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Discussion Starter #1
With the arrival of our third child, my wife insisted on getting a minivan to replace her Legacy wagon with. She settled on a 2013 8-passenger Toyota Sienna LE and below is a summarized transcript of her questions about its functionality over our first six months of ownership:

Her: Why does the van shudder when I turn onto the main road in the rain? The van slows way down even though I'm accelerating and I miss my opening and then have to wait another two minutes until traffic opens up again.
Me: There is a hill as we approach the intersection and as you ascend the hill to make the right-hand turn into traffic, the van loses traction because it has front wheel drive with Toyota’s TRAC traction control. Both the front wheel drive and the TRAC operate to our disadvantage. Vehicles transfer their weight distribution to their lowest wheels, which in this case are the rear wheels because the van is pointing up hill into the intersection. The rear tires then have the greatest mass resting on them, and my means of that mass also the greatest grip. But because the van is front-wheel drive, we have our greatest traction exactly where we don’t need it. The Sienna’s TRAC is an electronically controlled mechanism which applies brake pulses to spinning wheels so as to give the appearance of regaining traction but in fact only serve to slow the van’s wheels down and doesn’t address their poor friction coefficient with the road. Engineers actually interested in achieving traction rather than the appearance of traction use limited slip differentials, which variably apportion torque to the wheels with the greatest grip, as Toyota did in the Scion Scion FR-S. The old Subaru had all-wheel drive and a limited slip differential in the rear, never broke traction, and so you were always able to scoot up that hill directly into traffic rain or shine.

Her: Why does the van shimmy when I cross railroad tracks at 40 mph? It feels like I’m still driving my old Jeep from the 1990s.
Me: The rear suspension is the Sienna is an 80-year old design chosen because its very cheap to manufacture and it helps save space in the rear so the third row seats can flip-and-fold. It’s a weird and old design in which the rear wheels’ camber and toe change relative to one another rather than relative to the car’s body, which is the ideal most manufacturers manage to achieve in regular passenger cars and SUVs with independent rear suspensions. The suspension design only behaves like an independently sprung rear end when compressed under load, but behaves like a solid rear axle in an old Jeep when hitting uneven bumps in the road or when cornering. Because the railroad crosses the street at a diagonal angle, the first wheel to hit the tracks causes the other one to deflect, so as the first changes toe and camber to absorb the shock the other changes in the opposite direction by means of being tied together by the twisted beam and causes that unsettling shimmy. The same thing happens at high speed, especially when making rapid lane changes. Consumer Reports had a great video showing this happen. Didn’t you watch it too …?

Her: Why do we get worse fuel economy than the window sticker said? I thought we were going to save a lot of gas by not buying a giant SUV.
Me: The Sienna weights 4200 lbs, about as much as a ‘giant SUV’, (the Honda Pilot weighs 4350 lbs, 150 lbs more) and because of this we need the same amount of energy to get up to speed. The issue at hand here is vehicle weight, not type. Moreover, the EPA fuel economy test is performed on a test loop which doesn’t reflect real world driving very well. Even when it was designed thirty years ago, the test wasn’t very good and most people knew it was bunk.

Her: We bought the eight passenger van so we could fit three car seats across the middle bench seat but a child seat won’t fit into the middle bench’s middle seat. Now I have to climb all the way back to the third row to buckle a kid in and we lose the great big storage room in the back with the third row seat up. Definitely not an 8 passenger van, more like a six passenger van when car and booster seats are involved. With the third row up, we have less storage space than we did in the back of the Legacy wagon.
Me: Um, yeah, that’s because we didn’t take our car seats out of the Subaru to test how they fit in the Sienna. It turns out that center, removable seat in the second row is only about 14 inches wide, three inches too narrow for the narrowest car seat base on the market, which is 17 inches wide. That was definitely our bad. We should have done better research.


Her: I miss my Legacy. We could at least fit three car seats across the back seat of a new Outback.
Me: Yeah, me too. What do you think we could get for it as a trade.
 

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Sorry to hear that you aren't impressed with your purchase. Sounds like the Sienna won't grow on you. I've read a lot of information about people happy with some of the third generation features and others that hate the interior and have had some issues which 5 years ago would never be mentioned with "Toyota Quality".

Are you going to get another Subaru, or wait a year or two and then get rid of the Sienna?

Regards, JC.
 

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This is what you should have told your wife:

Her: Why does the van shudder when I turn onto the main road in the rain?
Me: This is a function of ALL FRONT WHEEL DRIVE VEHICLES. Accelerating hard during sharp corners will cause the inside wheel to spin. Slow down and take it easy.

