Yes, we put a tsurikawa on a minivan. But not just any minivan. We’re talkin’ bout the baddest baby boomer bus on the block — the Toyota Sienna SE. Call us crazy, but we think this is one of the few new cars you can buy today that will be a sought-after JNC in 25 years.
There’s a seemingly universal truth that says car guys cannot like minivans, but one nation flaunts that rule. Say it with me, boys and girls: JAPAAAAN! The land of the rising sun has boatloads of bitchin’ vans that will, sadly, never be sold here. That’s okay though, because Japan doesn’t have the USDM-only Sienna SE, and it’s so flippin’ cool it makes up for all the Alphards, Hiaces, and Estimas we’re so cruelly denied.
Those in the know already recognize what we’re talking about. The Sienna is a ubiquitous and sensible family hauler, no doubt. Once in a while, however, you’ll notice one that resembles a pimped-out shuttlecraft gliding down the road with a slick ground-hugging aero kit, 19-inch gunmetal wheels and clear Altezza lights. And suddenly, you think to yourself, “Damn, I wish I had three kids so could justify one of those bad boys!”
Well, we might have a better excuse and that’ll also save you a quarter million bucks on diapers and college. We’ve wanted an excuse to drive a Sienna SE since it debuted, and we recently got that chance when Toyota USA gave us one to trek from JNC headquarters in Los Angeles to San Francisco for Historic J‘s Vintage Auto Salon. As is the case with these journeys, we needed a suitable chariot to haul our booth, our gear, and ourselves from SoCal to Nor. In the past we’ve taken SUVs both real and quasi, but the SE showed us that there’s no need for any of that.
The Sienna nameplate debuted in 1998 during the late-90s, when being seen behind the wheel of a 4×4 SUV was cooler than a cryogenically frozen Elvis. After laying waste to the sports car market, SUVs became the trendy way to haul your boat/brood/bulk goods while minivans were less hip than a shopping spree at Talbot’s.
But secretly, everyone knew that vans were the superior vehicle. As we learned on our trip, the Sienna can carry way more gear than any SUV we’ve driven, including the gigantor Infiniti QX. Plus, its car-based unibody returned mileage and road feel superior to any truck’s and minimal wind noise on our delicate ears as we charged up I-5.
The first-gen Sienna came to be in an era when Japanese automakers were just beginning to differentiate their US-market offerings from JDM ones. Apparently the Previa, the last Toyota van to be sold largely unchanged on both continents, proved too quirky for American tastes. We wanted plain vanilla front-engine, front-wheel-drive minivans, not tasty rear- and all-wheel-drive ones with front midship layouts, dammit!
The most interesting fact about the original Sienna was that the concept, along with a pre-production Lexus GS, caught fire on the way to its debut at the Detroit Auto Show in order to supply auto journalists with a lifetime supply of “burnt sienna” jokes. The second generation wasn’t much snazzier, just capable, inoffensive and perpetually outshone by the Honda Odyssey.
However, it wouldn’t be that hard to envision the third-gen Sienna SE speeding from Tokyo to Nagoya on the Shin-Tomei Expressway amidst towering Hino cabovers and sleek Crowns. It shares the same 3.5-liter 2GR-FE motor as the JDM vanning kings, the Toyota Alphard and Vellfire twins, and that 266-horse V6 pulls like a bullet train when you stomp on the go-pedal.
Its slick ‘n’ quick 6-speed automatic is lighter than the outgoing 5-speed and absolutely destroys weak sauce CVTs that are cropping up everywhere these days (*coughNissancough*). Resulting 0-60 times clock in at the very low 7s, making this minivan as quick as a Ferrari 308 GTS. Eat your fuckin’ heart out, Tom Selleck.
That is not to say the Sienna isn’t without its flaws. We have no idea why, in 2014, any car still has an old-fashioned whip antenna constantly waving about in your peripheral vision as you’re trying to pretend you’re captaining a Tokyo VIP cruiser. Its Gracenote GPS system is also just plain terrible — outdated, needlessly complex, and too much time elapses between when your finger touches the screen and when something actually happens.
It must also be said that we think only the SE well be a future JNV, despite all trim levels being identical in engine and trans. Only the SE has stiffer “sport” springs and a quicker steering ratio to match its stellar turning radius. Most of all, the SE has a body kit so gangsta we actually scraped the front lip coming out of a San Francisco driveway (shhh, don’t tell Toyota). Just don’t get it in Salsa Red like ours. Its VIP-ness only comes out in white, silver, gray or black.
