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2012 Toyota Sienna ReviewThe Good
A peppy V6, available all-wheel drive, 7- or 8-passenger seating, acres of cargo area and loads of standard features and options keep people buying Toyota’s 2012 Sienna.The Bad
Over-friendly steering, low-rent cabin materials, a bland design, expensive options and a somewhat sluggish 4-cylinder engine, unfortunately, continue to plague this otherwise well-wrought minivan.
The CarGurus View
As the only minivan offering both a 4-cylinder engine and available all-wheel drive, the 2012 Sienna has cemented its place among the elite of soccer-schlepping, cargo-toting minis. It’s not perfect, but the Sienna lineup shows enough power, bling and utility to make it worth a tire kick. Just don’t forget to bring plenty of money.
At a Glance
Though not for those seeking driving finesse, road-burning acceleration or luxury-sedan comfort, Toyota’s 2012 Sienna minivan lineup nevertheless offers a soccer mom’s (or dad’s) dream machine. With 7- to 8-passenger capacity in 3 rows of seating, 150 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded (39.1 cubic feet behind the third row), available all-wheel drive (AWD) for most trims and the choice of an economical 4-cylinder engine or a peppy V6, this classy family mini does what it does with aplomb and understated efficiency.
Again, the Sienna lineup boasts 5 trim levels, the Base, the lower midlevel LE, the upper-midlevel XLE, the sport-oriented SE, and the flagship Limited. The Base and SE trims are offered with only the standard front-wheel drive (FWD) configuration, with the base Sienna offered only in 7-passenger editions and the sporty SE only in the 8-passenger configuration. Both the LE and XLE boast a Mobility Auto Access sub-trim that offers 7-passenger capacity while deleting the AWD option. All other 7-passenger variations, except the Base, are offered only with AWD.
Seven-passenger Base, LE and SE trims come with second-row captain’s chairs, while the XLE and Limited Trims boast second-row lounge seats with folding footrests. Eight-passenger versions offer second-row bench seating with a removable center section, while a pair of available rear jump seats are cumbersome to remove, but lend themselves well to convenient stowage. All variations, of course, boast more or less adaptable third-row access. Suffice to say that there’s a Sienna setup out there that’s perfect for just about any passenger- or cargo-toting scenario the typical soccer mom or dad could want.
After a complete redesign of the Sienna lineup for 2011, this year’s only noteworthy improvements include the XLE gaining such additional features as a standard power-adjustable front passenger seat and available automatic hi-lo beam headlights. Meanwhile, rivals to the top-rated Sienna minivan include Honda’s refined-but-pricy Odyssey, Chrysler/Dodge’s adequate-but-dated Town & Country/Grand Caravan combo, Nissan’s capable Quest and Volkswagen’s versatile Routan.
Standard power for the 2012 Sienna base FWD 7-passenger and LE 8-passenger FWD trims is an economical 2.7-liter inline 4-cylinder (I4) engine that mates with the eminently capable 6-speed shiftable automatic transmission for 187 hp at 5,800 rpm and 186 lb-ft of torque at 4,100 rpm. Look for 19 mpg city/24 highway from this variable-valve-timed (VVT) powerplant, but, alas, towing is not among its strong points.
Standard aboard the 7-passenger AWD LE, as well as the SE and all XLE and Limited trims is a 3.5-liter V6 powerplant that again combines with the 6-speed shiftable automatic for 266 hp at 6,200 rpm and 245 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. Towing with the available towing packages is maxed out at 3,500 pounds, while VVT means mileage of 18/25 in FWD trims and 17/23 in AWD versions. The available AWD, by the way, is anchored by a center limited-slip differential.
Though perfectly adequate for downtown, according to reviewers, the I4 engine
often lacks the necessary oomph for comfortable passing and merging on the highway, not to mention steeper inclines, especially with a full load. The V6, on the other hand, is lauded in most reviews for its potent highway performance, while acceleration from a stop has been tested from 0-60 in a better-than-average 7.9 seconds. The 6-speed automatic that’s standard with both powerplants is described in most reviews as executing prompt, smooth shifts, but seems to help little in delivering expected fuel economy from the I4 engine. Finally, both engines are noted as quiet and refined by reviewers, even under hard acceleration.
