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2012 Toyota Sienna Minivan Road Test Review by Martha Hindes

2012 Toyota Sienna Road Test Review

by Martha Hindes

2012 Minivan Buyer's Guide - Top Picks

In the choice between quick updates versus stable staples, minivans definitely would not be considered the short order variety. Unlike its vehicle cousins that can opt for sometimes fleeting fashion trends a year at a time, minivans tend to follow the patterns of life instead. Like Toyota's 2012 Sienna, most have become so well designed and purpose built there's little room to shoehorn in changes without messing up something that works.

This is Toyota's third generation version of the sometimes revered mom, pop and progeny mobile, so it's not new at the game. Instead, Toyota has had lots of time to finesse it into a well balanced offering of people mover, cargo carrier, travel pro and even spunky drive -- depending on powertrain traits. And it hasn't forgotten that family transport is intended to coddle and caress our most important legacy.

As a result Toyota built on its history with last year's first major overhaul of the Sienna in a half-dozen years. For 2012, it retains those sleeker, more polished lines and sportier driving punch while concentrating on fine tuning comfort and convenience amenities.

In typical minivan fashion, Sienna retains the typical low-slung look that announces its easy access level for people or packages. But a revised front grille design sweeps back through headlamp fixtures for a more energetic flow of motion.

Just when you might expect all minivan interiors to be boring, Toyota pulled an end run on design. The angled lines of the dash exude the kind of energy level that comes from having a slightly off-center visual feel. And hiding those telltale exterior sliding door tracks can account for a more receptive perception of the vehicle class. They're hidden in the Sienna's side window frames, so they don't scream "minivan."

While these car-truck substitutes aren't generally known for their driving dynamics, a sport-tuned suspension in the tauter SE (Sport Edition) version lends the kind of kick that could suggest a sedan feel. And unlike most competitors, Sienna has six and four cylinder engines, mated to six-speed automatics. Toyota brags it's the only minivan with available all-wheel-drive. (Think Minnesota snowstorms if you need a reason.)

We won't argue with some very respectable MPG numbers either, especially considering this full-size van seats seven or eight. Best performance comes from the front drive 3.5-liter, 266-horsepower V6 (18-city/25-highway), but is slightly less fuel efficient with all-wheel-drive. The 187-horsepower 2.7-liter four mileage rating is 19/24.

Amenities depend on which of five trim levels is chosen, with standard tri-zone air conditioning, high tech audio and nav systems, and independently powered dual moonroofs among them. In kid-friendly manner, there's a 180-degree panoramic rear camera available. A dual-display, drop-down rear video screen can subdue adolescents' entertainment arguments.

Sienna's high tech safety features include a full spectrum of active and passive systems, including pre-collision and dynamic radar cruise control. And Sienna's 14 price points, for a variety of budgets, range from $25K to $40.5K for the top-line Limited.

If minivan revisions don't seem as urgent as other vehicle types, why change a good thing? After all, how many sedans, pickups or SUVs have removable, reclining second row lounge chairs that let you raise your feet with foot rests like first class airline seating?

Toyota Sienna Minivan website, click here.