August 11, 2005
Toyota Sienna, 1998-2003
By Chris Chase
Over the years, Toyota
has established itself as a manufacturer of some of the best
road-going appliances you can buy. Excitement is reserved for a
select few sporty vehicles, while the rest of their cars and
trucks are predictably durable and efficient mainstream
2002 Toyota Sienna. Click image to enlarge
But Toyota has,
periodically, come out with some real oddball vehicles. Two that
come to mind right away are the automaker's first two minivans.
The first was known in Canada simply as the Toyota "van"
(apparently creativity wasn't one of the Toyota's strong points
in 1980s), and the second was the jellybean-cum-minivan known as
the Previa. It shared the same odd mid-engine configuration as
the "van", which placed the four-cylinder motor under the front
seats. Ostensibly an attempt to make Toyota's entry into the
uber-competitive 1990s minivan segment stand out, the Previa
didn't appeal to many minivan buyers, whose tastes then as now,
tended to run to the conservative side.
Toyota didn't surprise
too many people in 1998 when it launched the Sienna, which would
become Toyota's first mainstream - and seriously competitive -
attempt at building a family hauler. Out went the Previa's weird
shape and in came the far more conventional Sienna. It was
obvious that unconventional was unwanted in the minivan segment
and that Toyota needed a "normal" minivan if it was to capture a
significant share of the market. In fact, the Sienna is what
Toyota's take on the minivan should have been all along. No one
buys minivans for excitement; these boxes on wheels are simply
useful, and buyers expect them to be a reliable way to transport
a family and all the things that go along with families. So
given that Toyota's known for the quality of its vehicles,
doesn't a nice, average Toyota minivan just seem natural?
For sure, the Sienna was
about as normal as minivans came in the late 1990s, featuring a
3.0-litre V6 engine producing anywhere from 194 (1998) to 210
horsepower (2003), a four-speed automatic transmission, dual
sliding doors, standard ABS and in later years, side airbags
that were optional on lower end models and standard equipment on
higher trim levels.
2002 Toyota Sienna. Click image to enlarge
But side airbags or
not, the Sienna could do no wrong safety-wise, at least not so
far as the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
was concerned. The Sienna scored very highly in NHTSA crash
tests, earning five stars for driver and front passenger
protection in frontal crashes, and four stars for front seat
occupants and five for rear seat passengers in side impact
Fuel economy was
slightly better-than-average for the class at the time, with the
Sienna's V6 using about 12.5 L/100 km in the city and 8 L/100 km
on the highway.
The Sienna has earned
Consumer Reports "recommended" rating as a used vehicle based on
the magazine's reliability data. It cites the brakes, electrical
system and body integrity as the items to look out for on older
models, but Siennas built between 2000 and 2002 get high marks
from the magazine in all categories.
Oddly, 2003 models specifically aren't recommended due to what
CR considers too many trouble spots for such a new vehicle, so
keep that in mind when shopping. Chances are that a
well-maintained example will be as trouble-free as Toyota's
reputation would suggest, however. Regardless of what Consumer
Reports thinks, however, it's telling that nary a recall was
issued for these vans.
Of course, that
reputation for durability precedes the Sienna when it comes to
resale values. You can expect to pay far more for one of these
vans second hand than you would for a comparably equipped
domestic minivan. Much of that has to do with build quality, of
course, and for many parents buying a vehicle like this,
reliability is probably going to be a priority.
Depending on trim
level and options, Canadian Red Book values a 1998 Sienna at
anywhere between $9,025 and $9,925, which works out to 34 or 35
per cent of M.S.R.P. At the other end of the spectrum, a 2003 is
worth between $21,225 and $26,425, or anywhere from 66 to 72 per
cent of the original asking price.
As a class of vehicle,
the minivan is the kind of vehicle you expect to use, rather
than enjoy, and no one has mastered the art of building useful
vehicles like Toyota has. Put the two together and its no
surprise that the Sienna should be the result.
Toyota Nation is a Toronto-based Toyota website that boasts
35,000 members. The forums are busy and include a section for
Toyota's minivans: the Previa and both generations of Sienna.
This is certainly among the best Toyota websites out there.
Registration is free.