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2006 Toyota Sienna Expert Reviews

Expert Reviews

2006 Toyota Sienna

New Car Test Drive
© 2006

The Toyota Sienna is roomy, comfortable and does everything well. It's easy to live with and comes loaded with features that make life easier and more convenient. Everything operates exactly as people expect, so equipment struggles are rare. Its smoothness and convenience allows the vehicle to fade into the background while you go about your life.

On the road, the Sienna delivers a smooth ride, responsive handling, and brisk acceleration performance. Its 230-horsepower V6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission deliver responsive throttle response while variable valve timing assures good fuel economy. The Sienna is rated to tow up to 3500 pounds.

The Sienna has a strong reputation for safety. Front seat-mounted side-impact airbags plus side curtain airbags for all three rows are now standard on all models. A rear-view camera is available to help the driver spot objects or children behind the vehicle when backing up. All-wheel drive is available for more secure travel in foul weather well.

In short, the Toyota Sienna is one of the best minivans available for 2006, and it may be the best.

Completely redesigned for the 2004 model year, the Sienna features gets some upgrades for 2006. The styling has been freshened in the form of new headlamps and fog lamps, a revised grille, and redesigned tail lamps. A new power folding third-row seat for the Sienna Limited model makes switching from carrying people to cargo easier. The available rear-seat entertainment system features a larger, nine-inch LCD screen, while a universal mini-jack port now comes on all audio systems for connectivity to portable music players. New, power folding mirrors on 2006 Limited models feature puddle lamps and turn signals. New Optitron gauges, similar to those used by Lexus, come on 2006 LE, XLE and Limited grades.

Model Lineup

Toyota Sienna CE ($23,625); CE 8-passenger ($23,775); LE FWD 7-passenger ($25,130); LE FWD 8-passenger ($25,280); LE AWD ($28,745); XLE FWD ($29,425); XLE AWD ($32,630); XLE Limited FWD ($35,880): XLE Limited AWD ($38,080)

Walk Around

This second-generation Toyota Sienna was designed in California, engineered in Michigan, and is built in Indiana. It was redesigned and launched as a 2004 model, with the wheelbase lengthened five inches and the track widened by four inches over the older, first-generation Sienna, a dramatic change. Measuring 200 inches front to rear, on a 119-inch wheelbase, the Sienna is a big vehicle. There's nothing mini about it.

Overall, with its big headlamps and big taillamps, restyled for 2006, the Sienna has an imposing presence, especially at night. Black window pillars and extensions on the steeply raked windshield lend a sleek appearance and make it look even larger than it is. Nevertheless, the overall impression of strength is undercut a bit by the proportionally smaller wheels and grille. The grille has been restyled for 2006 models.

A big windshield, big wipers, and wiper-mounted washer nozzles were designed to improve driver visibility in the worst conditions the Snow Belt can dish up. The slot for the sliding doors is cleverly hidden, offering a cleaner look.

The Sierra won't inspire macho envy at the carwash, but it is an attractive vehicle and unsurpassed for utilitarian practicality.


The Toyota Sienna boasts a roomy interior, with lots of space for passengers and cargo. Fold the second- and third-row seats flat and it can carry 4x8 sheets of plywood.

Getting in and out is easy. Sienna's power sliding doors and power rear liftgate work superbly. Step-in height is about six inches lower than that of the Sequoia SUV, a benefit when dressed up or dealing with toddlers or dogs, or just about every time you get in or out. The power sliding doors are smooth and quiet and move relatively quickly, a good feature when dealing with impatient passengers (and aren't they all impatient?). Manual sliding doors and the manual rear hatch on LE and CE models have a quality feel as well. But the power doors are a nice convenience.

The rear side windows lower partly, but not below the center of gravity of a toddler, and feature anti-pinch protection designed to reduce chance of injuries to small hands and fingers. A nice feature is the availability of sunshades for the second- and third-row seats, as they filter strong sunlight even better than privacy glass.

The driver sits before a smooth, organic dash, though the center stack looks a bit tacked on, especially with the faux-wood trim on the Limited model. The seats are comfortable, even for long drives. The steering wheel tilts and telescopes. Big mirrors and lots of glass give the driver a good view. The dash-mounted shifter seems unusual at first and has a bit of a spindly feel. The heating/air conditioning system works well and features dual front seat controls that are easy to sync by pressing a button. Switches for the power sliding doors and power rear liftgate are overhead.

Trim materials improve as you go up the line, but are of good quality even on the base CE model. The CE comes with a nice cloth interior, though the door inserts are plain. LE features nicer cloth, nicer door inserts, and other trim. XLE offers even better cloth. The Limited is upholstered in leather.