Her: Why does the van shimmy when I cross railroad tracks at 40 mph?
ME: The shimmy means the van is on the verge of loosing control, slow down a little next time (see previous answer).

Her: Why do we get worse fuel economy than the window sticker said? I thought we were going to save a lot of gas by not buying a giant SUV.
Me: The sticker has never reflected actual fuel economy. fuelly.com has the average fuel economy at 20 mpg for Toyota Sienna's. This has not changed since the Sienna was introduced in 1998. Next time we should do more research.

Her: We bought the eight passenger van so we could fit three car seats across the middle bench seat but a child seat won’t fit into the middle bench’s middle seat.
Me: It should have been obvious that a 17 inch wide car seat would not fit onto the 14 inch wide middle seat. The only other 8-passenger minivan is the Honda Odyssey, which also uses a narrow middle "magic" seat. Next time we should do more research.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
We’re glad forum readers like their Siennas. Each one bought helps provide a family in Princeton, IN, with a livelihood and we’re grateful in our global economy that they have good jobs. The purpose of the entry is to highlight some of the things you don’t ordinarily learn in the dealership or on a test drive so those considering the van can make a more informed decision. The Sienna appears to have some staunch loyalists and the Misgivings entry seems to have struck a nerve in the 55-mph-in-the-left-hand-lane-with-a-blinker-flashing crowd.


Crossing railroad tracks at 40 mph in a 45 speed zone isn’t too fast and the main road is also 45 mph, so merging into traffic requires a heavy foot. Neither behavior is unreasonable or unsafe: everyone does it and slowing down to take it easy will cause those behind us to brake unexpectedly.


The issue at stake for us is that a Sienna may do well so long as its pointed down a long stretch of empty highway or while taking it easy around a shopping mall parking lot, but our real world driving it performs more like the cars we drove 20 years ago than the modest and dowdy one we drove last year. It’s a fine car in many respects, but it seems as though Toyota made some unfortunate cost-cutting design compromises to achieve 87 cubic feet of cargo room with the third row folded, which is a volume we never enjoy using because of the car seat placement problem.

Yes – the car seat question was definitely bad research on our part and we’ve learned our lesson about trusting a skeevy, high-pressure salesman. Caveat emptor. If we’re being perfectly honest, there’s a lot to like about the Sienna too.

Admittedly, taste is subjective, but we think it’s the best looking van on the market and that it’s the best handling, based on the 20-min test drives we took in competing models. We also like the Sienna’s fabric seats, which appear durable have been easy to keep clean.

Beyond that, most of the features are pretty ubiquitous across the segment, but there are a few things worth noting about living with minivans in general which weren’t immediately obvious to us when test driving them:
It’s hard to see out their back windows. Back-up cameras are 2D, not 3D, and depth perception is difficult to gauge no matter how many fancy lines are drawn on the screen.
The rear well into which the seats flip and fold is deep, but that means the 35 – 40 cubic feet of space back there is mostly vertical instead of horizontal, like in a station wagon or SUV. You need to plan ahead, for example, when loading groceries so the eggs and bread are always at the top. Just as it’s a nuisance to lift heavy objects onto the tall cargo area of a giant SUV, it’s similarly a pain to reach down into that well for heavy objects. From a handling perspective, the van also develops some spooky characteristics on the exit ramp when you toss bags of cement back in that well, much better to remove the second row seats and place the cement closer to the van’s center of gravity.
There’s no full size spare so that means on a long road trip we needed to stop and find a place with a P235/60R17 size tire in stock, which took ages and caused us to spend the night. The well the spare rests isn’t deep enough to hold a full size spare in case you want to trade up, so you’re stuck with the donut no matter what. It’s also a total pain in the neck to get the spare tire out as you need to slide or remove the center console, middle seats etc. We kind of get the feeling that minivans weren’t designed to get flat tires, which would be terrific if they never did.
Dashboard color is startlingly really important on a vehicle with a windshield so vast. A light-colored dash reflects a lot of light on sunny days, which shines directly into the windshield and makes it hard to see. Try to aim for a van with a dark colored dashboard.
 

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What crowd are you talking about when you say "the 55-mph-in-the-left-hand-lane-with-a-blinker-flashing crowd'? Are you trying to say that those who disagree with you are a$$holes?
 

