STOKED BY THE SWAGGER
This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!
Published on Fri, Sep 10, 2010
By: The LACar Editorial Staff
Doug Stokes reviews Toyota’s Swagger Wagon AKA, the all new Sienna This Toyota Sienna seven-passenger machine, is by far, the best-equipped, best-handling, and truly the most obliging van that I’ve ever driven. Great room, great seating flexibility, great handling (note that I did NOT couch that one with, “for a van”), and great horsepower. This Toyota “moves forward” (and backwards) with both alacrity and authority. We tested this Sienna on a short family holiday and cranked in a few miles in the process. Along the way we also had the opportunity to put five full-size adults (and two small/moderate size dogs) into the Sienna for side trips, dinner quests, and airport runs with plenty of room left open for luggage. The Limited version of the Sienna is anything but limited. This one has everything aboard and a price tag ($48,472.00) to prove it. In the long run (actually in our long run) we made good use of virtually every feature on the Monroney (the MSRP window sticker) save the incredibly diverse airbag/air curtain/ seat belt pre-tensioner safety system and the ABS part of the brake package (don’t need to check the crash rating thankyouverymuch).
And this is a van that really handles. No, I’m not suggesting that you trade your Lotus Exige in on one of these, but it sure makes for a great support vehicle for slalom events. Seriously, we took a variety of roads and routes from the LA area up to Lake Tahoe and the Sienna was competent and happy on all of them. I especially appreciated the very smooth and powerful engine in this tester. Displacing 3.5 liters, the double overhead cam, 24-valve, variable-valve-timing V-6 up front comes through with plenteous power and tremendous torque on demand. This fairly large, non-wind cheating shape weighing in at 5,000 plus pounds with us and our stuff aboard was a sensation in the 60 to (censored*) acceleration zone. Suffice it to say this van is no milquetoast mama’s boy. No sirree. The Sienna has was seems, at first, very powerful, almost over-boosted power steering. It takes a few miles for one to relax, loosen one’s grip and just drive. I think it’s my reaction to driving a van in the first place, expecting a spongy ride and soggy steering response. Neither is part of this package. In fact, we probably should have started this review off by cleverly suggesting that you forget everything you know about vans and how they are, but I’m just not that predictable a writer (even to myself).
What was also not predictable is my first reaction to the one of the attributes of Toyota’s Star Safety System suite, and that was the Dynamic Radar Cruise Control (DRCC), or, as I like to call it: “Intended Deceleration”. In real life I don’t use cruise control very often, there’s really not enough open road for long enough times to go to it for me. However, on this trip there were some ops to make use of the device to flex an ankle and shift my right leg around a bit, so cruise was invoked. We were sailing along set on 65 miles per hour and came up on some traffic ahead sort of suddenly over a rise, the throttle lifts, the Sienna slows and as soon as I change lanes (to a clearer one) the Sienna picks the speed back up … Whoa! I figured from looking at the last figure on the Monroney that this one was going to have everything, but hadn’t read or heard about the DRCC system. Cooool. A few miles down the highway, the anti-cruise control invokes again, this time my wife and I feel strong deceleration, not just the closing of the throttle kind of decel, but what feels like brake application and a downshift. Guess what? It was. Of course, my degree from the University of Ludditeism requires me to rail enthusiastically against this feature. I would not stake my life on it, but careless users of cruise control are now far less likely to cruise into my backside when driving with this system. So I’ll endorse it and dub it “Intended Deceleration”. This is a big machine, with big capacities, and a big engine, so the EPA 18/24 miles per gallon (unleaded regular) number printed on the paper are fairly close. We were, by use of a highly-scientific (“okay, so how much did we put in last time?”) study, able to get slightly better numbers, but 18/24 ain’t bad if you’re using this one as an actual van.
Which brings us to: My guess and informal observation is that most van-users actually use them for more than just single-person transportation units, which I’m not able to say about SUVs and pickup trucks in general (in my neighborhood at least). Only gardeners ride two-up in light trucks, and SUVs drivers are usually soloists as well. Vans are seen as people-movers and that’s what we did with this machine to good effect. I love to drive, but I can be very happy as a mid-row passenger in this one. They call them “captain’s chairs”, but I think more “Lazy Boy” when I look at them. The second row of seats not only tilts but has a recliner mode that puts a lovely bolster (they call them “adjustable ottomans”) under one’s legs (all the better to watch the faired-in, high-def, dual-view TV screen with your personal headset.) To which I can’t resist adding: while you take casual glances up at the moon and stars though one of the dual(!) moon roofs. Lodge seats anyone? And don’t Bogart the Milk Duds! And the good stuff just barely starts with those wonderful lodge seats. Everything that can be powered is (powered) here. Windows, doors, seats, the back hatch, everything. If that seems decadent or lazy, think again, because with a ship this big, one needs to keep control of all of the methods of egress and ingress. And one did that handily once one got the hang of the push button fob (“let’s see, is this one for this side … no, this one!”). One of the real reasons that major car companies loan us these vehicles a week at a time is what you’ll never be able to discern on a 20-minute test drive near the dealership: Real usefulness, not gee-wiz demos on the sales floor. (once again, LA Car is looking out for your best interest… and, hey, you’re welcome).
Like tri-zone climate control. Don’t like the weather up front, go to the center of the Sienna, or the rear seat area and dial up your own personal comfort zone. This van was designed to work as a van, a multi-passenger vehicle that pays as much attention to the people seated in the last row as the front. It takes me almost the full week behind the wheel to use (and trust) the back-up camera system. It works well with the voice-activated NAV system, “Was that a fire hydrant that I just knocked over?” (just kidding). Of course this machine has a smart key, and I was (almost) smart enough to use it, walking away with the (smooth-running) engine still on only once in the whole time we had the Sienna. The final word is there’s not a short shrift attempted anywhere at any time, for anyone in this 2011 Sienna. That’s what makes one actually nod one’s head up and down in understanding at the near $50K price of this one instead of side to side in disbelief. - Doug Stokes
* “But Honey, the darn thing just pulls SO good. Oh, okay. We’re past ‘em anyway.” ** Insider, personal information: I almost always NEVER “read-up” on any review vehicle that I’m going to drive … I mean that I studiously avoid reading, listening, or even thinking about the unit until I’m aboard and in operation. This Sienna was no exception (in fact it was a complete surprise as I had thought that I was picking up a Toyota Venza to test when they gave me the keys to the Sienna and said, “You know where the press vehicle lot is, don’t you?” For more information about Toyota products, go to toyota.com To see the "Swagger Wagon" video, click here
SPECIFICATIONS Name of vehicle: 2011 Toyota Sienna Limited 3.5L Price: $38,500 (base) $46,472 (as tested) EPA fuel economy rating: 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway Emissions rating: ULEV II Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC 24-valve V6 with VVTi (intelligent variable valve timing) Horsepower: 266 @ 6200 rpm Torque: 245 pound-feet @ 4700 rpm Transmission: 6-speed electronically controlled automatic with intelligence (ECT- i) Drive configuration: Front-wheel drive Steering: Electric power-assisted rack and pinion Suspension: MacPherson strut front suspension with gas-filled shock absorbers and twist-beam rear suspension with coil springs (sport-tuned coil springs on SE model) and gas-filled shock absorbers, and front and rear stabilizer bars Brakes: Power-assisted ventilated 4-wheel disc brakes with Anti-lock Brake System (ABS), Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD), and Brake Assist Wheels and tires: 10-spoke alloy wheels and P235/55-R18 all-season radial tires Dimensions Length: 200.2 inches Width: 78.1 inches Height: 70.7 inches Curb weight: 4490 pounds