So about that tsurikawa. After the Auto Salon, we stopped by long time friend of JNC Patrick Ng’s crib to do some product testing on his Corolla. We also hauled around some wheels, including some ultra-rare deep-barreled Tom’s Igetas. Patrick gave us an extra subway grip, and it just felt so right to attach the universal sign for Japanese automotive outlaw on the world’s baddest van.
Still not convinced? Well think about this. Wagons were once the pinnacle of uncool. Now that they’re all gone we can’t find a JNCer who doesn’t desperately long for one. Mark our words. One day when all the Sienna SEs are gone and the world is riding around in self-driven Googlemobiles, you’re going to want one.
Aah, yes. Because nothing screams “fun” like a 4,480 lb FWD automatic with poor fuel economy.
Thank you I thought the same thing.
The only reason to get Salsa Red is if you wanna match it up w/ the 1984 Toyota Van they have in their museum [they did that at Toyotafest a few years ago]. As the proud owner of a 1984 Van LE (5MT!) in that same color, I am fully in favor of them keeping the color.
My wife is partial to Odysseys, but hopefully next minivan we get, I can convince her to go for the Sienna! I was really close last time (10 months ago), but yota just didn’t want to make any lease deals and Honda was priced much better! Oh well
I love minivans as much as I hate SUVs; and I actually think a lot of the REAL car people prefer minivans to SUVs. I was really disappointed when the Sienna replaced the Previa, but Toyota’s gotta make money. The current Sienna was a surprise, mostly because the SE really does look cool. The only thing is, why is the dual moonroof not available on the SE?!?
Totally agree. That’s the one feature that should really be there. I’m not going to hold my breath for it, but maybe there’s hope that’ll happen before the next generation.
Thats retarded. REAL car people might just have overlap with REAL offroad enthusiasts, who can find the occasional SUV that can actually do something besides block sightlines and be driven by incompetent dumbasses. Minivan drivers? No such thing. There is absolutely nothing that any minivan does well, EXCEPT carry around a small pack of people/children in undignified means. And child-carrying enthusiasism sounds pretty f’in lame, as far as reasons for vehicular enthusiasm go. A work cargo van does everything a minivan does, a whole lot better, except its mass and volume intimidates the bleating hordes of vehicularly unskilled who buy minivans.
In short, as a REAL (nice self-proclaimed authority, you have there, chump) car guy there is one or two SUVs that have actual value as enthusiast vehicles, in that they can go on boulder strewn mountain trails, that even rally cars can’t bypass. Certainly not most SUVS. But there are at least some. Whereas minivans… is ther ANYTHING that they can do for a vehicle enuthiast, that has the least bit of interest or ability that thousands of non-minivans can’t do much more enjoyable, or better (in the case of carrying people/cargo)? Nope.
I firmly disagree. My odyssey serves as the best of all worlds. It hauls parts like no other, is not slow, is comfortable and absolutely does not suck. Would I rather be in my 4ws prelude si or crx? Sure. But the ody is an excellent rv (having an interior), as well as pull a trailer (with the 954RR on it plus gear and generator) to the track for the weekend. Then on Monday morning rip through traffic and tight parking lots hauling parts and running errands, haul scooters and motorcycles inside all while getting 26mpg in comfort and style. On top of that, I’m almost convinced that I will NEVER get pulled over speeding or anything else, as most cops don’t even give you a second look. I’m 35, have no kids, and love my minivan and don’t care what anyone thinks. A lot of the time, I appreciate the anonymity and it serves me just fine. Having a “fun” vehicle AND a “practical” vehicle just works better.
Was this a paid ad? smh
No, but I wish it was!
So, was the van faster than the mango?
i’m not hating! i love the new sienna vans! they do the vanning thing in hk as well and because there’s a bunch of hk immigrants in vancouver, bc (canada) i’ve seen some tastefully modified siennas up there. i think there’s a company in cali that does air suspension kit for that super slammed VIP look. is it a fun car to drive? heck no. but neither is a slammed to hell VIP big sedan either. that doesn’t mean it ain’t an awesome cruiser. i’d love to have one!
“Apparently the Previa, the last Toyota van to be sold largely unchanged on both continents, proved too quirky for American tastes. We wanted plain vanilla front-engine, front-wheel-drive minivans, not tasty rear- and all-wheel-drive ones with front midship layouts, dammit!”