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Her: Why do we get worse fuel economy than the window sticker said? I thought we were going to save a lot of gas by not buying a giant SUV.
...
Her: We bought the eight passenger van so we could fit three car seats across the middle bench seat but a child seat won’t fit into the middle bench’s middle seat. Now I have to climb all the way back to the third row to buckle a kid in and we lose the great big storage room in the back with the third row seat up. Definitely not an 8 passenger van, more like a six passenger van when car and booster seats are involved. With the third row up, we have less storage space than we did in the back of the Legacy wagon.
From what I've read, every car gets worse gas mileage than is listed on the window sticker. As has already been mentioned, those are lab tests and unfortunately don't match reality. I wish they did.

Here's my question... since they're all the same type of lab tests, are the difference between different models consistent with real world driving? I don't think I've ever seen that documented. So if car X does ZZ miles better than car Y on the window sticker tests, then in real world driving can you expect a difference of ZZ between the two cars? Hmmm.


Regarding the ridiculously skinny middle seat in the middle row.... Yes yes yes. That is one of the main reasons that my wife and I bought an 2010 Sienna rather than the 2011 when they were introduced. The 2004-2010 series of Siennas had a full size middle/middle seat in their 8-passenger models.


... From a handling perspective, the van also develops some spooky characteristics on the exit ramp when you toss bags of cement back in that well, much better to remove the second row seats and place the cement closer to the van’s center of gravity.
There’s no full size spare so that means on a long road trip we needed to stop and find a place with a P235/60R17 size tire in stock, which took ages and caused us to spend the night. The well the spare rests isn’t deep enough to hold a full size spare in case you want to trade up, so you’re stuck with the donut no matter what. It’s also a total pain in the neck to get the spare tire out as you need to slide or remove the center console, middle seats etc. We kind of get the feeling that minivans weren’t designed to get flat tires, which would be terrific if they never did.
w.r.t cement or other heavy loads... I agree that reaching down into the well is tough. I generally will flip down one or both of the rear seats which gives a large flat floor for easier loading/unloading.

w.r.t. spare tires... In my experience, tires are far far better than decades ago. I've not had a flat in over 15 years. I've spoken anecdotally to a few others who report the same. So, yeah it is too bad that you had trouble when you had a flat, but I don't think that you can really single-out the Sienna for that. Don't all cars/minivans now come with a mini-donut spare?
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Fuel economy has probably more to do with how you drive than what you drive. Most of our trips on are roads ridden with intersections and school zones with the air conditioning running at full blast, so I was never that optimistic about fuel economy, but it still came as a bit of a shock we’re getting many fewer miles per gallon given how strongly minivan advocates acclaim their economy. We’d be doing just as poorly around town with the giant SUV. The Sienna may perform better on the highway with its tall 5th and 6th gears (0.713; 0.608), but we stretch its legs only about every eight weeks or so and consequently we never really notice that efficiency gain at the pump.

Maybe we just have bad luck, but we seem to accumulate a puncture every two years. Our last was from a pallet which flew off the back of a semi directly in front of us. We hit the debris and two nails stuck in the tire pretty close together, making it impossible to repair despite the heroic efforts of a very enthusiastic and resourceful tire shop who eventually had to drive 40 miles away to get the right size. Indeed, most cars come with donuts these days (all minivans do), but some cars and SUVs have wells deep enough to hold a full-size spare so you can replace the donut with no space penalty in the cargo area. Most Subaru wagons are configured for this possibility, as are the Pilot and Grand Cherokee. There are likely others too but my research is limited.

Probably like you did with your 2010 Sienna, the plan was to keep the third row permanently flipped to get a wide, deep and tall cargo area, but because the second row won’t hold three car seats across, we need to keep one seat permanently installed in the third row, which limits our effective cargo space to a very oddly proportioned ~60 (?) cubic feet that’s kind of hard to use when packing bulky items. Most station wagons and SUVs have somewhere between 40 – 50 cubic feet of cargo space, but it’s a very usable space and we don’t need to slide things across the floor into where passengers accessing the third row seat need to walk (or where they may get hit by flying cargo in an accident).

Given the hostility of some of the remarks above, it’s clear this isn’t a forum for candidly exchanging information but rather for congratulating one another about their Sienna ownership. Buying a car constitutes weighing a series of tradeoffs and it would have been nice to participate in a light-hearted and factual discussion about what living with a Sienna, or minivan in general, is like.
 

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Given the hostility of some of the remarks above, it’s clear this isn’t a forum not for candidly exchanging information but rather for congratulating one another about their Sienna ownership.
I am no Toyota fanboy, even though I currently own a 2013 Camry and a 2008 Sienna. I really could care less if the original poster likes his vehicle or not, and I not going to waste any time trying to convince him that the Toyota is the best vehicle made.

