Toyota has no illusions about what this all-new, next-generation minivan must be: "Simply put, this has to be a home run," says John Jula, executive engineer/program manager for the Toyota Sienna. "And we think we've done more than that."
Built off the Camry platform, the '04 Sienna is longer, wider, faster, and loaded with many (if not all) of the best features offered by the competitors. "This segment is about kids, so we've tried to give them everything they--and their parents--might need," notes Jula.
It's powered by the same transverse-mounted 3.3-liter V-6 and five-speed automatic recently introduced in the Lexus RX 330. In fact, many interior details reminded us of the Lexus compact SUV, and that's not by coincidence. Gone is the column shifter, replaced by the familiar dash-mounted lever from the 330, allowing for more visibility and a sportier feel. Likewise, where other manufacturers said it couldn't be done, Toyota found a way to package optional all-wheel drive with an easy-to-use fold-away full-size third-row seat. Equipped with spring-loaded struts, the two-step pull-and-flip system is the easiest, most convenient way to use and store additional seating in this segment.
Toyota went for both design...
Toyota went for both design interest and attention to detail--note console, not column-mounted shifter. Interior materials are first rate.
Other comforts include electric sliding rear doors on both sides, as well as a hands-free power rear hatch. Another interesting option is the dynamic cruise control, which permits the driver to set the speed and maintain a consistent distance from the vehicle ahead; the Sienna can brake and accelerate with no input from the driver.
Toyota will offer four model lines: CE, LE, XLE, and Limited. The majority of sales are projected for the mid-level LE, tentatively priced just below $25,000. Base prices will start around $23,000, and fully loaded Siennas should top out just above the $35,000 mark. With maximum production numbers at 150,000 for the current Princeton, Indiana, plant, Toyota needs more than just a home run--maybe a grand slam?--and more expansion is planned that could support another 50,000 units per year.
With a new Nissan Quest ("Future Forecast," Motor Trend February 2003) due at the end of this year and the next Honda Odyssey not long after that, this market segment will get ever more competitive. The winner? Minivan shoppers.