thing and I looked forward to returning it as soon as possible. From the wavy interior plastic to the gutless engine to the total lack of surprise-and-delight features, my tester van felt like an extremely cynical effort to cash in on the brand loyalty earned by other, far superior Toyota products. It’s worth noting that Toyota has never really had a killer app for the minivan market, unless your idea of the perfect family wagon is a supercharged suppository shape with the engine somewhere under the driver’s ass. It’s hard to imagine any reason for purchasing this current offering other than naked fear that the competition won’t be as reliable. I would suggest that these fears should be partially mitigated by the fact that one could buy three Caravans for every two Siennas one might hope to own.

It is true, however, that I have seen many an utterly miserable-looking old Sienna continuing to plow away with a quarter-million miles on the clock. Perhaps this Sienna is meant to anticipate a similar future by already looking crappy at 31,600 miles. Perhaps it would never get any worse. It’s hard to tell. If it still looks like this years from now, that wouldn’t be so bad. I also wonder if Toyota’s decision to drop the four-cylinder was such a great idea. Yes, it’s very slow, and yes, it’s very coarse, but I trust it more than I trust any Toyota V-6. If I had to drive a Sienna for the next decade and cover all the expenses myself, I might be tempted to choose the four, even though it barely clocked 22mpg in my unenthusiastic stewardship. There’s no possible reason to own a Sienna other than the explicit expectation of Land-Cruiser-in-Africa-style long-term durability, and the 2.7L would be an asset on that particular balance sheet.

I’m a car guy, you know? I like cars and I can usually find a reason to get enthusiastic about almost anything I drive. The Sienna LE 2.7L was a rare exception. I disliked it from the moment I backed it out of its stall at Hertz and realized it didn’t have parking sensors, and our relationship never got better. I’m not saying you should buy a Caravan over this thing — some people have been too badly burned by Chrysler minivans to ever give them a second chance. I am, however, saying you should choose something else. Even the most die-hard Toyota fan deserves better than this.

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86 Comments on “Review: Toyota Sienna LE 2.7...”


  • avatar
    Summicron

    “..my tester van felt like an extremely cynical effort to cash in on the brand loyalty earned by other, far superior Toyota products.”

    Exactly my impression of them and I’m Toyota-treu in nearly every other instance.

    • 0 avatar
      APaGttH

      Agreed. The ’96 Camry and the’97 Corolla is getting close to being 20 years ago.

      I was saying almost a decade ago it appears Toyota is just resting on its butt and letting the spawning salmon return to the showroom.

      If 2013 – it’s a level playing surface no great recession no tsunami no manufacturing issues sales volumes are any indication, Toyota is starting to feel the pinch.

  • avatar
    ant

    It occurs to me that the drivetrain found in the camry hybrid would work well in the sienna.

    Thanks for doing the review.

  • avatar
    PrincipalDan

    My first thought reading the headline was “Holy heck, Toyota makes a 2.7ltr V6!?!?!?”

    I can’t imagine anything as porcine as a “mini”van powered by merely 4 cyl. That’s like Richard Simmons pedaling John Goodman uphill in a rickshaw.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      The original Chrysler mini were powered by a 100hp four, 115 optional. But they only had to pull around about 2700lbs empty. This thing is about 3900 lbs. yet is only motivated by 170hp.

      I’ve never understood this move by Toyota. I suppose it’s a value leader because you give up only 1 or 2 mpg over the V6. It’s the same story as the RAV 4, except it overpowered the chassis from what I read. I guess it was just for that lower sticker for volume for the Sienna. The RAV 4 probably didn’t need the 6, but it would have been nice. Would have.

      I find the Pentastar just as coarse near its redline fwiw. There is a giant difference between SE and LE in equipment, just as there is between the Dodge Caravan Base and Town and Country Limited. Except Toyota only builds one van, not two.

      An LX Odyssey feels cheaper than an EXL, but the difference doesn’t feel as strong as the LE vs SE Toyota.

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        I believe it was click and clack that had a joke about the reason you put a 4-cyl in a 7 passenger vehicle is so that 6 people can get out and push it up hills.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      I have 2009 Highlander with very same engine and it works fine. Only hwy passing is a little slow but in town or cruising is more then adequate and very quiet for 4cyl. I never regretted buying it. Its been to Canada, South -East, etc. and it is doing just fine with that engine.

    • 0 avatar

      Toyota has a history of briefly offering low-spec engines, then cancelling them.

      I have a feeling they shoehorn them into the initial product mix to be able to quote good pricing or mileage or whatever numbers at launch (“Starting at…” “highest/lowest standard equipment…” etc). Then no one (except fleet buyers) buy them and they trim them back.

      Other example is the 2.7L 4-pot in the later 4Runners.

