What can I say?  Every now and then here at CarseatBlog.com, we get something really awesome thrown our way.  Well, this wasn’t thrown our way, more driven our way.  Semantics aside, I was the lucky one who got the chance to drive the 2011 Toyota Sienna for a week to see if it’s really all that the commercials make it out to be.  I went in to the week with the attitude that after 10 years of owning 2 different Toyota Siennas (a MY 2000 and a MY 2005), I don’t want another minivan.  I’m done driving a bus.  My Siennas have been great, but I’m over the experience.  How do I feel after driving the new 2011?  Stick around and I’ll let you know.

What I Drove

The model I drove was a loaded XLE Limited AWD in Blizzard Pearl.  It has a 266-hp 3.5L 6-CylDOHC 24V VVT-i 6-speed engine.  The leather on the seats is soft, the seats themselves are supportive in all the right places, and the driver’s seat in this trim line is adjustable up/down/tilt, recline, and has lumbar support.  The passenger’s seat isn’t bad either.  We took a 6 hour round-trip day trip less than a week after my plane trip back from Lifesavers made my back cranky and I was very comfortable.  Truthfully, it’s like driving a Lexus; if Lexus had a van, this is the one it would be.

468x60_staticbanner

Safety Items

  • Airbags: It’s full of airbags, as you’d expect.  There are curtain airbags all around, torso airbags for the front seats, and a knee airbag for the driver for all trim lines.

  • Seat belt pretensioners: The seat belt pretensioners are for the front seats only.  Some packages have a pre-collision sensor that senses when a collision is about to occur and will automatically tighten the seat belt (the radar sensor is in the front grill).
  • Sonar: The model I drove also had sonar in the bumpers and a backup camera.  Toyota calls the sonar Parking Assist, but the geek in me prefers to call the big button with the P on it “proximity,” since the beeping, in conjunction with a readout on one of the viewscreens, really tells you how close you are to an object.
  • Backup camera: The backup camera is really cool—I’ve never had one before.  I kind of wished a kid would run behind me as I was backing out of my driveway so I could see it in action, but we’ve trained our neighborhood kids so well that they never did.  I did find it especially useful at the grocery store where shoppers don’t seem to use common sense about those little white lights on the back of vehicles.  It shows objects as close as 2 feet to the bumper (see pictures).



  • Turn signal indicators: There are turn signal indicators on the side view mirrors.
  • Active head restraints: The head restraints are active, which means that in a crash, they will move forward and up to reduce your chance of whiplash.  Yeah, it can be a pain for us to install those taller child restraints, but the 2nd row head restraints can be removed for easy install.  Third row head restraints can be folded down for better visibility.

  • Star Safety System: Standard on every Sienna is a combination of five features that help you control the van in difficult driving conditions.  1. Vehicle Stability Control counteracts wheelslip during turns, 2. Anti-lock Brake System avoids wheel lockup during hard braking or slippery conditions, 3. Electronic Brake-force Distribution optimizes the amount of braking force sent to each wheel during braking, 4. Traction Control prevents wheel slippage if the driver applies too much acceleration, and 5. Electric Power Steering, which gives the driver a feel for the road while making it extremely easy to drive.
  • Safety Connect: Available as an option on the XLE trim and standard on the Limited trim line, Safety Connect is Toyota’s OnStar for roadside assistance.
  • The 2011 model received highest rating from IIHS in frontal offset and side testing: A Good rating.  See www.iihs.org/ratings/ratingsbyseries.aspx?id=422 .  It has not tested for rear impact or roof strength yet.  NHTSA ratings are not yet available for model year 2011 vehicles.

Kids

My kids really like the van.  Oh, OK, you don’t want their opinion, do you?  You want to know about LATCH anchors, tether anchors, carseat installs, and the like.

  • 3 LATCH positions: In the “Argh!” heard round the parenting world, Toyota removed a LATCH position.  What was Kazuo Mori, the Sienna’s chief engineer, thinking about when he redesigned it?  Clearly not reduced head excursion (how far forward a child’s head comes in a crash) through top tethering and ease of installation by using lower anchors.  In MY 2004-2010 Siennas, there were four positions where you could install a child safety seats using Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren: the two 2nd row captain’s chairs (and the 8th seat if you had that option) and the passenger side and middle position of the 3rd row.  In the 2011 model, LATCH is only available in the 2nd row captain’s chairs and in the center position of the 3rd row.  (And remember, where there’s LATCH, there’s a tether anchor, so no extra tether anchors anywhere else, nor can they be added.)  Fortunately, LATCH isn’t the only way to install a carseat; there are still plenty of seat belts sprinkled throughout the van with which to install the carseat.  The problem will be if you have multiple forward-facing children in harnesses needing tether anchors.
  • LATCH access: In the MY 2004-2010 Siennas, lower LATCH anchors were easily accessed in the captain’s chairs by lifting an upholstery panel and they were *right there*.  In the MY 2011, they are hidden in the seat bight (crack), though marked with buttons.  I had problems accessing one anchor in particular on the captain’s chair I was using for test installs because the seat upholstery behind the anchor kept getting in the way.  I don’t understand why they’d take away such easy access to the anchors; it wasn’t as if it wasn’t done tastefully in the ’04-’10 models.  Tether anchors are still easily accessible on the backs of the vehicle seats.

