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A Grocery Getter for Dads

28 January 2012  

2012 Toyota Sienna wins Sportiest in Minivan Wars

Dads with style have long resisted minivans, mostly due to the stigma they bring with them. Toyota, not typically the leader in vehicle sportyness, has realized this. And they’ve created what is perhaps the sportiest looking minivan to date, the SE version of the new Toyota Sienna.

First, a word about the minivan industry in general. In October, 2011, Chrysler announced that it will soon stop producing its Dodge Caravan. Toyota’s Sienna is one of the reasons why. It’s simply far better than other vans on the market, including the Dodge. If you’re thinking Wasn’t the Caravan the best-selling van in the world a decade or so ago?, then you’d be right.

Just as Toyota and Honda pushed the Ford Taurus out of its slot as best-selling sedan, they have now pushed the Caravan out of its space as best-selling minivan. Why? Their vans are quieter, smoother, incredibly more reliable and, simply put, better vehicles. Even the new entries from Nissan and Kia are better than the Dodge—though I wouldn’t put them in the same category with the Sienna (more on that later).

If you’re shopping minivans—or even if you’re not—the Toyota Sienna may be precisly what you’re looking for, if you can afford it. As with the Caravan that created this niche market, the Sienna is marvelous for young families. However, more and more Babyboomers and retirees are also buying Sienna’s and similar minivans, like Honda’s Odyssey, because they’re so easy to get in and out of. They’re incredibly reliable, and they easily carry lots of friends and cargo in comfort.

If long-term reliability, comfort, luxury and hauling ability are all on your list of wants, you’d do well to test drive a few of the newest minivans. Having piloted all these luxury-wagons, I find the Toyota to be the most sophisticated and enjoyable, as well as the best value.

None of these new-school minivans are cheap. Most start barely shy of $30k. The Sienna starts toward the bottom, at $25k. Load any of these vans up with leather, navigation and all the power options, and you can easily be looking at a van north of $40,000. Keep in mind though, these loaded vans drive about as nicely as a Lexus (also made by Toyota), Acura (Honda’s luxury badge) or Infiniti (Nissan’s luxury brand).

And what about the competition? The Kia Sedona and Nissan Quest are upping the ante in this category. Nice as those slightly-cheaper competitors are, neither has the proven reliablity of the Sienna.

For the leading manufacturers, the minivan wars are heating up. The new Sienna only has one serious competitor, the Honda Odyssey. The sporty new Sienna SE, however, has no true competitor as a cool van for dads.

John Dickerson, Auto Reviews

Each month John Dickerson tests a worthy car. From smoking teenagers at stoplights to cramming groceries and small appliances into the trunk, Dickerson examines the features you actually care about, like how well a spilled mocha cleans off the upholstery. Dickerson was raised on industrial pollution, deer venison and American steel in Detroit, Michigan. His co-workers often find him in a trance, slumped over his keyboard, uttering words like “torque steer, horsepower-to-displacement ratio” and “nav system.”