  • avatar
    Junebug

    We’ve had 2 Sienna’s, the first was a LE but with V6 and other than the radio, it was fine. And like most bottom of the line models, it had just the basics and lots of blanks. The next was an XLE Limited with all the nice stuff – night and day difference! That was the van we should still be driving except my wife decided she wanted something else, she’s finally learned the hard way ($$) to just be satisfied and drive. She currently has a 2008 Highlander with 3.5 v6 and it’s been trouble free at 80K miles, note – it’s a Limited, if you’re not going to be happy settling for something, then it’s best to just get what you want from the start.
    I know when I got my Camry, I decided on the SE with leather, heated seats, nav, etc was a better deal for me than the hybrid for the same price with the striped down interior. And I’ve been getting 31.6 mpg so I’m ok with that.

  • avatar
    NN

    Toyota seems to be the only manufacturer that has developed a proven, durable transmission for heavy FWD applications. Everyone else has had problems with this, they should all just buy the damn Aisin (I’m assuming) unit themselves. That and resale value are the only real competitive advantages…a 5 year old Chrysler minivan is practically worthless–because everyone knows the transmission will blow at any time!

  • avatar
    cdotson

    Jack, great review and bordered on a full comparison review. You clearly have rented quite a few Caravans.

    I share both your disdain for the Sienna that my in-laws own (either an XLE or SE, can’t recall) and your affection for rental-grade Caravans. I’ve only once rented a Caravan in October 2011, but I was certain to choose the 2011 model over the sea of 2010s it sat among. I was alone on a brief business trip and needed only around-town transport outside the ATL perimeter, but Enterprise had so many minivans they were shipping them out cheaper than Aveos.

    The Caravan was surprisingly quiet, powerful, and efficient on the highways while bombing around side roads and ramps remarkably well. I was surprised and delighted the rental van still had Sirius/XM sat radio, which pleased me to no end because I only listen to terrestrial radio when my usual XM stations have talk shows.

    The Sienna does have one “versatility” thing going for it for the kiddie-hauler segment and that is it’s ability to seat three across in both rear rows for a total of 8 passengers. The Caravan maxes out at 7. As a father with 3 kids, one of whom is still in a rear-facing carrier, forcing kids to split between the rear rows creates difficulties. This is really the sole reason why the Caravan hasn’t and likely won’t be on my family’s radar, which really rather disappoints me, but it’s far more versatile to have the third row fully flat and still carry 5 than to have half the rear row up for the same passenger load, and you can forget stowing the middle row and seating kids in the way-back to gain storage.

    For families though, the Sienna’s “track” that the middle row slides in scares the ever-loving crap out of me. You could lose a toddler’s foot in the thing, not to mention the detritus it will pick up over a long road trip. It’s excessively exposed on the floor in front of the second row and just begging to suck up food, toys, drinks, etc. Crayons seem to break easily enough and the wax lubricates the slides well enough that they haven’t caused a problem for my in-laws, but grandparents don’t ferry kids enough to be exposed to the full potential horror.

    • 0 avatar
      Feds

      Buy the stow’n’go, sink the middle right seat into the floor. Bigger kids go in the back row, little one rear-faces in the second row, you kneel in the big empty weather-tight space to buckle everyone up. I don’t know how the Chryslers are between the front seats, but you could potentially maneuver yourself into the driver’s seat without getting back into the cold/snow/rain.

      All the empty space (including the floor space under the rear-facing seat) packs your coolers, strollers, and what-have-you.

  • avatar

    Best use of “frottage” in a rental minivan review before noon on Thursday….EVER.

    • 0 avatar
      DeadWeight

      Agreed.

      But then I went and listened to “My Activator.”

      Oh, Dear.

      Toyota’s minivans have always been supremely weird. I remember riding in a friend’s mom’s Previa back in my glory days of high school and thinking that there was a separate section at the Toyota design facility where Previa designers were encouraged to take a hit of LSD before beginning, and that their workspace was filled with giant Salvador Dalí duplications for inspiration.

      Cirque du Solei should motor that giant baby around on the roof of a Previa, now that I think about it. That’d be kewl.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/04/generation-why-demographics-and-the-insanity-of-japans-golden-bubble/#comment-2029619

      Two days ago, I wrote that I’d leave mass transit to the frottage fans. Coincidence?

      • 0 avatar
        DeadWeight

        Well, just goes to show one that one learns something new everyday…or learns they don’t know what they thought they did.

        “Frottage” is ambiguous, and even has a formal meaning along with “urban dictionary” types, and I still can’t tell what specific frottage Jack is speaking of given the context.

        • 0 avatar
          CJinSD

          Both the design and the sexual definitions are formal definitions. There is some variation in whether or not frottage is a consensual act, but the principles of the act are consistent from one dictionary or encyclopedia to the next.

  • avatar
    wumpus

    In the “how did they screw *that* up” department, my parents have an aging Sienna minivan. Only the front seats have adequate headroom (hint, this is a retiree-mobile. Minivans are good for more than just hauling a soccer team). How do you manage to get inadequate headroom in a minivan?

    • 0 avatar
      KixStart

      What year is that? We have an ’01 and the 4 captain’s chairs are great for me and the 3rd row is adequate. I’m close to 6’4″.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        Probably later than that (didn’t ask last time I called). Then again, I’m 6’5″ with a 31″ inseam (read “freaky dude who measures cars by headroom”).

