2009 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD review: In touch with your inner soccer mom

2009 Toyota Sienna XLE

2009 Toyota Sienna XLE

It’s time to get in touch with you inner soccer mom, and for that, we recommend the Toyota Sienna because, yes, it’s a minivan.

We recently spent a week with a 2009 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD, and we still believe that a minivan is the best family vehicle ever invented and the Toyota Sienna is one of the best of the breed.

It’s a diminishing breed, however, with three based on the Chrysler minivan platform (Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan and Volkswagen Routan), taken together the top selling minivan, the top-selling individual model being the Honda Odyssey. The field is rounded out by the Nissan  Kia Sedona and Hyundai Entourage. Ford and GM abandoned the segment after repeated lackluster results, their family haulers now deferred to as yet untainted crossovers.

The Toyota Sienna, however, is the only true minivan with all-wheel drive available today. It’s powered exclusively by a 3.6-liter V-6 with a 5-speed automatic, a good combination with all the acceleration a family wagon needs. It can pull a trailer up to 3,500 pounds, good for a trailer full of back-to-school supplies for the truly over encumbered, or for relatively lightweight weekend toys.

Most Siennas however will see duty with all seven seats available if not occupied, and for vacation with a rooftop cargo carrier at most. The Sienna has the now-typical sliding doors on both sides (needless, in our opinion, and an unnecessary cost, considering the ease of entry and exit to either side from the right side, but that’s just our opinion).

The Toyota Sienna also has the minivan-obligatory fold-into-the-floor seats, or more accurately, seat. The third row seat disassembles and drops into the floor, but not without effort. The second row seats fold and tip up against the backs of the front seats. Chrysler’s system that folds both rows into wells in the floor provides more overall cargo space, with bins in the floor with the seats up or a longer floor space the the seats down.

Bins and cubbies are a Toyota Sienna long suit, however. The Sienna has two glove boxes, two bins on the lower center stack and another under the center armrest. The top of the armrest has a fold-up notepad holder and there’s more storage yet under that when folded. And that’s really just the beginning of receptacles and holders and such.

The mid-level 2009 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD we drove looked upscale inside, with lots of soft touch and gathered vinyl on the door panels. The seats are wide and comfy, with first and second rows having captain chairs. A big speedometer dominates the instrument panel with the obligatory tachometer–necessary in the Sienna because it’s expected–on the left and fuel and engine temperature on the right, all on a cool blue background.

Our test Toyota Sienna drove well, overall stable on the road but it gets tall on winding roads. It’s not what one calls “fun to drive.” However, it is maneuverable in tight places with a tight turning radius for a big vehicle, particularly noticeable in supermarket parking lots and other domestic challenges.

We were surprised by the number of rattles coming from the assorted seats of the Sienna, quite out of character for a Toyota. Perhaps in character for a minivan is the Sienna’s bland styling, visually exciting as a loaf of white bread, not that this market would much care.

Our test Sienna XLE AWD had a base price of $32,485, and with premium audio, leather and other options, an out-the-door MSRP of $35,940, including delivery. Hauling around this large of a vehicle has other costs as well. Our overall gas mileage for a week of driving came to 14.8 mpg. Your mileage may vary, of course, and our driving was in hilly areas, but we thought the Sienna would do better.

It takes certain amount of courage to drive a minivan, a presumption of domesticity that all may not be willing to embrace. For those with genuine domestic responsibilities, however, need to bite the paternal/maternal bullet and accept that for a certain period of time, life will mean piloting a minivan. The kids will be up and out before you can blink, and by then Toyota Sienna will be a memory. And if you keep it long enough, your revenge can be letting your kids drive it as the hand-me-down family wheels. What goes around…

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