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.
- 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.
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!
@Lisa, you can’t swap out headrests since they’re a safety feature. Have you tried raising it up? That may change the angle at where it hits your head. You could also try adjusting the seatback so it’s more reclined.
Does anyone have issues with the headrests on the driver and passenger seats? It’s so annoying when it’s tilted forward in an awkward position. I don’t think it will be a comfortable long drive. It makes my neck ache after a short drive less than 1/2 hour around the block. Any recommendations of where I can get new headrests that don’t bend forward like the new Toyota Sienna XLE 2012 model?
I agree that Sienna went with Ody’s previous 8th seat design while Ody got smart and went with Sienna’s previous 8th seat design. Another terrible design for the Sienna is the exposed tracks on the floor for the seat movement. You cannot cover them up with mats. I can imagine the dirt and grime stuck in the tracks after months of use with kids.
I am torn between buying an ’11 Sienna or ’11 Ody. I am a current owner of an ’09 Sienna 8th seat LE. I don’t like the Ody exterior design (especially side profile) and dealers refused to cut prices on the Touring and Touring Elite model. However I like the interior design. I can get more features for much less money with the Sienna but cannot get pass the 8th seat and the exposed tracks (I have 6 pre-teens/infants). I might have to pay more for the Ody since we spend more time inside than outside the van. I might have to park the Ody in such a way that I don’t see its profile much :).
Hi Kara. Like Darren said, there are always incompatibilities, but I didn’t find the Sienna seats to be particularly troublesome. Like I mentioned in the review, I was disappointed that Toyota decided to bury the LATCH anchors because that really makes it difficult for parents to attach the connectors–they use to be *right there* and easy to find. Another thing that was different with the van that I tested was that it didn’t have that 8th seat. The seatbelt configurations are different between the 7 passenger and 8 passenger vans and that can definitely affect installation, though it shouldn’t affect LATCH. I can’t remember offfhand if the actual captain’s chairs were significantly different. What carseat did you try to install? Did you try to recline the Sienna seatback first before installing the carseat?
I am surprised with such a great review concerning car seats. We recently attempted to test drive a 2011 LE model, and were unable to secure a car seat forward facing in the 2nd row using either the Latch system or the seat belt. The Toyota salesperson was also unsuccesful, and upon return with a local police officer we left the dealership never able to leave the lot. The unusual slope of the seat bottom prevented the car seat from resting flat, and therefore made it impossible to secure snuggly. I was also really disappointed with the size of the 8th passenger seat, and had not had an issue with our previous Honda (2007). Good luck to the rest of you, maybe it was just the LE model, and the seats will ride differently for you.
With some vehicles, there are always going to be child safety seats that are incompatible. Usually, we can find a position in any vehicle to securely install any particular child safety seat, but not always. Obviously, Heather couldn’t try every child safety seat for her review, but the new Sienna captain’s chairs don’t seem particularly unusual (for unusual, see the third row in some variations of the current Chrysler vans). May I ask what child seat you tried? Do you mean the base of the child seat did not rest flat on the vehicle seat, or did the back of the child seat not rest flat on the vehicle seat back, or both?
The 8th seat is clearly very similar to the 2005-2010 Odyssey in size and flexibility. The bonus is that it stows relatively easily in back. Like the PlusOne seat in the Odyssey, the drawback is that it isn’t very useful for child seats and also not for adults, except on short trips. The previous Sienna had a much larger center seat option, but it was also much more difficult to stow and took away some from the comfort of the captain’s chairs.
WARNING! If you are expecting a flat cargo area when the 2nd row seats are removed you are in for a rude awakening! The tracks that stick up into the cargo area STAY on the van floor after seats removed. If you want to remove the tracks the seats attach to so you have a flat cargo area, you must start by REMOVING THE GAS TANK! Its a 5 hour procedure to get the floor cargo area free of the 2nd row seat attachment stick up!
Jennifer, no, I didn’t try the Go in the 3rd row. I’m not sure how the headrest back there would sit against the child’s back since it would be offset. You can always install it with the seat belt though. I haven’t read anything about changes to LATCH limits, so I’d ASSume 65 lbs. like 2nd gen vans.
Heather — I just ordered my 2011 Sienna and am contemplating the purchase of a new car seat to go in it. Did you try the Safety 1st Go Hybrid in the 3rd row, by any chance? I was thinking of installing it there, but am concerned that the Sienna headrest may get in the way (as it did with the Radian). Also, do you know what the LATCH limits are according to Toyota?
Quassee, I’m still thinking on those tether anchors for rf tethering. Luckily, I didn’t lose any sleep over it (lol, like *that* would have happened!). I’ve been conferencing with my peeps 😉 about it too. I fully see your POV, but what concerns me is the lack of foot bolted down on the 2nd row seats. I may very well be making a mountain out of a molehill–something I’ve been accused of before :D–but I’d hate to see a rf tethered seat in the 3rd row ripped in half because the 2nd row seat it was tethered to slid all the way forward in a crash.
I got to adjust some Summits in the trunk of an ’11 Sienna yesterday. It was certainly a spacious cargo area with the third row folded down, and the 8th seat was tucked in a pocket of sorts in the side wall in the back, it was cool, but obviously teensy.
Because the tether anchors are an approved tether location, per Britax’s more recent manuals it’s fine to use these rear-facing. Their non-movable location restriction only applies to the use of the d-ring and is only found in the “tether connector strap” section of the instructions. Use of the versa-tether itself has no non-movable part restriction, so long as you’re using a vehicle manufacturer approved location.
I wonder what Sunshine Kids says?
No, nothing explicit in the manual was written about rf tethers. I was basing that on prior experience with carseat manufacturers not wanting their rf seats tethered to a movable location. The 2nd row seats aren’t bolted down.
Heather–is there an explicit restriction disallowing using the forward-facing tether anchor from the centre row captains chairs for a rear-facing child restraint in the back row? You said that “the 2nd row captain’s chairs are the only seats where you will be able to install the restraints and rf tether” … was this an oversight, or an assumption that those captains chairs would have forward-facing seats utilizing those anchors already?
I read somewhere recently that the 2011 Ody will have a larger 8th seat with LATCH. I don’t understand how Toyota could have missed their market on this–it’s really mind-boggling. It shows what a true disconnect there is between the engineers and the safety teams.
I did not want to like the new Sienna and the install of the Radian makes me want one. Too bad I have a 2010. Great review!
Great review, Heather! Hopefully the rest of the crash tests will be top scores across the board! It’s a shame about the loss of a LATCH position (or two for the 8-seater) compared to the previous Sienna. It’s similar to when the new Odyssey was released in 2005, but at least Honda added back extra top tether anchors the next year. Also sad that Toyota made the 8th seat a mini like the Odyssey, as opposed to the full size front and center seat in 2010. Wouldn’t it be ironic if Honda copies the previous Sienna and releases a new Odyssey next year with a full size 8th seat and 4-5 LATCH positions? My test drive was only a brief one, but the new Sienna was very, very nice. If you don’t need the extra LATCH hardware or a full size 8th seat, I like it more than my Odyssey. I really like the more aggressive new styling, too. Now if only Toyota would replace my Odyssey. A 2011 Sienna would look nice next to our 2010 Prius!