        • 0 avatar
          KixStart

          So your seated height is 4 to 4.5″ taller than me, I would suppose (I have a 34″ inseam). I think you’d be OK in an ’01 but there must be relatively few cars that are comfortable for you.

  • avatar
    4LiterLexus

    I’d like to hear Jack’s views on the base Nissan Quest, which seemed to have better interior materials and seat comfort than the equivalent Caravan.

    Of course, my opinion is based on a short test drive of the Nissan and a four-day rental of the Dodge, which was enough time for the interior rattles, too-firm rear seats, and difficult-to-modulate throttle to become apparent.

    As for the discontinuation of the 4 cylinder Sienna, it sounds like Toyota is pricing themselves out of many people’s consideration set. Some buyers just don’t care about engine refinement, and the 2.7 would serve them (not me!) just fine.

    • 0 avatar
      Sajeev Mehta and Steve Lang

      Here is one from the catacombs of TTAC.

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/hedonist-vs-frugalist-2012-nissan-quest-le/

      The current Sienna is a ghost of a model compared with the prior generation. In fact, the current Sienna is probably the only model sold today that is actually worse than the prior generation.

      One of my favorite moments at a recent auto show was listening to a bunch of journalists talking about all the hot rides they have driven over the past several months. I shepherded the small herd to the Chrysler minivan and ask them, “How much do you think this one cost?”

      A few second of silence. One said $30k. Another said $32k.

      The answer was $22,800.

      A few years ago they would have probably guessed in the low 20’s. But with a nice interior refresh, stow and go, and a few highly desired options such as hands free telematics features available for only an extra few hundred dollars, Chrysler is really nailing that lower end of the market.

      The Sienna… hopeless at the low end. The Odyssey… ditto. The Quest is surprisingly decent on the entry level side. But they can’t get their pricing structure anywhere near Chrysler’s at this point.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      There couldn’t have been that much of a take on the 2.7 Sienna. Most people would prefer the extra power of the V6 whether they know it or not and there isn’t much of a fuel mileage penalty. Besides, all the other vans are V6 powered, unless its a turbo 4 making equivalent power, there’s no reason to offer the 4.

      As for price, the vans are all pretty close in price. Since most folks buy on monthly payment, the extra 2000 premium couldn’t have been that much of a factor.

  • avatar
    Pinzgauer

    That swag wagon video gave me such douche chills…ugh…how does it exist? I feel embarassed for even having watched part of it. I dont get it – its beyond terrible.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      The “Swag Wagon” ad is hard-core and humorous! Its…

      A few seconds in and I didn’t bother to finish that video, it felt like a poor attempt from Toyota to make its mini-van “cool”.

  • avatar

    I liked reading this.

  • avatar
    kosmo

    We’ve got an LE AWD. Plenty of equipment for me in what I call “The Penalty Box”. If you want something large for winter ski trips, there is no competition. Nobody else does the AWD minivan thing, and it beats the tar out of the Suburban alternative.

    I would kill for even SLIGHTLY firmer handling, but have not yet come around to spending $1,000+ for a set of Megan coilovers.

    • 0 avatar
      musicalmcs8706

      A family from my church in Ohio traded their Suburban for an LE AWD. The biggest reason they went with it was for the AWD. They live in the country and she is a nurse so she often has to get to work even in the snow. It seems the LE AWD might be better equipped than the LE FWD as well…

    • 0 avatar
      Feds

      You poor US Americans. No access to the Delica.

      http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/08/ttac-track-days-episode-2-scion-fr-s-vs-hyundai-genesis-coupe-2-0t-vs-mazda-mx-5/

  • avatar
    Type57SC

    I imagine a slightly pudgy, poorly dressed but earnestly cheerful product line marketing manager in Auburn Hills having to change his no-wrinkle khakis this morning after the thrill of reading that.

  • avatar
    ponchoman49

    I’m not so sure about all this long term bullet proof longevity that Toyota’s used to have. A colleague at work currently drives a 2011 V6 Sienna and it has already suffered interior lapses, rattles in the tailgate area, warped front brakes and a rear driver’s side wheel bearing needed replacement. All of this and it still has only 30K miles! Meanwhile questioning other owners of the same year T&C/Caravans have suffered no issues to speak of other than a few gripes about the hardness of the rear seats with similar miles. If this were 5 years ago I would have expected the exact opposite.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      I have to agree and I’ve argued the point for years… Toyonda has been phoning some things in for some time.

    • 0 avatar
      Ryoku75

      Toyotas “long term bullet proof longevity” only lasted from ’85 to ’92, after that it was just a myth.

      • 0 avatar
        juicy sushi

        I would disagree. It is still there on some models, but not all (was it ever?), and on some of the more reliable models this comes at the expense of other characteristics buyers might prefer (see the current Toyota Corolla and it’s absence of any other redeeming factors).

  • avatar
    Zackman

    So, what’s worse? A rental Impala or this minivan?

    I’ve only rented minivans twice – a Chrysler, which I almost bought because I loved it so much back in 1993, and a Sedona in 2007, which made me rue the day.