I still can't figure out what the original poster was trying to accomplish. All the "problems" that he described are inherent to ALL MINIVANS (Dodge, Honda, Chrysler, Nissan and Kia), not specific to the Toyota. These shortcomings would have been obvious if he had spent a few minutes researching before buying a minivan.

So, please don't come crying with buyer's remorse...I don't have any sympathy.
 

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ABooth: Soince this is your first minivan, i'll give you my opinions:

1) Shuddering - very common of ALL front wheel drive vehicles as described by another poster. It takes a bit of practice to get a quick start on a slick surface. My guess is your wife may be hitting the gas a bit hard. It takes time to adjust.

2) Railroad track - All I can tell you is you are driving a long, wide vehicle that is setup for comfortable ride. My guess is it is not as bad as you make it. I say that knowing I get the same sensation when I cross railroad tracks near my house at 30 mph. Also since this is my 2nd minivan....

3) Gas mileage - Give the engine a chance to break in. I have 3500 miles on my 2013 Sienna XLE. It has steadily risen from 16 mpg to now 19 mpg. I have not reset the computer. ON the highway the instantaneous mpg has been as high as 28 mpg....I don't drive slow.

4) Car Seats - This is something you should have picked up on during your first drive. The 2nd row middle seat is not designed for a car seat. I have 3 children. Teh first thing I did was remove that seat and stored it in the back. Not sure of the age of your children but can't one of them sit in the 3rd seat? Even my youngest (5) can sit in the 3rd row with her booster seat.

Personally, I think a lot of the issues is moving from a wagon (about the size of a mid-size car) to a larger vehicle. You can either give it more time to adjust which I think you will esp if you take long trips. Or buy a new Legacy wagon.

Either way, good luck.
 

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Discussion Starter #10
The turn in question can’t be avoided in our daily commute and as peak traffic demands a fast entrance, adjusting driving habits to accommodate the limitations of the van on wet days (we live in a very damp climate) means forgoing many turning opportunities and waiting several minutes until there’s a large enough gap to make a very slow (or shuddering) start. While commenters above have noted all contemporary minivans have converged to share the unfortunate design flaw of being large, front wheel drive platforms with open differentials, relatively short first gears and unequal length drive shafts, traction control isn’t managed the same way across all vans. Honda and Chrysler (& Dodge & VW) seem to use brakes to limit wheel spin also, but Nissan’s Quest claims instead to somehow limit the engine’s output, which isn’t ideal but isn’t exactly the same either. Has anyone bought an AWD Sienna or sought other interventions, such as perhaps a limited slip differential for the Sienna’s U660 series automatic transmission? Toyota has wisely offered helical limited slip differentials in their other, less costly front wheel drive platforms, such as the vast C series, and it would be interesting to know if this is an option in other markets (Canada?) or if the Sienna is cursed with TRAC everywhere?

The railroad track shimmy isn’t severe: we don’t feel as though we’ll lose control of the Sienna (we never felt that about the Jeep either), but for an auto maker who leads in innovation we expected better. Correct me if I’m wrong, but Toyota stands alone in the van segment by carrying on with an 80-year old torsion-beam rear suspension – nearly every other van maker has invested in engineering a truly independent rear end.

A nearly 20% increase in fuel economy is greatly enviable. I’ve heard new cars need to wear microscopic burrs off their reciprocating and rotating surfaces in their engines and drivelines over the first few thousand miles before they get truly broken in. Tires may also lose some of their rolling resistance when slightly worn too. 6,000 miles in and our Sienna is still a pig at the pump: we’re getting about 15 mpg around town in stop-and-go traffic. Nothing to crow about at our end yet.

The car seat issue is a real bummer: our kids are quite young and need help getting settled into all three seats. At one point, the prospect of crouching to shuffle between the middle seats to the third row upon entry and exit had some novel charm, but that soon wore off and we’ve begun to resent the Quasimodo routine. Helpful feedback from this forum indicates the middle row held three car seats across up until 2010, at which point the design was changed to limit seating versatility rather than enhance it. A quick perusal of the mommy blogs tells me Honda went in the opposite direction in 2011 when they expanded the Odyssey’s middle row to hold three seats. It would be interesting to know if anyone here had put that to a test.

