Toyota puts 4 cylinder in 2011 Sienna van

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It's time to stop calling the Toyota Sienna a minivan. There's nothing "mini" about the comfortable and roomy interior of this nearly 17-foot-long vehicle.

Maybe it's time to stop calling the Sienna boring, too. As a new, third-generation van with arguably its best exterior styling ever, upgraded interior and a new engine, the 2011 Sienna is noteworthy.

It's the first Sienna with a fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine, and therefore ranks second best among vans in gasoline mileage with a 19-miles-per-gallon city rating and 24 mpg on the highway. Only the 2010 Mazda5, which also comes with a four-cylinder engine, has a higher federal government fuel economy rating in the segment. But the Mazda5 is smaller and lighter weight than the Sienna.

The Sienna also retains its all-wheel drive feature , the only one of the traditional minivans to do so.

Best of all, the Sienna's base manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is reduced from 2010, thanks to the four-cylinder engine. The base 2011 Sienna starts at $25,070 and has the 187-horsepower four banger, automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. The lowest-priced V-6-powered 2011 Sienna, which has the same engine as last year's model, starts at $26,310. This is up from the $25,350 starting retail price of the V-6-powered 2010 Sienna. The lowest starting retail price for a 2011 Sienna with all-wheel drive is $31,940. All-wheel-drive Siennas come only the V-6.

In comparison, the top seller in the segment, the 244-horsepower, 2010 Honda Odyssey with V-6, has a starting MSRP plus destination charge that's higher than those of both the four-cylinder and six-cylinder 2011 Siennas , $27,585. The 2010 Dodge Grand Caravan starts at $24,095, but its base V-6 has just 175 horses, less horsepower than the Sienna's new four cylinder provides.

The Sienna's sales have declined over the years, putting the Toyota van in fourth place last calendar year in U.S. sales in the segment. But the new, attractive styling, which includes flared sheet metal at the fenders and a bolder front end, surely help the Sienna shake its previous bland look.

The ride is still very compliant and comfortable for folks who don't want to feel much of anything from the road beneath them. The test 2011 Sienna LE with four-cylinder engine even rode gently over speed bumps.

The vehicle rides on the same platform as last year's model. But the front strut suspension and rear torsion-beam axle suspension are retuned to keep the body more controlled and less wallowy. Still, a driver notices the vehicle's mass and weight shifting as it goes through corners and curves, especially on off-camber roads. The Sienna stays on its line, but there can be an unsettled feeling for an aggressive driver.

A new sporty Sienna , the SE , comes with a firmer ride, 19-inch wheels and tires and revised power steering. It starts at $31,360. Note that despite the positioning of the SE as a sporty van, it comes with the same six-speed automatic transmission and 3.5-liter, double overhead cam V-6, with 265 horsepower and 245 foot-pounds of torque at 4,700 rpm, that's in other V-6 Siennas.

The test LE Sienna, however, had the new 2.7-liter, double overhead cam four cylinder that produces 187 horses and 186 foot-pounds of torque at 4,100 rpm. Mated to the six-speed automatic, the engine was quite capable and surprising for its strong power delivery. It could be easy for many drivers to forget that there's a four cylinder under the hood, especially in city traffic where so many vans are used daily.

On country roads where it needed to pass other vehicles efficiently, the test Sienna performed well. There was more engine noise during these situations, and the van didn't jet right past others. But power came on responsively, nonetheless, and was confidence-inspiring, even if I did notice shift points from the transmission now and then.

Fuel mileage was good, averaging 20.9 mpg in travel that was 70 percent on city roads and 30 percent at highway speeds. In contrast, the V-6-powered 2010 Honda Odyssey, is rated at 17/25 mpg by the federal government.

The Sienna has a new, attractive interior for 2011. It's more modern than its predecessor and seems reminiscent of the Toyota Venza crossover sport utility vehicle in its grouping of controls and clear presentation of gauges. The dashboard-mounted gear shifter in the Sienna, took some attention, though, as it didn't have the natural feel of a floor-mounted shifter.

Passengers loved the large side windows for the first and second rows in the Sienna, and the fact the second-row windows opened about two-thirds of the way was a plus. Front and second-row seats also had oh-so-long tracks to shift legroom fore and aft. Cupholders and storage spots, which include two gloveboxes and a center console large enough to hold a purse, abound.

But the rearview camera monitor on the test vehicle was quite small, and drivers making turns must be careful to look all around the large, steel pillars at the sides of the windshield in order to see pedestrians.

Fit and finish on the tester was not up to the usual Toyota standard, with some items, such as the plastic covering on these pillars, being loose. Interior wasn't as quiet as some other vans.

The Sienna comes with much standard safety equipment, including antilock brakes, curtain air bags for all three rows of passengers, electronic stability control and a knee air bag that helps keep the driver properly positioned behind the steering wheel during a crash.


2011 Toyota Sienna LE

BASE PRICE: $24,260 for base model with four cylinder; $25,500 for base, V-6 model; $25,345 for LE four cylinder.
AS TESTED: $28,890.
TYPE: Front-engine, front-wheel-drive, eight-passenger van.
ENGINE: 2.7-liter, double overhead cam, four cylinder with VVT-i.
MILEAGE: 19 mpg (city), 24 mpg (highway).
TOP SPEED: NA.
LENGTH: 200.2 inches.
WHEELBASE: 119.3 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 4,310 pounds.
BUILT AT: Princeton, Ind.
OPTIONS: Preferred package (includes dual sliding side doors, Bluetooth connectivity, XM satellite radio, rearview camera, power driver's seat) $2,735.
DESTINATION CHARGE: $810.

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