    W-Bodies forever – well, for the foreseeable future, anyway…but a Corvette sure would be sweet on our next California trip!

    • 0 avatar
      segfault

      From reading this review, I’d prefer a rental Impala. I’ve driven the Impala (although not the end of run model with the 3.6), and found the driving experience to be generally unobjectionable. On the other hand, my legs rubbed against the side skirts and got dirty, and the 12V power outlets are located inconveniently. Also, the “dual zone” temperature controls are infuriating in that it’s difficult to dial in the correct temperature.

  • avatar
    KixStart

    Memo to self: Don’t give up the ’01 Sienna.

    Against the compeitition back in ’01 the Sienna seemed to have much better performance and the LE was comfortable, quiet and quite nice (not luxurious but nice). And it was cheaper than an Odyssey, although likely more than a Caravan, Venture or Windstar. This review makes the late Siennas seem like a disappointment but it is a fleet-grade vehicle. OTOH, it seems like the non-fleet Siennas are exploring new frontiers in minivan pricing.

    One of the enduring mysteries for Toyot fans is, “Why is there no hybrid Sienna?” While the Camry hybrid drivetrain might lack the necessary power, I would think a Sienna with a 2.7 could be made to work (electric plus gas plus CVT should equal decent performance).

    • 0 avatar
      usernamealreadyregistered

      As someone who recently traded a 2001 Sienna LE for a 2013 Sienna XLE, I’d have to agree. Despite upgrading to the next trim level, the 2013 interior is substantially inferior in quality. We made the trade because I wanted a few of the new-fangled safety features (rear disc brakes and side curtain airbags) and because the wife wanted something shiny for the preschool dropoff line.

      After a few months with this thing, I’m still surprised about all the ways in which the 2013 is a step down from the 2001: floor mats and carpet are thin, dashboard gaps are bigger, leather seems like it will be less durable than the old cloth and the climate control controls are not all that intuitive.

      If and when you decide to go looking for something shiny with rear disc brakes, there might be better vehicles out there.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    2013 YTD sales (base prices in parentheses):

    Sienna ($26,595): 29,052
    Venza ($27,850): 11,081

    T&C ($30,395): 26,765
    Grand Caravan ($19,995): 26,490
    Journey ($19,590): 22,992

    Total Toyota: 40,133
    Total Chrysler: 76,247

    Chrysler’s edge: 36,114

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    Are you sure you weren’t driving a stripper ’98 Pontiac Trans Sport that someone glued Toyota badges on?

    Your description of the overwrought jumbo controls seems to fit the GM U-body offerings perfectly.

  • avatar
    Acd

    Here’s a rental car tip: try to get a Chrysler Town & Country because most of them have satellite radio while most Caravans don’t.

  • avatar
    philadlj

    My junior high school’s principal, whose son was in my class, owned a mid-engined, supercharged, rear-wheel-drive Toyota!

    Yeah, it was a Previa.

  • avatar
    jacad

    Really!! A road test of an almost fleet only vehicle that is no longer sold that was picked up at the Airport?

    I was a Chrysler dealer at one time so I have driven a few of them. I bought Honda minivans for two daughters and a 2011 LE to haul my dogs around for myself. As a result, I have had real time experience with the major competitors.

    The LE was reasonably equipped at the price point but I did buy the V-6 like most every other retail customer. Over a two year period of time and 30,000 miles there were zero defects. It rode well, returned reasonable gas mileage, and was one of the most versatile vehicles I have ever owned.

    I have read dozens of road tests and comparative tests between the different competitors because of my experience owning them. With rare exception, the argument comes down to the Honda handling better and the Toyota being more comfortable. Everything else is a distant third place.

    Most every automotive writer with more than six months experience gets around to writing about minivans. This review wreaks of trying to be controversial and anti-establishment. Should have taken the Corvette!

  • avatar
    Rday

    I have a 2010 Sienna XLE and I love it. Wanted to wait for the new model but couldn’t wait for it. Turns out that CR rates the new model lower than the older one. So I am glad I bought when I did. I have been in the new Honda and it is like the new Sienna. Dash boards are cheap and just seem ‘cheap’. According to CR both Honda and Toyota have decontented or cheapened the newer models. Had an 02 Grand Caravan and would never ever consider a Chrysler product again. When I traded in the GC a comparably equipped Honda with similar miles in similar condition retailed for $15K while i got only $7k for my GC. So the Chrysler vans need to be thousands of dollars cheaper because their resale is just plain ‘crap’. I am sure the same thing is true for the Sienna’s value since it is well loved by its’ owners. I have never had a problem with the Sienna and expect to drive it forever with little if any costs out or regular maintenance. I don’t like the Hondas because they have timing belts which are expensive to change. Toyota has a chain.
    Actually all of these vans are not good drivers if performance is what you are looking for. They are just oversized heavy high profile vehicles. Anyone expecting to get a performance out of one of these will be kidding themselves.
    But I don’t think that you can beat the Sienna for ride and comfort, especially when taking a trip. It is just a very comfortable and reliable vehicle to own and drive. I have never understood why people overlook these kind of vehicles when they want comfort and ride. And especially for old farts like myself. It is just so much easier to enter and exit these vehicles because of their large doors and high clearance height. I guess older people with Alzheimer’s and/or dementia just can’t figure it all out.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Well, here’s a guy who owned one of those “supercharged suppositories” and liked it. For 130,000 miles, the only non-maintenance item was a failed universal joint in the rear wheel drivetrain (mine was AWD). Yes it did tend to eat front brakes, which were probably too small — but remember, this was designed for the “Drive 55″ era. Having taken it up to our house in West Virginia, many, many times, I would say that it handled far better than any other minivan I’ve driven, all of which feel ponderous in comparison.