Another note of comparison: the Quest has vented brakes front and rear, which is a nice feature to have when life is punctuated by traffic lights or stop signs every 1000 feet. They may contribute to unsprung weight but their greater mass makes them better heat sinks for absorbing kinetic energy when its converted to thermal energy and their venting helps them shed that retained energy faster. A nice, thoughtful touch other makers seem to eschew.

Summary notes from our cross-shopping six months ago:
Even though the Odyssey has a cleverly designed independent rear suspension (and can possibly hold three seats across the middle row?), it drove poorly and suffered from ugly torque steer at the moment we drove it off the lot and through every turn of the 6-mile test drive loop. We didn’t hesitate walking away from it.
We liked how all of the rear seats on the Caravan (Town & Country, Routan) flipped and folded, but it felt cheaply built and I couldn’t repress flashbacks of the K car my Dad bought in a particularly patriotic fervor in the 1980s. Its dodgy fuel pump intermittently cut out until an Olds Cutlass Supreme plowed into us and effectively euthanized it. Even with three changes in ownership since then (Daimler-Benz, that genius Dan Quayle and his buddies at Cerberus, and Fiat) I still can’t bring myself to trust the Dodge brothers.
The Nissan is ridiculously small inside given its exterior dimensions and brazen, boxy styling. We never even drove it after we climbed inside realized it felt about as small inside as the Tribeca we also thought was too small.
We never looked at the Kia: poor resale, smaller cargo space, heavier than the rest, tiny brakes, basically not a lot to like except for the price. A good example of getting what you pay for.
 

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You could disable traction control to try and improve your acceleration problem. I believe the button is located by your left knee. Holding it for four seconds might also disable stability control. Check the manual for exact procedures.

I apologize for my previous post about not spending enough time shopping. I assumed you were one of those people who walked into the dealership for an oil change and left with a new vehicle. Based on your last post, you obviously spent some time shopping.
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Apologies for the 55-mph-in the-left-hand-lane-with-the-blinker-flashing bit, but we rarely have occasion to go over 50 and advising us to slow down and take it easy doesn’t suit the circumstances under which we must use the van. Thanks for the technical note – we’ll try disabling TRAC. If the stability control performs as well as the traction control, it'll probably be an improvement there too. After all, how likely are you to swap ends in a car with a 10ft wheelbase?

The Sienna, like most minivans, is a fine vehicle if the first priority is having a voluminous, rolling box for hauling people and stuff and you don't care if everything else is subordinated to that need, but we expected more from Toyota. This is, after all, the company that simplified the complex in the brilliantly conceived and executed Prius, made sequential turbocharging safe, powerful, and reliable in the Supra, and rendered the 4Runner nearly indestructible even when driven to the ends of the earth. We expected more and think Toyota held themselves to a lower standard with this model.
 

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ABooth, sorry to hear about your problems.

what I did to my 13 was got rid of crappy firestone tires came with the van, then put a set Michelin Energy on. No problems here with new tires.

I also installed a set of Air Bag 1000. Pump it up to 32psi. It is the sweet spot for me.

Different tires make a big different on how the car handle.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Excellent point about the tires. We’ve rarely been happy with OEM tires. The Firestone FR710s leave a lot to be desired besides their low price, but we’ve probably got another 30k to run on them before its time to swap them for something better. Tire Rack recommends the Goodyear Assurance ComforTred Touring, Bridgestone Dueler H/L 422 and the Yokohama AVID Ascend, but for all lists among their attributes both low rolling resistance (for fuel economy) and long tread life, neither of which are commensurate with good traction, where you want a larger friction coefficient and softer wearing rubber. We'll gladly trade for good grip even if it means diminished longevity and miniscule fuel economy gains. Thanks for the recommendation and we’ll keep the Michelins in mind when shopping for new tires.

One other note on the Sienna (and minivans in general).
We pay apprx. 50% more for insurance than we did with the wagon. The prices they quoted for the Odyssey and Caravan were equally high, but we would have paid no more than 5% more for AWD/4WD versions of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mazda CX-9, Honda Pilot, or Subaru Outback or Tribeca. We're middle aged, married, have no at-fault accidents or traffic violations, live in a low-crime area, and are about as low-risk as you can get. We were told SUVs tended to be the most expensive to repair because of their mechanical complexity (this is called loss severity), but the loss frequency is much greater for minivans, hence the higher premiums. Large minivans, tend, in fact, to have the highest loss frequency in the family car class (minivan, station wagon, SUV) While we appreciate the good safety ratings of the Sienna, Odyssey and Caravan, there’s an awful lot to be said for not getting into an accident in the first place.
 
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