Sienna's cup runneth over with comfort
I, for one, am old enough to remember the Great Minivan Cupholder Wars of the '90s. It was a brutally bellicose moment in automotive history, as the lords of autodom struggled to equip their minivans with more cup holders than their enemies offered.
The Geneva Convention was ignored during this epic clash. There was much cup-to-cup combat.
Finally, a victor emerged. Chevrolet had equipped its new Venture minivan with 17 cup holders. At the vehicle's unveiling in New York City, John Middlebrook, then general manager of Chevrolet, looked me in the eye and said: "I think we have won the cup-holder wars."
It was unclear whether the accompanying smile was one of triumph or humor. I guess we'll never know.
While no automaker has surpassed the 17-cupholder benchmark to my knowledge, some have gotten pretty close. Consider, for example, the 2014 Toyota Sienna I just tested. I counted 13 cup holders in this eight-seat minivan - four in the front, five in the second row, and four in the third.
That profusion of cup holders is emblematic of Toyota's efforts to make this spacious and comfortable minivan as useful as possible. There are myriad storage spaces. The second-row captain's chairs in the upmarket XLE tester (base price $33,510) slide back and forth to adjust second- and third-row legroom and furnish easy access to the third-row seating. Those captain's chairs are also foldable and removable, as is the narrow center seat between them. Removing that center seat reveals a storage space - and the second row's fifth cup holder. A deep well in the rear storage compartment maximizes cargo space.
You get the idea: This is a thoughtful interior. It's also a roomy one. I was able to adjust the first- and second-row seats so that someone 6-foot-2 would have ample legroom in all three rows. Most of the minivans and crossovers I've been in have third-row legroom suitable for Ken and Barbie's newborn.
The rear cargo compartment can be made even more generous by folding the third-row seating flat. But even if you don't fold it, that rear compartment will still hold five golf bags or four large suitcases.
The tester turned out to be a pleasant, comfortable companion as well as a roomy one. The vehicle felt solid, and made its way quietly and smoothly, its ride enhanced by a long, nearly 120-inch wheelbase.
From a driving standpoint, you're struck, initially, by the Sienna's good visibility and driving position, and its intuitive instrument and control placement. Engine power is another plus. Like the Dodge and Chrysler minivans, which employ a 3.6-liter, 280-horsepower engine, the Sienna is powered by a robust V-6, one that derives 266 horses from 3.5 liters.
The net result is the minivan as anti-slouch, a marked departure from some of the industry's earlier four-cylinder critters that were so reluctant to leave the kennel when you got on the gas. The flip side of that decent oomph is gas mileage indigenous to two-ton minivans, in this case, 18 city and 25 highway.
I found the Sienna's styling pleasing, and its body fits excellent. The same could be said of the interior. My only quibble was with the dearth of soft-touch surfaces inside a vehicle that started at $33,510. Except for the armrest inserts, it was all hard plastic.
The Sienna is the only minivan available with all-wheel-drive. Its price tag ranges from $26,920 for the base front-drive L model to $41,710 for the Limited with AWD. The Sienna is nicely equipped in base form, and quite loaded by the time you get to the leathery, mid-price tester.
Toyota Sienna XLE (front-drive).
Base price: $33,510.
As tested: $36,560.
Standard equipment: 3.5-liter engine, six-speed automatic transmission, front-drive, and an amenity litany as long as Shaq's inseam. The latter included leather, power heated front seats, power liftgate, power moonroof, power sliding rear doors, and nifty sound.
Options: Goodies include navigation system, blind-spot monitor, backup camera, and rear cross-traffic alert.
18 m.p.g. city
and 25 highway.
Engine performance: Healthy.
Ride quality: Nearing amniotic.
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper.
The Ben key: four bens, excellent; three Bens, good; two Bens, fair; one Ben, poor.