    And, thanks to the odd engine location, there was more room inside than any other minivan, including the competing Chrysler products, despite a smaller overall length. The leather seats (we had the luxe model) were the best I’ve ever sat in and the thing got a righteous 25 mpg on the highway, loaded with 3 kids, dogs and the usual stuff you put in a minivan.

    And, with Blizzaks on all 4 wheels, we left many Cherokees, and similar “four wheel drive” vehicles stuck in the snow (of course, they had all-seasons).

    Even for its time, it was expensive . . . but well worth it. As other articles have noted, this was from the days when Japanese car manufactures could afford to do one-off engines and drivetrains, like the flopped on it’s side 2.5 liter 16V supercharged engine in our Previa. The lawyout was just begging for 4wd, with prop shafts exiting both ends of the transmission, which was under the floor between the first and second row of seats.

    Frankly, it is everything my current Honda Pilot EX-L is not (except the Pilot is a little faster . . . and much more thirsty).

  • avatar
    tjh8402

    If anyone is worried about the Chrysler van’s reliability, you can get lifetime bumper to bumper warranty coverage for $4k or less on one new…slightly more if it’s used. Still way less than the price difference on the Toyota. My sister rented a Grand Caravan and absolutely fell in love with the thing. The only reason she ended up not buying one was the city mileage was poor (as are all minivans), and as much as she loved the fan and its convenience, it didn’t offer enough to offset the poor mileage vs what she ended up getting (the Honda Fit). When we went shopping for vans initially, most of the other manufacturers dealers didn’t even try to talk her into one of their vans or SUVs. Once she described the features she was looking for, most of acknowledged the Chrysler twins were the best match.

    • 0 avatar
      200k-min

      “If anyone is worried about the Chrysler van’s reliability, you can get lifetime bumper to bumper warranty coverage for $4k or less on one new”

      A friend just got this on a different Dodge. I’m always a bit skeptical of warranties and their fine print. It’s only as good as the company backing it and Mopar while improved hasn’t swooned me quite yet. Meanwhile I have a 14 year old Honda with over 200,000 miles on it where I never needed a warranty as only general wear items needed replacing.

      My brother used to drive minivans as company cars. I still recall the day he had to pick up the Caravan as Ford had dropped the Freestar. He called me saying that it’s the “cheapest vehicle he’s had yet.” When I first rode in it I agreed, the Chrysler feels flimsy compared to the competition. It’s not just a Chrysler thing, I’ve noticed the same with Mazda. Then months down the road when the Dodge was in the shop for problem upon problem my brother was forever turned off the Mopar brand.

      I have no experience with the Sienna but while many argue that Toyota is resting on their reputation I would argue the same for Chrysler and their minivans. They do some things well (sto-n-go) but overall their vans aren’t great aside from a price point.

      • 0 avatar
        CJinSD

        I rented a Town & Country with Sto-n-go for work. The van was brand freaking new; never rented to anyone previously, Enterprise staff’s ejaculate still damp on the seats. I folded one of the middle row bucket seats into the floor. Folded flush, seemed convenient. When I tried to retrieve the seat from the well, it did not want to return. I checked for levers. I checked the owner’s manual, to make sure I was doing everything correctly. I didn’t want to force anything on this van, which would soon be hauling Chrysler executives at the Four Seasons Aviara. I folded the opposite seat and returned it to upright position as a test to confirm that I understood the operations involved and something was indeed wrong with the first seat. No problem. At this point I employed a bit of force to the recalcitrant seat, showering the interior with fragments of cheap plastic from a misaligned trim piece that had been eaten by the mechanism. Great cars.

        • 0 avatar
          gearhead77

          I find this interesting. Sampling all the vans at the auto show, my gearhead brother and I could figure out and fairly easily make the rear seats fold into the floor. This was on all the vans within a minute or so of studying the the directions except the Chrysler. Toyota does it best, IMHO, because they give you a hydraulic assist to lift the seat back up. The Honda and Nissan were heavy but manageable.

          The Chrysler was much more challenging and didn’t seem to function as smoothly. But the front Stow and Go’s were really clunky/PITA to work. It’s a great idea, just not as well executed as it could be. Also, the rear liftgate supports on the Chrysler cut into the opening way too much, reducing odd cargo capacity and giving you something to bang your head on.