Ride & Handling
For 2012 the Sienna again sports a front independent suspension with MacPherson struts, a torsion-beam rear end and stabilizer bars front and rear. Both Base Sienna editions sport 17-inch alloy wheels, as do FWD LE and XLE trims with the I4 powerlant. LE and XLE variants with AWD and the V6 boast 18-inch alloy wheels, as does the Limited in either FWD or AWD configuration. The sport-oriented SE, just to be contrary, mounts 19-inch, 6-spoke gunmetal-finish alloy wheels.
Reviewers are generally pleased with the Sienna’s ride, though a few do mention some bounce over larger bumps. AWD Siennas each boast 18-inch run-flat tires with, in the opinion of most reviewers, little degradation in ride quality. The SE, with its sport-tuned suspension, of course, provides a notably less comfortable ride than its siblings, according to virtually all reviews; expect, therefore, some significant shake, rattle and roll on rough roads.
Most reviewers additionally describe the Sienna’s handling characteristics as better than usual, with its light steering making mincemeat of heavy traffic and crowded parking lots, despite its size. Alas, on the highway, that same feathery steering may feel a bit too friendly for some. In all but the SE, body lean through fast corners is considerable, according to most reviewers, while tire grip seems barely adequate. The SE, of course, eats switchbacks and their ilk for lunch. Finally, virtually all reviewers note that winter driving is made considerably more endurable with the available AWD.
Cabin & Comfort
Though the phrase is usually used in conjunction with pickups and full-size SUVs, “equipped, not stripped” could just as well describe the 2012 Sienna lineup. The Base trim of the line, for instance, boasts a standard rear spoiler, outside, with cloth upholstery, front captain’s chairs and reclining rear seats adorning the cabin. Then there are the reclining rear seats, remote power door locks, dual-zone air conditioning, cruise, with steering-wheel-mounted controls, and telescoping tilt-wheel steering that also come standard. Entertainment, meantime, is via an MP3-capable single-CD player with 4 speakers.
The I4-equipped LE adds premium cloth upholstery and heated outside mirrors, while AWD and V6-equipped LE’s and the LE Mobility Auto Access sub-trim boast an 8-way power-adjustable driver’s seat and Bluetooth hands-free communications. The Mobility Auto Access also throws in a universal remote garage door opener and a power liftgate.
The XLE tacks on a standard roof rack, leather upholstery, power sunroof, power-adjustable front seats and a power liftgate. A universal remote garage door opener also comes standard with the high-end XLE as does a rear-view camera, tri-zone climate control, simulated wood trim accents with a leather-wrapped steering wheel, Bluetooth and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. Look for 6 speakers, satellite radio and a USB connection to be standard on the regular XLE, with the XLE Mobility Auto Access adding in a premium JBL sound system with 605 watts of power, a 6-CD changer and 10 speakers. Finally, the XLE AWD edition sports standard second-row lounge seating with folding foot rests.
The sporty SE, with its beefier suspension, athletic styling and 19-inch alloy wheels, is equipped similarly to the LE, while the top-shelf Limited boasts an added power sunroof in the rear, power-folding third-row seat (FWD only), second row “lounge seating” with fold-up foot rests, reverse-tilt outside mirrors, front and rear parking sensors and upgraded cabin trim accessories. The JBL audio also comes standard, as do memory for driver's settings and Toyota’s Safety Connect emergency telecommunications service.
Options are dependant on where the 2012 Sienna is purchased, with lower trims, as is traditional, remaining eligible for many items that come standard on their higher-priced siblings. Rear-seat DVD entertainment with a large split-screen display can be delivered with all but the Base trims, while the available adaptive cruise control, as well as a hard-drive-based navigation system with panoramic rear sensors and camera, not to mention BLU Logic audio-interfaced hands-free communications, are also available to the LE and higher trims. The SE and above can be equipped with a power sunroof, while the Limited remains the only trim eligible for the available Limited Advanced Technology Package, with hill start assist and pre-collision braking preparation. Finally, all trims but the Base can be delivered with Toyota’s touted Entune apps for limited Internet radio reception and phone communications via a smartphone or feature phone.
