Pros: Quiet ride, comfort, dependability, multi-function use, sense of safety.
Cons: OEM run flat tires, slider may freeze in winter. seat heaters, corroding alloy wheels.
11/18/2012 UPDATE: We now have about 130,000 miles on the Sienna. Still no sign of premature aging or mechanical failure. No rust. All the systems (except the heated seats and alloy wheels - mentioned below) are working just as they did when I drove the vehicle out of the showroom. Normal recommended maintenance is all that I've done to the car. I wouldn't hesitate to take this van cross country. It's that dependable.
This is being written in 2010 after Toyota has endured scandalous publicity concerning the safety of its vehicles and its commitment to ensuring passenger safety at all costs. The Toyota brand has suffered as millions of its cars were recalled and the underlying cause was never clearly explained. This vehicle predates those issues and has been exceptionally dependable and comfortable.
In that light, I have been “testing-driving” my 2004 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD for the past 6 years and 100,000 miles and I can now confidently give everyone an accurate report about the vehicle. I apologize in advance if anyone thinks I may have waited a wee bit too long in writing this review.
As there are already many articles listing the hardware specifications, let me skip directly to the meat of this review.
The 2004 model was the first year of a radically redesigned minivan. The XLE is the high-end version loaded with loads of extra creature comforts. It has been an outstanding, comfortable and dependable vehicle since it was new. There have been, however, a few issues which I discuss below.
The AWD version was the first to move to 17” run flat tires. The drive train under the floor of the vehicle to the rear tires used up the space where a spare tire would have been, so Toyota decided to have Dunlop and Bridgestone design tires with extra rigid sidewalls that could run for 20 to 40 miles with no air in them. The wheels have sensors in them that trigger a dashboard warning light if the pressure in any tire falls below the recommended pressure. The system worked nicely as designed with one glaring annoyance. The tires, which cost about $250 each, wore out around 20,000 miles! Although the tread looked healthy, my dealer said that the loud noise that sounded like wheel bearings failing was really the tires dying. If only one tire failed, all four had to be replaced. There were reports of tires failing much earlier and tires bursting into flames. I decided to replace my tires with Yokohama conventional tires which have lasted between 40,000 and 55,000 miles at a much lower cost per mile. This means that the car has no spare and has meant that in case of a flat, the car has to be towed to a facility where the tire can be repaired or replaced. That’s what AAA is for. In its defense, Toyota had no idea that the tires were going to fail so soon and reimbursed us for the first set of replacements, something I consider a class act.
The 17” aluminum alloy wheels have a chrome-like plated finish that makes them really shine. Unfortunately, as the car aged, the plated finish began to corrode and peel off to expose the underlying wheel, which looks like dull cast iron. The dealer told me that this was from exposure to road salts during our Connecticut winters. The wheels should be washed off often during the winter to prevent that from happening. Unless you have a car wash in your garage, the wheels are going to look horrible after about 5 years. I can tell how old a Sienna is by checking out the condition of the fancy wheels. Online forums have discussed this topic heavily over the past several years. Alloy wheels from other manufacturers don't seem to experience the catastrophic corrosion problems that Toyota products develop. There is a significant manufacturing problem either in the casting of the wheel or the plating process. Toyoya doesn't recognize this common occurance as a reason for concern. I do. I would have been happier with conventional steel rims and fancy hubcaps. At least that way, I could switch a set of hubcaps for less than $100. As it now stands, the Sienna is in excellent mechanical condition, the body looks very good and the wheels look like they came off a clunker that had been submerged in a swamp for the last 5 years. It will cost $800 to replace them.... but it will be an aftermarket wheel; definitely NOT a Toyota product.
The heated leather seats were always slow to heat up compared to fabric upholstery, probably due to the thickness of the leather. A few years ago, I noticed that the driver’s seat seemed to take forever to heat up and I asked the dealer about it. The heating element had failed. Although it didn't admit a design flaw, Toyota recommended replacing the heating elements on both front seats at a cost of about $1,600. I decided to wear a warmer coat instead.
We did have a wheel bearing go recently. Routine maintenance has kept the vehicle running in optimum condition. Mileage typically runs between 17 and 22 miles per gallon using regular gasoline. The electronic ignition senses the octane of the fuel, so if I fill up with premium fuel, I will typically get between 20 and 24 miles per gallon. The cost differential doesn't usually justify premium fuel and performance is exactly the same. It has never knocked under any condition.
The side body is the Sienna is a large, relatively flat piece of sheet metal that is beckoning for other car doors, kids on bikes, and shopping carts to bump, scratch or ding it… and they do. You can’t protect this car from routine lumps and bumps unless you park it far from everyone else, a futile effort if you ask me since minivans are typically used by families with kids and kids will inevitably bump into this van. If those nicks and dings don’t bother you, the style will be perfect.
The JBL audio system isn’t quite up to the standards of high end audio aficionados, but it does fill the interior of the vehicle with a lot of sound. During our icy winters when sleet may coat the vehicle, the automatic sliding side doors may not function as they are frozen shut. You have to wait for a thaw to open them. Likewise, they may not completely latch closed, triggering a very annoying BEEP, BEEP, BEEP. You can turn off the automatic door function until a thaw with a switch under the console. Also, the glove compartment lock failed and had to be replaced, a minor inconvenience.
That’s it for complaints. Toyota responded nicely and fixed everything (except the seat warmers and alloy wheels) that we requested. They have routinely handled any recalled parts quickly and my dealer has been nothing short of wonderful. I can't say enough good things about them (Toyota of Colchester, CT). I have total trust in this dealership.
On the positive side, this has been an extraordinarily dependable vehicle. We have never gotten stuck with the All Wheel Drive traveling throughout New England during some horrible winter weather. The leather seats are incredibly comfortable. I think that the leather captain’s chairs in the second row are some of the most comfortable car seats I’ve ever sat in. Too bad I can't drive from the second row. The power front seats move a driver of any size exactly where needed for best visibility.
The vehicle runs as quietly and smoothly as the day I drove it off of the dealer’s lot. It is very stable at (and above- I won't say how much I pushed it for this review) highway speeds, hardly any wind noise to complain about. It easily rates five stars. How many cars or vans run like new at 100,000 miles? My dealer says that he rarely sees these vans come back on trade-in because they are so dependable.
If you are in the market for a used luxury minivan, if you can find one, the Sienna XLE AWD is a wonderful safe, vehicle, terrific for a large family (it seats up to 7 in our configuration). The leather seats seem to take anything our family could throw (or spill) at them. They look like new and are still very comfortable. The second row seats fold forward against the front seats and the rear bench seat folds into the floor for a huge amount of cargo space. This is truly an all purpose family vehicle.
You know they have to be dependable when most of the taxis in New York City are now Toyota Siennas.