          I don’t care much about the middle seats, as we have two kids, don’t plan on anymore. But having the third row be simple and straightforward is key. Visiting the auto show gave a chance to experience these things without some salesperson breathing down your neck. Also nice having the other competitors vehicles within walking distance.

          If this sounds like nitpicky sh!*, you’re right. But these types of “Mommy and Daddy approved” features is a huge part of what sells these vans.

          • 0 avatar
            JKC

            I had the same initial experience with the seats in my wife’s T&C. The middle seats folded, but it took a fair amount of effort and it always felt like something was about to snap. Six months later, they work fine, and fold easily. No harm, no foul, but they should have been like that from the beginning.

    • 0 avatar
      tjh8402

      @200k – My parents got the warranty on their Fiat 500 and it was one of the main selling points for them. Our family drives cars into the ground, and in the past year and a half we’ve seen two cars (my Infiniti I30 and my parents Toyota Camry) both go down at around the 270k mark due to engine trouble, and my Dad’s e36 convertible is now a coupe due to needing a top mechanism it will never get because the repair costs way more than the car is worth. In both cases, we’d likely still be driving both cars if they had that warranty on them. It’s not an aftermarket warranty. It’s a Chrysler warranty, not an aftermarket one, so seeing as Chrysler probably isn’t in trouble much anymore, I don’t see there being concerns about someone being around to pay the warranty costs.

      As far as the vehicles being flimsy, they were greatly improved with the 2010 (or was it 2011?) update. They don’t feel nearly as cheap or chintzy inside, the powertrain works great with the chassis, and the ride and handling are good for a vehicle that size. I have no complaints about the way they drive or feel inside.

      My sister found the stow n go incredibly easy to use. I have given a lot of rental Caravans to customers at the FBO I work at, and with the exception of our more elderly clientele, most were able to discern the seat operation on their own, or be good after a quick demo. My sister found them to be incredibly simple.

  • avatar
    gisguru

    Turth is – The Truth About Cars HATES Toyotas and the people who buy them. They believe that we are just dumb lemmings that don’t have the “class” or “driver sophistication” to know better. They fawn over Buicks and Audi’s that will probably never see six figures on their odometers. Sickening

  • avatar
    gisguru

    The fact that you won’t post my comments illustrates how true those words are!!

  • avatar
    Russycle

    Jack, congratulations on winning the much-coveted TTAC Minivan beat. I’m not sure what you did to deserve this, but do let us know, should be a good story.

  • avatar
    gisguru

    Have you at TTAC ever met a Toyota you didn’t hate?

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “…but I trust it more than I trust any Toyota V-6″
    When that was said, I understood -this article is hoax.

    • 0 avatar
      Carlson Fan

      Why? I have owned 2 Toyotas with V6s and neither made 100K before they self destructed. In both instances the failures were due to poor Toyota engineering and so thousands of other owners besides myself were affected. That comment could not have rang more true to me.

      • 0 avatar
        84Cressida

        OH really? Well we’ve had a combined total of 11 of them (V6’s), and none gave us any trouble. It’s not Toyota’s fault you don’t change your oil.

  • avatar
    easytree

    I have personal experience with two Caravans. They both left me stranded. Reliability per Consumer Reports has sucked forever, and my personal experience is the same. I have a 2007 Sienna that has been a dream with over 105000 miles and no problems. The Sienna is powerful, fuel stingy and very reliable. I have driven the new Caravan. It has one good characteristic, power. The transmission is a waste and the ride rocks like a cradle. You want a superior ride choose the Sienna. In the 2013 minivan market, Sienna is number one and Dodge and Chrysler are declining in sales.

    The reviewer was biased or paid off for his ridiculous review.

  • avatar

    Not applicable to this model, but the Sienna’s the only AWD option out there.

    “FWD + snow tires…rabblerabble”

    In California the CHP requires chains on 2wd vehicles the second flakes start hitting the ground. AWD = no chains. >2 kids + going to mountains = big SUV/CUV or AWD Sienna. All of which are >35k.

    Chrysler could rake in all kinds of dough if with an AWD Caravan if they could do it for high-20s, low-30s.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I’ve had two excellent Chrysler minivans – 96 GV and 99 GC.

    The worst was an 05 Odyssey, which was a lemon.

    But the best so far is my 09 Sedona. Although I’m nearing the end of the minivan season of life, the redesigned 14 Sedona should be an interesting product.

    My gripe about the Toyota is its price. It just doesn’t seem worth that much to me, but it has a cult following that doesn’t seem to mind.

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      You’ve had good luck with a HyunKia van? Please do tell, because no one seemed to buy them and I know the early Sedona vans were terrible vehicles. The Koreans have the value idea down, but I know they can get weird as they age.

      I too, feel the Honda or Toyota vans aren’t really worth it brand new. Unless something changes, we’ll probably be looking used. They still command a premium used, but it’s a bit easier to deal with. And I’d be lying if the Honda transmission longevity wasn’t a concern. I find Toyotas too soft, but the Sienna SE seems like it’d be OK. Haven’t driven either one. The Chrysler is very quiet on the road and has decent power, but other than price, it has little appeal. The wife doesn’t like the Quest’s styling or the CVT in my Altima, so it’s out.

