The Bottom Line
When I first heard that Toyota was planning to offer their new Sienna minivan with a four-cylinder engine, I figured it would be a complete joke. Four cylinders to haul around two-plus tons of minivan? No way -- after all, Honda, Chrysler, and Dodge don't bother with a four-cylinder, and they know a thing or two about minivans. Always up for a good laugh, I booked a four-cylinder Sienna LE for a week-long test drive. Shame on me for second-guessing Toyota.
- Adequate power with four-cylinder engine
- Base model comes with everything a family needs
- Firm, car-like handling
- 4-cylinder's fuel economy isn't much better than V6
- 8th seat (LE model) not really usable
- Firm, car-like ride
- Base price: $25,270; Price as tested: $29,614
- Engine: 2.4 liter I4, 3.5 liter V6
- Horsepower: 187 @ 5,800 rpm (2.7 I4); 265 @ 6,200 rpm (3.5 V6)
- Torque: 186 @ 4,100 rpm (2.7 I4); 245 @ 4,700 rpm (3.5 V6)
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic with FWD or AWD
- Wheelbase: 119.3" Vehicle Length: 200.2" Width: 78.2" Height: 68.9" (70.7" with roof rack)
- Cargo: 39.1 cu. ft. behind rear seat; 87.1 behind second row; 117.8 with 2nd row seats folded; 150.0 with 2nd row seats removed
- Curb weight: 4,275 - 4,490 lbs
- Fuel economy: 19 MPG city/24 MPG highway (4-cyl FWD), 18/24 (V6 FWD), 16/22 (V6 AWD)
- Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain
Guide Review - 2011 Toyota Sienna LE
Let's cut right to the chase: The four-cylinder Sienna works, thanks to a big (2.7 liter) engine that puts out 182 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque -- almost V6 territory -- and a six-speed automatic transmission. Mind you, the Sienna isn't exactly a seven-passenger rocket ship, but it scooted along better than I expected; I was able to zip onto the freeway with sweat-free palms, even with six well-fed passengers and a trunk full of luggage. Very surprising. In fact, the four-cylinder engine is actually a bit too eager, because a slight push on the accelerator brings on a lot of power. It's a trick automakers use to make their vehicles feel quicker than they are, but in the Sienna, it's difficult to accelerate from a stop without jerking your passenger's necks.
But adequate power comes at the expense of fuel economy. The four-cylinder's EPA fuel economy estimates -- 19 MPG city/24 MPG highway -- aren't much better than the front-drive V6, which is rated at 18 city/24 highway. That said, the four-cylinder is $1,300 cheaper than the V6. And had I been driving the V6, I don't know that I would have been able to restrain myself enough to match the 23.2 MPG I achieved with the four-cylinder.
The four-cylinder engine is only available in two versions of the Sienna. The base-model Sienna is a bargain at $25,270, because it includes all has all the minivan must-haves: Seven (cloth-covered) seats, front and rear air conditioning, cruise control, and a third row seat that splits and folds flat into the floor, plus more cupholders, cubbies and coat hooks than you can count. The only real downsides are that there are no available options, and base models can be difficult to find at dealerships.
I drove the $26,355 Sienna LE, which adds stain-resistant fabric, tinted windows, and ups the seating count to 8. But the eighth "seat" (I use that term loosely) is a small removable perch that fits between the second-row captain's chairs, and it's too narrow for most human posteriors. And speaking of the second-row seats, they're very comfortable for adults, but the angle of the seat bottom makes it difficult to install a rear-facing child seat properly. The LE does have a (small) options list, and my test van had power sliding doors, power front seats, a backup camera with a too-small display, side-window sunshades, Bluetooth and a trip computer, all bundled together for $2,735.
The 2011 Sienna is an all-new design, and it isn't anywhere near as van-like as the outgoing Sienna. The short windshield doesn't give the panoramic view I expect from a van, and the ride is firm, like a car -- almost a bit too firm. But the upside is that the Sienna drives like a car, whereas the old one drove like a bus.
Overall, I thought the four-cylinder Sienna did the job well enough, but I wish the fuel savings over the V6 were more significant. Perhaps if consumers show enough interest, Toyota will bring us an even more fuel-efficient version. -- Aaron Gold