2015 Toyota Sienna: You may not miss your sedan

The 2015 Toyota Sienna is my third review vehicle this year, but it is the first one of the three that would realistically be on our radar as a family, so it was particularly fun to have around for a week recently.

The other reviews, which you may recall, involved the new Toyota RAV4 and Lexus GX 460.

Our two-car permanent collection includes a 1996 Honda Accord sedan and a 2007 Chrysler Town & Country minivan. We have the upper trim levels of both cars, but neither would have compared luxury-wise to even a base model Sienna, much less to the Limited version Toyota sent us to try out.

For starters, while the 2007 and earlier Town & Country used to be my favorite minivan body style, the new Sienna is far and away the best-looking minivan out there nowadays. Chrysler and other manufacturers have gone boxier in recent years, but the Sienna’s front end looks more like something you’d see on a sports car, or perhaps on a Virgin Pendalino at London’s Euston Station. They continue the smooth and simple design all the way to the back, including a rear spoiler and bumper that complete the look.

We didn’t have any road trips planned while in custody of the Sienna, but we did put her through a fairly rigorous test around town, and this may explain to some of you local sedan drivers why you got smoked under the green lights by a minivan. I didn’t do a 0-60 speed check, but pretty much every chance I got I floored the accelerator until reaching the posted speed limit, and every time I was pleased with the result.

The Sienna has since 2007 employed a 266-hp, 3.5-liter engine, and it will scoot. Mind you, that same sized engine turns the smaller Lexus ES 350 (what I’m reviewing now) into an absolute rocket ship, but in the Sienna the power plant gives you more than what’s necessary to get around rod hogs and Sunday drivers when you feel like it.

(Editor’s note: If Danny blistered you at a traffic light, he is not necessarily calling you a road hog. If he passed you on a country lane, then yes, that’s probably what he’s calling you. Please send letters directly to his attention.)

Cornering, braking and everything else exceeded expectations to the point that I could frankly see the right business person stepping out of a sedan and into a minivan like this. It’s big, though, so parking in Atlanta could get challenging in some places, but at low speeds the cornering rivals much smaller vehicles, and when you consider the back-up camera system, the parking-assist sonar feature, cross-traffic alert and the blind spot warning indicators, you’re all-of-a-sudden driving what feels like a smaller vehicle.

Make no mistake about it, though: This is not a small vehicle. In fact, this Sienna can seat up to eight people, which makes for a perfect chariot for families like mine. (“Baby #4”, as we affectionately call her, is due in less than five weeks.) And it offers them comfort beyond what I’ve seen in some other minivans. The back row, while flat-folding automatically at the touch of a button, is sturdy and substantially padded. This alone represents a huge step up from our ’07 Town & Country, but it gets better.

The Sienna we reviewed came with an optional DVD / Blu-ray system, including a wide-screen (16.4-inch) display, a pair of headphones and a remote control. We have three kids already, so we scrapped the headphones and channeled the Peppa Pig audio through the very capable JBL audio system.

The Sienna also has easy-to-slide, mid-row seats, which are literally recliners complete with adjustable footrests. If you’re a child of the 1970s like I am, you may get flashbacks of piling into your friends’ conversion van on the way to recreation league soccer games. All of those fancy gadgets are coming back but in more seamlessly integrated and stowable ways. In other words, you don’t have to get a two-foot, fiberglass hump attached to the top of your van in order to accommodate all of this stuff.

Another nice touch is an optional slide-back pair of cup holders that tuck into the front-row console but can be positioned to serve mid-row guests. In that configuration, you now find extra storage as well for things families like to keep close to hand like baby wipes, snacks and such instead of having to tuck it by the front passenger’s feet to keep it from rolling ’round the vehicle.

I’m guessing Toyota actually hired someone with kids to design the Sienna.

And I’m not done gushing yet. Honestly, the Sienna ticked boxes I had not even added to my wish list yet.

The rear passengers get an over-the-shoulder, adjustable spotlight that, just like you would find on a passenger jet, allows individuals to read with plenty of light while not bothering others (namely the driver) with ambient light. And if you do want a lot more light flooding the place, the copy we drove had two moonroofs: The front is normal-sized and pops up or slides; and the rear one, which the kids absolutely loved, only slides, but it is huge.

Being the nerd I am, there were two other features I particularly enjoyed. The first was the guidance system built into the back-up camera system. When you are using any other back-up system, you get this colored grid that helps you judge distances ahead of where you are rolling. This helps to not hit curbs, light poles, other cars, etc. But the new Sienna’s back-up system also includes technology that reads steering wheel movement, so it gives you a moving grid that, as you turn the wheel, predicts where your tires will be tracking if you are turning while backing up. And this was fairly precise to the point that you could almost not use anything else to help you back up, though I wouldn’t get rid of your wing mirrors just yet. If you’ve ever backed out of my parents’ curvy driveway, you’ll be impressed to know I nailed it down-the-center with this system alone.

The second nerdy feature I thoroughly enjoyed was the fuel economy monitoring system. It gives you a bar-chart reading of your minute-by-minute fuel economy. Rolling down McDonough Road from Fayette County into Clayton gave me a high score of about 60 miles to the gallon, and when I noticed I was scoring below 20 mpg, it reminded me to adjust my footwork accordingly.

There was a day when I dreamed of being a minivan and SUV family, but Toyota’s new Sienna has affected my thinking. Keep in mind, I reviewed this $47,000 Sienna not long after reviewing the $63,000 Lexus GX 460, and while the GX is definitely posher, the Sienna is over-the-top practical and almost as comfortable to drive. I wouldn’t be surprised to see more two-minivan families in the future, especially if at least one of those minivans is a Sienna.

Incidentally, the 2015 Sienna starts around $28,600, and you’re still getting a bucket load of premiums, including the back-up camera.

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