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The stigma of driving a mini-van as not being cool doesnt apply to this car

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By ALAN GELL

www.CarColumns.Net

The first week of December at the Los Angeles Auto Show, Toyota officially unveiled the all-new Sienna and I was there to see it, hear about it, and look it over.

The following week, I was among a small group of journalists invited back to actually test-drive it.

There are five models, the basic, the LE, the XLE, a sporty SE, and the top-of-the-line Limited.

We tried each of them out over southern California highways, along the Pacific Coast Highway, and even up the Ortega Highway into the mountains.

Our vehicles were pre-production models and not actual finished products, but they performed well.

There has been a lot of stigma attached in the past few years to driving a mini-van and it wasn’t "cool."

But there is no doubt that it can be a very effective transportation solution for people or cargo.

This third generation Sienna drives more like a sedan, provides a lot more comfort, yet has all the room for people and stuff that makes a minivan so accommodating.

Speaking of comfort, I like the second row seating in this new Sienna, especially the lounge-chairs that recline and have leg rests.

It is more like being in the living room of a small home. There are several configurations.

The seven passenger models provide captain’s chairs.

The second row has a long-slide feature that opens the second row or third row.

The seat cushions are thickly padded and can be tipped up so that they can go forwards or backwards easily.

This is different than the popular seats that fold and stow in the floor area.

The eight passenger style seating has a stowable second row middle seat.

It is has a couple of pull rings and simply lifts right out.

It is not heavy or bulky and there is a molded place in the back for it to be carried.

But the captain’s chairs with the lounge chair style and long-slide feature combined are my favorite.

They are almost like your favorite recliner, leaning back, having armrests, and extendable leg-rests.

Kazuo Mori was the Sienna’s Chief Engineer, and he gave a highly entertaining talk as he told us about his designs.

Taking the assumption that the minivan is entering a renaissance period, Mori talked about his dreaming of sports cars, but finding himself working with a minivan.

The line between minivans and crossovers is blurring and young families are seeing the advantages of the minivan over a large SUV.

The Sienna is powered by a 3.5 liter V6, but for the first time, a new four-cylinder model will be offered.

The V6 obviously offers more power, but the four-cylinder is the same one offered in the Venza.

It is a 2.7 liter and has 26 mpg fuel economy.

Unless you have an extremely heavy load or climbing steep mountainous roads, this four cylinder model will meet all the driving needs of most buyers.

All-wheel-drive is an option and remains the only minivan to offer this feature.

When you look at the new Sienna, it has a stronger profile and is more expressive in its design. It is slick in the overall appearance.

The engineers even managed to hide the sliding rails for the side doors.

There are sculpted corners and detailed headlamps.

The overall look is clean and upscale.

For those who concern themselves about the Sienna being an American vehicle, this new Sienna was designed by Calty Design Research in California, developed at the Toyota Technical Center in Michigan, and manufactured at the assembly plant in Indiana.

Official prices are not yet released, but we were told that it would be less than the current model. The current model starts at just $24,540.

Judy and I had a minivan for many years and remember the flexibility when we had little ones. Traveling was easier and the vehicle was so convenient.

I think maybe Toyota has made a wise decision. The new 2011 third generation Sienna will be available early spring of 2010.

Check it out yourself and see if maybe this might be a solution to your family’s needs.


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