Don’t forget the “Q-ship” styling. I loved that jelly-bean shape and that “Alien”-style center console jutting out of the dash. Not buying one when they were available is one of my car-regrets (another regret is not buying the leftover, NOS, 1994 Supra with 6-speed and solid roof).
You can get a Previa in good condition for like $1000 dollars. Their dash is awesome. …But in the end its still a minivan. It carries people, not car parts. Being stuck in a vehicle with more than about 4 people just plain sucks, who actually gets stoked about that?
“Yeah Im gonna build a sweet MINIVAN, and then 7 of us will pile in and go cruise main steet, everyone will think we are just too badass!” …yeah. Road trip… not any better. Minivans suck.
Something tells me you spend a lot of time alone in cars. Also, everywhere else.
True $1000, but much harder to find nicer ones. Maybe a supercharged version? Center captain seat version? Moon roof version?
Hey jnc i think the PR guy for Toyota hacked your site. look at your last 4 posts.
I guess their PR department loves Datsun watches and Subaru historic cars! 😉
Duh they’re clearly superior! Im kidding, but really I love Toyota half of my dream cars are Toyotas, but you’d think theyre the biggest car manufacturer in the world or something. 😛
Missing prop in article: Recaro baby seat. Ben, did you knock somebody up!?
LOL, no, thankfully. We just really like the van. A lot. We were even talking about getting one as a JNC Shop car with the following build.
– Thicker sway bars
– Brembos to halt that mass
– Bilstein shocks
– Enkei RPF1 wheels
– and laser jammers
It would be the perfect long distance hauler for us. As much as I like the wagon, it’s not as spacious or turnkey.
You forgot Sparco non slip pedals.
…and the Sparco Alcantara seat belt pads!
Why this over the odyssey? In my opinion it is styled much better (for a minivan), and who is actually looking for a sporty van?
I fought tooth and nail against my wife when it came time to get a mini van. We discussed it for quite sometime, and after riding in a friends 2nd gen Sienna, I was slightly swayed. Then after test driving one, I fell in love (or rather, a strong LIKE). So much power. So many cool buttons. It comes in handy with space too. Glad we got it, and I ate my words of saying I would never own one!
Now, how do I convince my wife we need a TRD supercharger on it?
Since I’ve already polluted this thread with my anti-minivan screeds, I might as well just add that at least the wagons of yore were simply proper sedan cars, with longer roof and a few extra windows. And shared everything in common with their sedan counterparts save those minor utilitarian additions. Wagons “are cool” because the sedans that they are built on are cool. Sure, inivans share platforms with lame fullsize FWD sedans, but guess what, those sedans aren’t cool in the first place. Theres your problem right there.
Oh and congratulations, you’ve find a JNCer who doesn’t want a wagon at all. Let alone desperately.
I’ve been saying this for years! Mom has a 05 LE Sienna and let me tell you Its a load of fun if you can handle it. Been wanting to try out the SE just because of the suspension and steering to see how it compares.
Of course is it a paid ad. Or an agreement, that you will get new Toyotas free for a week or two if you write something nice about them. Business as usual.
Yes, but the thing is, I didn’t have to write something nice. I actually LIKE the car. I guess that’s just hard to believe.
I actually like this van, it has already grown on me after reading his post. haha
These very nice shots show off the nice details and that color wasn’t really half bad. Thanks for sharing this with us.
shark = jumped
wtf is this shit? stop taking ques from adam sandler movies for product placement. it’s just not funny in this setting.
I think you have product placement confused with product review. I like the Sienna SE. Love it, in fact. If I won the lotto tomorrow, I’d be at the Toyota dealership right after stopping to buy a GT-R. I love it as much as I hate Adam Sandler movies, so if I quoted him it was completely accidental.
I sold my G35 for a Sienna. I love it. I can see many people are haters but speaking with actual owners of these vans, they love their van. I think many people are bashing the comment that true JNC’rs own or drive Sienna’s. Author’s perspective. Don’t read too much into it. Sienna’s have their own enthusiasts that care and puts into their vans just as much as someone who cares and puts into their JNC.
Living in Southern California, I have to say, I love the road trips. SF, Las Vegas. Next up? Oregon. =)
Please…. just look up Vankulture or Vossen Sienna on the inter web and you will get a eye opening look at what happens when you put coilovers, maybe air and some new shoes on a stock 3rd gen sienna….I get nothing but compliments and people taking pic in the parking lot of my grocery gocart.