Vans have the seating capacity and storage for transporting kids and equipment from lesson to lesson but for families like ours, with three kids and car seats, vans are also a fact of life. Where we really appreciate our vehicle is on a road trip. On a recent trip to New Jersey we had a chance to put the 2012 Toyota Sienna XLE to the test.
Toyota Sienna: Interior Comforts for Long Drives
Booster seats are a thing of the past for my oldest daughter so she loved the ability to extend the second row passenger seat when travelling, stretching out for a sleep or just the feeling of lounging in the car. My youngest daughter enjoyed this feature too, even in her car seat, though she required assistance to operate the lever. My son, although he usually hung out in the third row, loved grabbing time in the extended seat when his sister would let him.
The leg extenders are manual, controlled individually by a lever on the side of the seat. I loved that the extensions weren’t just up or down either, like a La-Z-Boy recliner. My daughter had the leg extender all the way up like a bed but I just extended it at a forty-five degree angle, matching the natural angle of my legs. You can adjust the angle as finitely as you wish and the padded extender can also slide up and down depending on the angle and the support you are looking for.
I must admit, even I enjoyed this feature. My oldest daughter and I had to move the chair position all the way back in order to this feature fully, which meant no one could sit in the third row behind this seat. But there were still two usable seats in the third row, where my son sat for the ride. The benefit to having the leg extended seat pushed all the way back into the third row meant my son actually had someone closer to talk to; the third row wasn’t so isolated from the rest of the passengers.
As an adult passenger, having the second row seat pushed back also gave extra room between the driver’s seat and myself. Usually I’m not a fan of sitting in the second row on long trips but the extended leg feature had me flipping a coin with my daughter to see who could sit in the seat next.
Long road trips mean sitting in the van for extended periods of time and the back of the van can start to feel claustrophobic. The Toyata Sienna’s second row sunroof added more natural light, bringing the outside inside by spanning the second and third row of the van. This increased the amount of light within the van exponentially. Both sunroofs can also be opened to let the air in.
If you’re trying to keep the sun out of your eyes, there are retractable sunshades on the passenger windows as well as the back windows for the third row. I love that these back row windows are big enough to require a sunshade. The only thing missing is a shade for the second row sunroof. I loved having the light but my youngest periodically complained that the sun would get into her eyes.
Toyota Sienna: In-car Entertainment
Like it or not, technology plays a part on road trips making a vehicle equipped with rear seat entertainment a must and the Sienna delivers. Unlike our current van, the Toyota Sienna offers a single widescreen ceiling mount display. I was pleasantly surprised at how well this option worked. My son had no problem seeing the screen from the backseat. We only ever played one disc at a time, but you can run a split screen, watching a movie on one side and a different movie on the other side or even a video game. And it was so easy to use too, just pop the disc in and play, without much confusion or interference with the main audio system.
The vehicle came with two wireless headsets but our third headset from our current van also worked with the system, no problem. The wireless headsets are a must. The kids could watch their movies while the adults listened to music or nothing at all (except for the occasional conversations my son had with the video screen).
Along with the rear seat entertainment for the kids, SiriusXM Satellite radio is a big bonus for me. We do a lot of road trips and there’s nothing worse than driving out of your radio station’s range. Sure satellite can sometimes seem repetitive with its music choices so we just switch stations but there’s no static and commercial free is so nice.
Toyota Sienna: Features to Impress the Driver
When on a long road trip with the family you want to ensure the kids are content; the less whining and complaining you hear from the backseat, the more pleasant a drive it will be. But we can’t forget about the driver. The Toyota Sienna offers some great road trip features that benefit the driver too.
In-dash GPS Navigation – Being able to enter your destination and go is such a great feature for a road trip vehicle. When it comes to the main family car, navigation isn’t a luxury but a necessity. The best part about the navigation system on the Toyota Sienna was the flexibility. After entering a destination, the system provided you with three trip routes: Quick, Alternate (scenic), and Short. Not in a hurry? Take the more scenic route, off of the main highways. Need to get somewhere now? Follow the route on the Interstate with higher speed limits and less stops.
Steering Wheel Controls – From the hands-free Bluetooth (another ‘must have’ feature in our family vehicle), radio volume controls, and even cruise control, the steering wheel becomes the central hub of control for the driver. No need to reach over to the center console. Everything is literally right at your finger tips.
Park Assist and More – Maybe because I don’t drive often, but I love a vehicle that has an eye out for me. The back-up camera and park assist are great when in parking lots. The blind spot indicators on the side mirrors also help, to flag when someone might be out of your line of site, ideal for long highway drives and even in the city.
Control on the Road – Passenger vans always seem to feel like cargo vans with seats bolted in them. They can feel that way to drive too, a little unresponsive, with the vehicle lagging behind what the tires do. The front wheel drive vehicle we drove didn’t have that feeling at all. My husband, who handles most of the long haul drives and is use to driving a little sports car most of the time, felt more in control with the Toyota Sienna. That can only mean a more comfortable experience for the driver. And the fuel economy wasn’t that bad either.
The one feature I wasn’t too keen on as a driver, was the tilting driver’s mirror when reversing. I found this distracting and not very useful though I believe this is a feature you can disable.
Toyota Sienna: It’s a Little Thing But It’s a Nice Thing
The Toyota Sienna offers a few other nice little features in the vehicle too that I loved:
- The shoulder belts in the second row were embedded within the seat. This meant any passenger getting into the third row didn’t get entangled in the seatbelt at all.
- The headrests on the passenger and diver seat moved up and down (pretty standard) but they also tilted back and forth providing a more comfortable angle depending on how you sat.
- There were headphone jacks in the third row seat. This is great if you have additional passengers in your car but no more wireless headsets. Additional passengers can enjoy the back seat entertainment unit by just plugging in a regular headset
- A backseat outlet makes it great for charging portable devices on the go, though it is a little difficult to get to (at the bottom of the center console)
- Keyless start and entry meant my keys could stay in my bag and I was still able to open, start, stop, and lock the vehicle. This took some getting use to but it’s a feature I love.
Although any van on the market will probably deliver seating and cargo capacity for most families, the 2012 Toyota Sienna offers some great features for the family road trip. And if your family’s happy on a 12 hour drive, you can bet they’ll be content on the 20-munute run to the grocery store.
Thanks to the folks at Toyota Canada for providing a vehicle for this review.