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Executive wheels: Confessions of a minivan man

Jeff Rundles //October 27, 2014//

Executive wheels: Confessions of a minivan man

Jeff Rundles //October 27, 2014//


I am a minivan man.

And I'm not alone. I know many, many men who really like minivans. I also actually know a few women who fall into this category, most notably my wife. Our love for minivans is one of the many things we share – that love, and also we share a 1991 Toyota Previa minivan with nearly 200,000 miles that is, without question, the most versatile vehicle ever invented.

I would love a modern-day Previa, but I guess I will have to settle for the Sienna – although it isn’t really settling. I loved the Sienna. I suppose there is no such thing as the “perfect vehicle,” in that in each competitive category there is one you would choose but there are features from some of the competition you wish you could incorporate.

That is the way I feel about the Sienna – it is clearly my choice in the minivan arena, for AWD alone if nothing else, but I wish it had the kind of in-floor storage featured on the Chrysler minivan. Still, the Toyota Sienna has plenty of room and plenty of storage, particularly in the back where the deep well in the way-back seems custom made for gear (it’s great for groceries, too).

I loved driving the Sienna. This vehicle is solid, rides smooth, doesn’t float, has great brakes, corners well, and takes the bumps with the best vehicles on the road. It is, to be sure, a big vehicle – there is nothing really “mini” about it – but after an initial getting-used-to the Sienna turns out to be a very drivable, nimble vehicle that is simply fun. (It is a bit tough to park, I have to say.)

I took this Sienna on a mini-road trip during my test drive, up into the mountains in search of some Colorado fall color. The experience was so pleasant that I really wanted to take the Sienna on a long, cross-country road trip, it was that nice. The 3.5-liter V6 engine took high-mountain and steep roads with its acceleration intact, all the while delivering a very quiet ride. Indeed, it is possible in the Sienna to have a civil conversation – no shouting – while maintaining high speeds on the highway or accelerating.

The Sienna is also very comfortable – the seats are stiff, not cushy, offering great support, and I have it on good authority (my family) that this is true in the second row and third row as well. Speaking of the third row, these three seats (there are great captain’s chairs in the second row) are very easy to fold down, from inside or reaching through the back, and they fold nice and flat, creating a wonderful cargo space. 

There are little touches here that I really liked.

  •     The gear shift lever is in the dash rather than the floor or console, so that leaves plenty of room on the floor for stuff – my wife said it would be the perfect vehicle for her purse, for instance. It had a big storage console, and plenty of floor space.
  •     The walk-through between the second-row captain’s chairs was roomy and easy to maneuver.
  •     The power doors on each side and for the back lift-gate are great and easy to use. There are power buttons on the key fob, up in front in easy reach of the driver and front passenger, next to the side doors and on the lift-gate in the back for closure.
  •     Unlike most minivans, the side windows on the rear sliding doors go up and down like windows in a sedan or SUV. I very much dislike the pop-out-only windows so many vans have, so here the rear seat people fell like they aren’t trapped.
  •     Automatic (power) up and down third row seats.
  •     The Sienna has two – twin – sunroofs, one over the front seats and a giant one over the second row that nearly reaches back for the entire third row. The light alone coming in from these sunroofs is great, but to have them actually open for air is very nice as well.
  •     The wide-screen, rear seat entertainment system (DVD) that is like sitting in a movie theater. A hit with kids on a long road trip, take my word for it.
  •     Great JBL stereo with all the regular stuff and integration for iPhones, etc. that, coupled with the quiet ride, gives great sound (it also plays for the driver and front passenger while the kids are watching a movie in the back with the wireless headphones.)

The Sienna is made in Indiana, and it appears to be a very well-made vehicle. My only real complaint about the Sienna – and I have this complaint on just about every vehicle these days – is the price. The base model Sienna in front wheel drive and seven-passenger capacity (you can get eight) is $26,920. That’s not bad.

But this one I drove is top-of-the-line, The Limited AWD 7-passenger), and the base MSRP here is $41,710, which includes a ton of technology as standard. They added on a couple of packages – the Convenience Package (mostly having to do with upgraded headlamps and rain-sensing wipers), and the Limited Premium Package (the entertainment system, voice activation controls, navigation, hands-free phone connections, upgrades to stereo, etc.) – and with $860 in destination charges you’re looking at $48,209.

For $48,000 you can buy a lot of car from just about every manufacturer and get a ton of nice stuff, but frankly, as a minivan man, I would love to have this vehicle, and I understand the price. Nearly perfect.