There are lots of cubbies for storage. Two glove boxes are provided. A big center console holds 12 CDs. Armrest compartments each hold six CDs, and there's a spot for a small cell phone just to the right of the shifter. The dry cleaning hooks look big enough to accomodate big loads. Hooks in back are provided for plastic grocery bags. A standard 115-volt outlet, like the kind in your house, is provided, allowing you to power computers or other small electronic appliances from your car, though a blow dryer might be pushing. All models come with a battery saver feature that deactivates the dome lights after 30 minutes, an important feature since minivans are often used with the doors open as all-day bases for picnics or outdoor activities.

The second row of seats is roomy. There's good space for legs, and an airy feel with welcome room next to the passenger's head. That's impressive, particularly with the Sienna's standard curtain-style airbags; they do not intrude into rear headroom as much as other designs. When not needed, the second-row seatbacks flip down and the seat bottoms tumble forward, presenting a friendly surface for cargo or pets. The second-row seats are mechanically easy to remove and reinstall, though the 49-pound captain's chairs may require two people to wrestle in and out.

Seven-passenger models use captain's chairs for the second row. The right-hand seat can be repositioned laterally (side to side), offering either a small bench seat or a pair of bucket seats with space between them. Moving them close together makes getting into the back row easier. Moving them apart makes them more comforable for adults. The seat has to be removed and reinstalled in one of two locations, however; it does not slide on tracks, which is a more costly design. Toyota says most people normally don't move the second-row seats once they've decided on the favored position. Unfortunately, this setup leaves the attachment points exposed. A neat

Driving Impressions

The Toyota Sienna boasts a smooth ride and responsive handling, striking a good balance between the two. Smooth and responsive describes the powertrain as well. It all adds up to a vehicle that's enjoyable to drive, whether on long trips or for quick errands, loaded with people or by yourself.

On curving mountain roads in Southern California, we found the Sienna drove more like a car than a minivan or sport-utility. Its steering is responsive and there's little body roll, or lean, when cornering. Transient response is good, meaning the Sienna can quickly change directions without losing composure. It feels stable at high speeds. The steering is nice and light at low speeds, and with a turning radius of less than 37 feet the Sienna is easy to maneuver in tight parking lots and in U-turns. This compares with more than 39 feet for a Dodge Grand Caravan and 40 feet for a Nissan Quest.

The Sienna accelerates relatively quickly, 0 to 60 mph in 8.3 seconds, according to Toyota, performance that's more than adequate for most traffic conditions. Toyota's 3.3-liter V6 features a two-stage variable-valve setup, called VVT-i or Variable Valve Timing with intelligence, for good torque at both low rpm and high rpm, and significantly improved fuel economy (by 3 mpg over pre-2004 models).

A smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission adds to the Sienna's responsiveness around town and on the highway. The five-speed automatic helps with fuel efficiency, achieving an EPA-estimated 27 mpg on the highway test. Sienna runs clean, too, clean enough for Ultra Low Emissions (ULEV II) certification. Toyota recommends premium fuel, but the Sienna will run on regular.

Braking is smooth and powerful. Making big 16-inch wheels standard equipment allowed Toyota to design bigger brakes. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist come standard. ABS helps to prevent the brakes from locking during severe braking conditions. EBD distributes the braking force to the tires with the most weight on them for quicker, more stable stops. Brake Assist adds brake pressure during emergency stopping situations when the driver mistakenly reduces pedal pressure.

Vehicle Stability Control (VSC) with Traction Control (TRAC) is optional. Vehicle Stability Control utilizes the braking system to help the driver maintain control in adverse driving conditions. Traction control helps reduce tire slippage during acceleration.

All-wheel drive adds greatly to all-weather capability and recommend it for anyone who drives in wintry conditions or heavy rain. In normal driving on dry pavement, we could not discern much difference in ride quality between front- and all-wheel drive models. That's in spite of the fact that AWD models come with 17-inch run-flat tires. Run-flat tires are equipped with reinforced sidewalls with a special bead shape to permit driving for up to 100 miles at speeds up to 55 MPH even when all the air pressure is lost. We associate run-flat tires with a rougher ride quality but they're improving all the time. Run-flat tires can significantly improve safety by eliminating the need to stop to change a tire in an unsafe location. A spare tire is available for all-wheel-drive models.

The Toyota Sienna is among the best of the minivans available today. It's powerful yet frugal, and attractively designed. It handles well yet rides smoothly. This is a big van with a roomy, comfortable interior that offers versatile seating configurations and a generous cargo bay. It's equipped with the latest safety features, including curtain-style airbags. And it's backed by Toyota's reputation for quality, durability and reliability.

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