      Chryslers are not worth what they charge up front. At least a 44k Odyssey I can get 35k for a year later. Year old Chryslers with a 40k sticker are 25-28k retail.

  • avatar
    84Cressida

    Wow. Just wow, I knew this would be an anti-Toyota review just for the sake of it seeing it was done by Jack “the camrys been a POS for 20 years” Baruth just confirmed it. Your bias is even more pronounced when you throw out your “I wouldn’t trust a Toyota V6″ BS line.

    I work at Enterprise, so I have to deal with the heavily fleeted Chrysler vans every single day. I cannot tell you just how god-awful terrible those things are to anyone who isn’t a UAW member or paid off by Chrysler like you appear to be. Those Pentastar V6’s you rave so much about are the noisiest and most unrefined boat anchors of any modern engine. Every single one of them, including those in 200s, have noisy rattles and ticking at idle and while revving them. I’ve worked there for over a year and we’ve had to have 5 transmissions replaced on the Mopar vans since I’ve been there and even then several still shudder and drop into gear and feel like they’re going to fall out of the van. A transmission on one blew while a customer was driving it and the van had only 5572 miles (yes, I wrote it down). The materials used in the interior are also a huge pain in the ass to clean and after a certain point, can never be fully cleaned. The carpet has actually come out of the door jambs in some areas like the back hatch and sliding doors on several that I’ve seen and the dash (which is hard as a rock plastic, just like the Sienna’s you seemed to have no problem mentioning..) stains easily and has faded to an off-black on every single one of them that has been around the block awhile. The stow n’ go seats are a great feature, when they work. I’ve seen a few jammed that won’t fold up and we’ve had to get them fixed.

    The driving position in them is horrible and I absolutely hate how the pedals feel and how sensitive they are. The traaction control system is worthless, since even feathering the gas can make the front tires chirp.

    We have very few Siennas (it helps when actual people want to buy your product and not have to rely on Enterprise and Hertz). I rented one for a trip to SF a month ago, a 2013 V6. The van got 27 mpg and made it on one tank of gas fom Redding to SF and back, including some driving in SF itself. In total, I drove the van for over 500 miles (and no, not on that one tank before some jumps at me). The seats were comfortable and the van was super smooth and quiet. I’m disappointed the plastics aren’t as soft as in the old Sienna and I really hope Toyota improves it and quick, because that is the van’s weak point. But other than that, it mops the floor with anything Chrysler can foist on the public and there’s a reason why the Caravan can be had for so cheap and with so much cash on the hood.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    Are you crazy? It comes stock from the factory with headers! What’s not to love?

    I do love me some vans, but not one that’s as overtaxed as this one is being pulled around by a 4 cylinder engine.

  • avatar
    JKC

    My observations line up with Jack’s after test-driving all three vans. The Honda was nice, but expensive. The Chrysler (which we ended up buying) had the best outward visibility, best handling and was by far the best bang for the buck.

    The Toyota, while it had nicer middle and rear row seats, handled like a barge, and I couldn’t see where the darned front bumper was. Yechh.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    Claire Dunphy from the hit show “Modern Family” drives a loaded late-model Sienna, by the way.

    And they need to drop the anemic 2.7L from the 4Runner as well, if they haven’t already. That thing is far too heavy to be motivated by that kind of engine. In fact, 2.7L engines, whether with four or six cylinders, tend to be bastard-children in general for some reason.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    My aunt has a 2011 XLE V6 Limited which I rode in last year. I was really impressed by the ride quality, quietness, and all of the features it had on the interior, in a nice grey leather/wood combo. It could have easily had a Lexus badge on the front. Comparing this to my mom’s previous Caravan Sport (2000) it was light years ahead. I didn’t know minivans could be so nice.

  • avatar
    chiefmonkey

    Only minivan I could ever buy is the Mazda5. I actually like the way the thing looks

    • 0 avatar
      gearhead77

      Our 5 is great, I like the styling on our 08 GT better than the 2010 and up van, and I plan on keeping it for myself when the lease runs out on my Altima. I love most things about it (suspension issues be damned and a need for about 20 more hp), but it’s just too small for big trips or even little trips with lots of stuff. With the wife,myself and twin boys in car seats, it’s very easy to run out of space for things and people.

      A larger van will allow us to carry more. It’s not an excuse to bring more stuff, but it would allow us to carry the grandparents or other adults on day trips WITH stuff in the back,instead of separate vehicles. It will allow a box store run without having to stick a roll of carpet slightly out the window.

      A minivan, even though not so mini anymore, is a good compromise on the SUV vs station wagon thing in my mind. I love wagons, but getting little ones in and out is a challenge at best. The large and versatile capacity of any of the vans is the dream of most SUV owners with kids. Sliding doors are wonderful and the herniated disc in my back appreciates only stooping slightly to put kids in. Maybe as they age, a wagon will be on the plate somewhere, if someone still builds one.

