I love cars. I love driving, racing, and traveling by car. I’m that guy who gets up early on a Sunday to wash a car by hand. I love gadgets and gizmos and sensual design, so there are no words that can strike fear as deep into my heart as: “Your minivan is here.”
The Minivan: An anonymous, emasculating, cheerio-encrusted,suburban assault vehicle. Typically, they burst with the soul-destroying songs of Sponge Bob, and Dora the Explorer for the pre-Beiber set. It seems as though the car seat-mounted children stare as blankly at their mobile entertainment units as the sleep deprived parents do from the driver’s seat.
Do you get the notion that driving a minivan is not on my “must do” list? Checking any sort of residual masculinity at the door, Toyota dropped off a 2011 Sienna for Any Driven Sunday to test out, recently. In my front window, my neutered Yellow Labrador Retriever, Carlin, smiled, “Now, you will know how I felt!”
As much as I don’t want to admit it, the Sienna is about the only minivan I’ve driven that might rate as kind of cool. It’s a good-looking vehicle, and with optional, high-end aerodynamic front bumper fascia, and all the bells and whistles jammed into the “Limited” it wasn’t as bad as my preconceived notions warned.
The price starts at $24,000 and steps up to $25,600 for LE trim, $30,000 for the SE, $32,500 for the XLE and $38,800 for the fully loaded-up Limited. Even at the entry point, the Sienna is pretty well put together. The Limited had leather-covered everything, dual DVD, navigation, and pretty much every option available on a car or truck.
Both rear side doors were power and remote-operated from the key-fob, as was the rear hatch. Such an attribute is pretty cool, and for the I-have-to-carry-everything-in-one-trip set, it’s very convenient, indeed.
The more I drove the Sienna, the more I realized that if one is ever forced into this market segment – and no one ever wakes up saying they WANT a minivan unless they need one – the Sienna is easily one of the better choices out there.
As I was setting up next to a suburban soccer field to take some pictures of the van, I couldn’t help become hyper-aware that I didn’t belong there. As a 45 year old, single dude with a pretty expensive camera in tow, driving a minivan, I figured that someone would have called Chris Hansen, and that any second, the “To Catch a Predator” staff was going to jump out from behind a bush. So, I took the pictures and got out of there as quickly as I could.
Really, the minivan just isn’t a vehicle I would ever get for myself, unless there was a very significant shift in my world. The funny thing is: The market whose parents owned the first generation minivans in the 80’s are now old enough to be the target consumer. For the most part, those former back seat passengers of minivans have run away from this product at break-neck speed. They’re the folks who have created the SUV and Crossover segment as one of the biggest parts of the automobile market.
They seek out the functionality but, in their minds, they also avoid the stigma attached to the minivan.
As the generation before them created the minivan market because they swore they would never drive a station wagon like their Mom’s, the Minivan has created its own anti-market. For those who do not have that particular bias in their heads, and don’t mind the look of defeat that seems to come with piloting one of these very functional vehicles, the Sienna is the high-water mark for drivability and livability.
When Toyota came back to pick up the Sienna, they left me with a Scion TC, equipped with a six-speed manual. As a result, my manhood was restored faster than a spike of Viagra. For the week of Suburban Amnesia and for all my whining about driving a minivan, the Toyota option proved its worth. Hauling all sorts of stuff without any problem and finding its way around town very comfortably was quite the treat.
It is most definitely not for me, but for those looking at Chrysler’s Grand Caravan, or the other benchmarks of the market, the Sienna should be considered seriously. I don’t love it, but I have learned to respect it for what it is.