  • Rear-facing tethering: If you intend to use child restraints that can be tethered when rear-facing (read the restraint’s owner’s manual for guidance—not all rear-facing seats can be tethered), the 2nd row captain’s chairs are the only seats where you will be able to install the restraints and rf tether.  The front row vehicle seats are on tracks that have space around which a tether connector strap, aka D-ring, can be wrapped.  The 2nd row captain’s chairs are on tracks built into the floor: there is no place to secure a D-ring on those chairs.  Eight-passenger models have seat belts anchored on the C pillars and that may be a potential location for a rf tether.

  • 8th seat: It’s super skinny and probably fit for only a child on the upper end of outgrowing a booster seat.  My 7.5 yr old dd didn’t quite fit in it: her legs didn’t bend at the edge of the seat, but the seat belt otherwise fit her.  When I tried the seat, I was sitting on the buckle and feel it would be an OK option for a short trip for an adult of my size.  The head restraint for me was barely adequate (I’m a short-torsoed 5’6”).  Can you install a carseat on it?  Well . . . the manual doesn’t address installing a child restraint on the seat.  A Car-Seat.org member reported in the 2011 Sienna thread that she phoned Toyota Customer Service and was told that installing restraints on the 8th seat is not allowed.  I have a feeling the manual will be revised.





  • Carseat installation: Toyota didn’t change the retractor system in the Sienna: it’s still a switchable retractor for installing child restraints.  To lock the seat belt, pull it out all the way slowly; when it retracts some, it will stay locked and you won’t be able to pull any more slack out.  In the 2nd row, the seat belts are built onto the ottoman chairs.  The buckle stalks on the 2nd row captain’s chairs for the model I drove were stiff; these were the ottoman chairs (sweet!) available on the 7 passenger van only.  In the 8 passenger model, the seat belts are placed onto the C pillars (walls).  The seat belt for the 8th seat is built onto the driver’s side captain’s chair.  There’s a bit more recline in the seating area of the captain’s chairs in the 2nd row, so get those noodles out for the rear-facing carseats.  The seat belt for the 3rd row center position still comes down from the ceiling, like previous models.  Not much was changed about the 3rd row.  The passenger side and first middle (the one where it buckles first after it comes down from the ceiling) buckle stalks are still stiff and move up and down only.
  • Carseats I installed: I did manage to try out a few seats in the 2nd row captain’s chairs and the 3rd row.
    • Britax Frontier 85: Installed beautifully in the 2nd row captain’s chair with the seat belt using the long belt path.  With LATCH, it was tighter than I’ve ever gotten a Frontier before.  The seat belt short belt path was disappointing and very loose.  Darren also installed this seat in the 3rd row when he test drove a 2011 Sienna, so you can read his comments here.
    • Safety 1st Go: My friend wanted me to install this seat because a customer of hers had a problem with it.  Both the seat belt and LATCH installs in the 2nd row captain’s chair were very tight.
    • Sunshine Kids Radian XTSL: I didn’t have much of a problem installing the Radian in the 2nd row captain’s chair.  I did have to remove the head restraint because the head restraint pushed the Radian forward when I installed it forward-facing.  There was plenty of room for a rear-facing install because I could move the captain’s chair all the way back, if necessary.  The 3rd row was a different story.  First, the LATCH anchors in the 3rd row are offset toward the driver’s side.  The carseat installed nicely rear-facing using LATCH in the 3rd row.  Turning it around forward-facing was a problem, though.  It does not want to install in the 3rd row.  First, the head restraints in the 3rd row are not removable and angle forward.  Because of this, the Radian didn’t touch the seatback.  I tried a center install, but the latchplate hit the side of the Radian so I couldn’t tighten the seat belt.  There were many inches of movement.

Thanks to my friends at Dagerman’s Just for Kids for supplying me with the carseats for my test installations!





Our van was supplied to us by the Walker Agency, courtesy of Toyota USA.  Stay tuned for Part 2!