2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6 review: Almost exciting

2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6

2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6

The 2011Toyota Sienna is the third generation of Toyota’s big box hauler, and for most people, driving it—like its predecessors—will likely not make the day’s highlight reel, unless of course it’s driving a vanload of kids to the beach, park or grandma’s house. Which are among the many reasons for buying a minivan in the first place.

Actually, the 2011Toyota Sienna has just as many variations on the minivan theme as there are reasons, from base to Limited, and new for 2011, the Sienna SE. The new Sienna SE is a sports model with aero trim and a lowered suspension for better handling. SE? They might have well named it the Oxymoron. Unfortunately, that’s not what we tested but rather the 2011 Toyota Sienna LE.

Our test 2011 Toyota Sienna was powered by the 3.5-liter V-6, the same engine used in the 2010 Toyota Sienna. A 2.7-liter four-cylinder engine is newly available for those who value fuel economy over acceleration, hill climbing ability and the grunt to tow trailers (the 3.5-liter can be equipped to pull 3500 lbs., good enough for most weekend toy or rental cargo trailers).

2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6 interior

The dash of the 2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6 is almost avant garde.

Fuel savings for the four-cylinder, at least per EPA estimates, are almost nil, however. The four is rated at 19/24 mpg city/highway while the EPA estimates the six with front-wheel drive will get 18/24 mpg city/highway. The all-wheel drive Toyota Sienna–the Sienna is the only minivan currently that can pull with all four wheels–takes the bigger fuel economy hit, with 16/22 mpg respectively.

One definite change for 2011 is that Toyota spiced up the exterior with design themes borrowed from the Toyota Venza, notably in the grille and taillights. If the 2011 Toyota Sienna is a loaf of bread, it’s at least cinnamon: a little spicy but definitely not carried away. It’s a minivan from Toyota, after all.

However, the 2011 Toyota Sienna’s interior is mildly avant garde, with an asymmetric dash and an instrument panel recessed within an oval binnacle containing a large central speedometer and a tachometer. Really just entertainment, the tach is appended to the speedo’s left, its functional sweep limited to a little more than a quarter circle. Fuel and engine temperature gauges are on the right, reminiscent of the Venza’s setup.

Above what would be the center stack if it were really stacked is a slot in the dash top that holds a tiny 3.5-inch screen for the info center and serves as the backup camera’s monitor. It’s like a tiny view into a tiny world–sort of like watching a movie on a cell phone–and takes some looking to see but it helps with the poor rear vision typical of a minivan. It’s standard on 2011 Toyota Sienna LE V6 models and above, though the navigation system optional with the XLE and Limited has a full-size touch-screen nav screen and rearview monitor.

All 2011 Toyota Sienna trim levels have tri-zone ventilation control, which on our test vehicle was manual and difficult to set to a comfortable temperature. Maybe with practice.

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John is a veteran auto writer, first published in Custom Rodder magazine in 1980. Since then, he has been published in all the big car magazines, including Car and Driver, Road & Track, Motor Trend, Auto Week, Automobile, plus a variety of others, including but certainly not limited to Automobile Quarterly, Collectible Automobile, and Special Interest Automobiles. John’s work has also been featured in a number of consumer and general interest magazines such as Consumers Digest, Popular Science and others. John has written four books, including a history of the Mazda RX-7 (selling for more out-of-print than it did new), buyers’ guides for Mazda, Datsun/Nissan and Volvo cars, and is co-author of 365 Cars You Must Drive with Motor Trend editor Matt Stone, and his work has been translated into Italian, Estonian, Portuguese, Russian, and Bulgarian. John is recipient of the prestigious Ken Purdy Award for Excellence in Automotive Journalism, awarded by the International Motor Press Association, and the Golden Quill from the Washington Automotive Press Association. John has three adult daughters and has been married for more that four decades to Mary Ann, Distinguished Professor of Mathematics at East Stroudsburg University of Pennsylvania.