Reviewers generally find the Sienna’s cabin roomy and comfortable while lauding the numerous standard goodies. Virtually all, however, note a distinct lack of truly high-end materials inside. Ample cabin storage is high on the list of reviewer favorites, but many complain that the power-folding feature for the FWD Limited’s third row is too slow and, in any case, ought to be available for its AWD trim as well. The Limited’s second-row lounge seats are considered by many reviewers to be a surprisingly luxurious touch, but can be difficult to remove for added cargo space. Finally, visibility is found by the majority of reviews to be average-to-good all around, though trims equipped with the rear-view camera are noted by most reviewers to have a decided edge when maneuvering in reverse.
Toyota being Toyota, the emphasis in all endeavors is safety, and the 2012 Sienna lineup is no exception. All trims are equipped with Toyota’s vaunted Star Safety System featuring traction and stability control, as well as 4-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency braking assist. Dual front side-mounted airbags, a driver’s side knee airbag and three-row head airbags are also standard across the lineup, as is front head restraint whiplash protection. A further safety feature common to all Sienna trims are daytime running lights.
The XLE and Limited trims additionally sport standard front fog/driving lights, dusk-sensing headlights and a remote antitheft alarm (optional for the LE), with the Limited additionally boasting standard turn-signal-integrated mirrors and a post-collision safety system. The LE and above trims can also be delivered with an available upgraded V.I.P. security system and adaptive cruise control, while the XLE and Limited trims remain eligible for the Safety Connect emergency communications with stolen vehicle tracking and collision alert.
In safety testing, the Sienna scored a second-best 4 stars for overall safety from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), with 4 stars awarded in front impact testing and rollover testing, with a top-grade 5 stars given for side impact test results.
Not to be outdone, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the 2012 Sienna its best score of Good in front and side impact testing, and a further score of Good in roof strength testing. The Institute, thereby, has awarded the Sienna a Top Safety Pick for 2012.
What Owners Think
As good as the 2012 Sienna is, it is not without a certain amount of owner frustration. The available navigation system is described by several owners as difficult to use and tough to integrate with audio and communications functions. Some rattles and squeaks indicate iffy build quality to a number of owners, while others complain that the interior materials seem less than appropriate for the Sienna’s price range. Narrow front armrests and uncomfortably solid seat cushioning prove frustrating to a number of owners, while others complain about road and wind noise and less-than-advertised mileage. The latter two complaints, in all fairness, seem to be a matter of opinion, with more than a few owners mentioning this minivan's quietness and laudable gas mileage.
On a more positive note, the Sienna didn’t get to be the top-selling mini in the U.S. by accident. Owners praise its passenger and cargo room and wax positively ecstatic over its smooth and refined V6 drivetrain. Easy maneuverability in tight spaces and nearly limitless standard features and options garner salutations from owners, as do the Limited’s power-folding third-row seats. And speaking of those third-row seats, nearly all owners appreciate the lavish foot- and legroom gathered in the far rearward reaches due to the adult-friendly second-row travel length fore and aft. Finally, a reasonably sedate ride from the touring suspension and the heady handling attributes of the SE account for some especially lavish owner kudos.
Have Laptop, Will Travel. I'm retired and travelling the country in a 34' motor home. I'm really digging meeting people . . and sometimes their cars . . . getting a sense of what makes this nation tick. The plan is to visit all the national parks in the continental US, then cruise to Alaska to visit Denali, and to Hawaii to check out Haleakala and the Hawaii Volcano's national parks. Anyhow, when I'm not horsing the motor home around the roadways, I'm tooting around in the 2012 Ford Focus that we tow behind, or making runs to Home Depot and various malls with the 2004 F-150 that just won't die.
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