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1998 Toyota Sienna REVIEW logo 4/6/2017

Con: We think that this is one of the ugliest minivans on the road.

Pro: All-new minivan from Toyota is guaranteed to set the minivan-world on end. A powerful engine, seating for seven, car-like ride, and attention to detail may spell the end of Chrysler Corporations dominance of this field.

What’s New: A new minivan from Toyota brings some innovation to the family transport market. A powerful 194-horsepower V6 engine rests under the hood of all models. Safety equipment includes standard antilock brakes, low tire-pressure warning systems and five-mph front and rear bumpers. Sienna boasts outstanding crash test scores.

Review: Just when you thought it was safe to call the minivan market dead, Toyota does the unthinkable and makes this typically boring corner of automobilia interesting. Toyota's new minivan sits in sharp contrast to the one it replaces. Whereas the Previa was a study in minivan abnormalities, with rear-wheel drive, a midship-mounted supercharged engine and a shape that looked like the droid escape pod from the first Star Wars movie, the Sienna is a model of suburban respectability.

That doesn't, however, mean that this minivan is boring. Resting under the hood is a powerful 3.0-liter V6 engine that was stolen from the Camry parts bin. The engine isn't the only piece of equipment pilfered from the Camry; the Sienna rides on a stretched and modified Camry platform and uses much of the Camry's interior switchgear. Appropriately referred to internally at Toyota as "The Camry of minivans," we can only assume that the company expects this creation to be as popular as their recently redesigned sedan.

In order to harness the 194 horses at work under the hood, engineers put antilock brakes at all four wheels of every Sienna. Other safety equipment includes dual airbags, side-impact protection that meets future federal standards and seatbelt pretensioners for both front seats. Toyota is so confident in this vehicle's crashworthiness that they proclaim in their press kit that it will deliver "best-in-class" in tests administered by third parties. The claim has been substantiated. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety conducted an offset crash test of the Sienna and called it "the best performing vehicle in the history of the test."

Interestingly, Toyota was able to talk rivals General Motors and Chrysler into lending a hand on the Sienna's manufacturing process. Not used to making such a large vehicle, Toyota had questions about how to deal with the interior assembly of this van that has well over 130 cubic feet of cargo space.

In the end, General Motors and Chrysler may be sorry that they offered to help Toyota figure out some of their manufacturing logistics. Toyota is expecting to sell 70,000 of these minvans annually. If they increase capacity, they could become a real thorn in the side of the Big Three that has heretofore dominated the minivan industry. Whatever the case may be, we have no hesitation about recommending this outstanding, if somewhat homely, minivan.


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