  • avatar

    Its really too bad the Author of this very good article on Mini Vans is so biased, here in Canada,people buy Chrysler Vans mainly because they are far cheaper than either Honda or Toyota products, you do see some Honda Mini Vans here too and not so many Toyota products in this area ie Ontario.
    Some people love Chrysler products,, I am not one of them and do not have a Mini Van, so maybe I should not be able to make a comment, I do know Service people who work on Chrysler products are not in love with them,that being said,people don’t do there home work when deciding to buy this Model or that Model and so it goes!

  • avatar
    88BroncoII

    Here is my experience with our 2012 Sienna Base with the 2.7L 4 cylinder. We had a 2009 Mazda5 (bought used (former rental) and absolutely loved it), but with a growing family and the amount of highway travel/trips we take, I was looking for something bigger. Unlike most people, reliability, simplicity, and value (doesn’t mean cheap, just want more for the money) are what I care the most about in my vehicles. For example, we did not want power sliding doors since that is just one more thing to go wrong.

    Keeping in mind my priorities in a family vehicle, I had been interested in the Sienna 4 cylinder ever since I first heard that it was being offered; so after a lot of research I decided on the Sienna to replace the Mazda. Since I was not in a hurry, I had the luxury of waiting/watching for a deal, and after about three weeks I came across that deal on Autotrader. It meant me driving to Atlanta (I live in B’ham, AL), but the deal was worth it. We got the van brand new, with dealer options of tinted windows (which make ALL the difference on a base Sienna- they just plain look like a base model with clear windows) and floor mats, for $20,999+fees/tax= $21,700 OTD. The invoice (not MSRP) on this van was $23,470.

    For that price, I feel very good on the value- it’s a lot of vehicle for that price. I get 21-22 MPG city and 25-26 MPG highway. While we are not lead-foots (feet?), we have not noticed any issues with the power from the 2.7. Additionally, on the interstate it is one of the best vehicles I’ve driven for soaking up the miles. On the interstate the engine cruises at 75 mph at 2300 RPM and the van is smooth, comfortable, and quiet. The interior space is vast, both for luggage and people. As for interior features, my opinion is that the driving position and control layout are very good, while the materials are middling and nothing to write home about. Feel free to laugh, but with our color (sandy gold) and the tinted windows, it is hard for me to pick it out as a base model- the main giveaway being the gray “Sienna” badge/latch cover above the tag on the back door, which looks like a mustache since it isn’t matched to the rest of the van :).

    We’ve owned the Sienna for a year now, and while I would not say that our Sienna is the best van on the market for every buyer, for us with our priorities of value and reliability it fits the bill perfectly. Jack’s comment about “Land-Cruiser-in-Africa-style long-term durability” speaks precisely to me and he hit the nail on the head when saying that this kind of buyer would be interested in the 4 cylinder Sienna. Make no mistake, our van is an “everything you need, nothing you don’t” proposition, but that is what we wanted. It is not a hot rod and it doesn’t handle like a sports sedan, but nor do I need it to. I like the peace of mind of the simple Toyota 4 cylinder and lack of power sliding/remote lifting paraphernalia and I aim to get many miles out of the vehicle. Hopefully with this purchase, I have set us up for a trouble-free van experience.

  • avatar
    tobiasfunkemd

    I learned to drive in a 1991 Toyota Previa, and still remember the level of workmanship in that vehicle. My Dad drove it to close to 400,000 miles with only routine maintenance; a bad wiring harness due to corrosion did it in eventually. He had owned a series of American iron going back at least 20 years, but after his 1987 Olds station wagon needed a new engine at 70,000 miles, he jumped to Japanese imports and never looked back. This reminds me of that jump-off point, 22 years in the future. Toyota is clearly resting on the reputation it cemented in the late 1980’s-early 1990’s, while the real value now lies with the American offering. I’ve always had a soft spot for Toyota and Honda minivans, mostly for their practicality and honesty, but now I find myself looking at the T&C and Mazda5 much more seriously than the Sienna and Odyssey.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      Yeah, they don’t make them like that anymore. Even the foreign brands have dropped down to the quality level of the American brands.

      A friend of mine has a 1989 Camry V6 that still does daily duty and has the original plugs in it and everything else original except the rubber, AC compressor and exhaust pipe/muffler assembly.

      OTOH, the American brands have made great improvement in their products brought on by the onslaught of the better foreign vehicles.

      Building a car that lasts a long time doesn’t sell any new ones, hence we’re back again to planned obsolescence.

  • avatar

    I’ve got a belated question about “any Toyota V-6″, too. It’s related to reader “slavuta”‘s question, which Jack never answered. So, what was wrong with those v6’s and does that include the 2.4L v6?

  • avatar
    raresleeper

    I am resurrecting the dead here, and I cannot explain why I am reading up on a Sienna. Especially why I am reading up on the unloved 2.7L.

    I must say though… very well written article, Jack.

    I just drove the Sienna 2.7 without actually driving it. Yet, the experience was much worse for you by a wide margin.


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