Long Term Test Introduction: 2013 Toyota Sienna XLE AWD
I like to think that when life deals me lemons, I usually have the ability to turn them into lemonade. And so, about two weeks after my wife and preschool-age son were in a serious auto accident (they were hit by a tractor trailer in our old 2008 Sienna, but miraculously walked away from the accident), we went back into debt and purchased a new van. But, the good news is that this is the first new vehicle that my family has purchased since Full Metal Autos has begun long-term testing new vehicles that our staff members purchase. So my family’s misfortune means that you will learn what it was like to buy, and what it’s like to live with a new Toyota for the next several years. Hopefully this time, it will last us more than five years, and give us as trouble-free of a life as its predecessor gave us.
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You’re a car guy. Why did you buy another Toyota?
Good question. When it comes to choosing a family hauler, one concern rises above all other purchase considerations: my family’s safety. I would spare no expense to keep my family safe. Given the fact that our now-totaled 2008 Sienna Limited AWD saved the lives of my wife and son, buying another Sienna seemed like the most likely outcome. Add to that the fact that the Sienna remains the only minivan with available all wheel drive, and that we wanted the additional security of all wheel drive traction (not just for snow, but for wet-road handling as well), that kind of sealed the deal.
Because it’s almost impossible to find a pre-owned Sienna XLE or Limited with AWD. When I did find one, it was in Connecticut, three hours from our home. That one was a CPO 2011 Limited that looked great, but it was only $3,000 less than a new 2013 XLE that we ended up purchasing. Plus, the 2011 had 2.9% financing while the 2013s had 0% financing. The Sienna Limited has some nice features, but not all of them were priorit
ies for my wife and me. We are missing out on a second power sunroof, wood steering wheel, power folding mirrors, integrated antenna, and XM Satellite Radio. We felt that we were better off with a brand new van for a minimal additional cost.
The same exact color – really?
Yes. Both our 2008 and our 2013 Siennas are Salsa Red Pearl. Toyota has a terrible palette of colors for the 2013 Sienna. There had been a dark blue available in 2011 that we liked, but it was discontinued prior to 2013. That left gray (friends already have one that color), silver (boring), white (wife hates white), gold (ick), sage green (yuck), or light blue (not a huge fan). The “red van” is sort of my wife’s trademark anyway at this point.
The Purchase Process
It was extremely easy, once I found the van I wanted. We spoke with the dealer, and they were willing to sell us the van for factory invoice. (Don’t forget, they get to keep the holdback). With 0% financing, I thought that was fair. We paid $38,664 for the van. With tax, title, registration, it came to $41,197. Though I brought my checkbook along the day we picked up the van, it stayed in my pocket the entire day. We financed 100% of the new van, even though we were expecting an insurance settlement check that covered more than half of the cost of the new van. Why? Free money, of course! We now have over $20,000 extra sitting in our savings account to do with as we please, and Toyota is paying the interest on it. Monthly payments are $171 higher than the old van’s, but that van had a sizable down payment; this one had none.
The dealer we purchased the van from was, ironically, about three hours from our house (but in the same state, not in CT like the CPO 2011 was). I emailed scans of my driver’s license, insurance card, and registration card to the dealer’s business manager, and he handled all of the arrangements in advance for me.
The Saturday morning we were to pick up the van, my father took a road trip with me in the rental van (a 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan with 21,000 miles on the clock and a nasty case of smoker smell inside) to the dealer. After signing all of the paperwork and reviewing F&I (finance and insurance) materials, plus declining the offer of an extended warranty, and listening to a presentation on the van’s features, we were ready to roll. Total time inside the dealership: about one hour.
We dropped off the rental across the street at the local Enterprise office (a very handy, free feature that Enterprise offers, but not all of their competitors do) and headed home.
My First Impressions
The Sienna is a big boy. Of course, it’s still a minivan (as opposed to a full-size van, like a Chevrolet Express or Ford Econoline), but minivans are far less “mini” than they were at their invention in the 1980s. The 2011+ Sienna handles better than our old one did, looks much better, and gets better fuel economy (the EPA says 2 MPG better, and we have seen that in the real world). It’s no faster and it sounds exactly the same, but the
6-speed automatic in the newer vans does help off-the-line acceleration a bit, and passing is easier because the van is likely to find the proper gear, rather than denying a downshift as sometimes happened with the old van’s 5-speed automatic.
We miss some of the features that our old van had – namely, HID xenon headlamps, front parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, and power folding mirrors. The cost cutting in the new Sienna compared to the old one is painfully obvious in many places. The dash and door panels have a lot more hard plastic. The third row seat is covered in leatherette where the old one had leather. All headrests are leatherette; I’m not certain, but I think the old Sienna had leather ones. The new Sienna only has one 12V power jack in the front; the old one had two side-by-side, so my wife and I can’t charge our iPhones at the same time. Sun glare on the navigation display is horrendous when wearing polarized sunglasses, as I always do. (My wife claims that she has never had a single problem reading the navigation display).
But the widescreen DVD screen is nice; we haven’t used two input sources, but it’s neat that we could (you could play two different DVDs if you use the built-in player as one source and connect a portable DVD player as the second source); the kids would get audio from each of their own headphones. The trip computer/multifunction display is much better than the old monochrome green vacuum fluorescent display. The power sliding doors open more quietly and more quickly than before. The power rear liftgate closes when you press a button rather than having to tug on a strap as in the old Sienna.
Overall, we’re happy with our choice. The kids like riding in it and my wife likes driving it. Most importantly, she feels safe. (I enjoy pointing out to her that the new Sienna has a driver’s side knee airbag; that’s a feature that if her old van had it, she may have been almost completely un-injured from her accident. Unfortunately, 7+ weeks later, her knee is still bruised.)
My wife does not like when things are different from what she is used to, so this was an adjustment for her. She’s bothered by different things than I am; the climate controls were a little simpler in the old van. You could play a DVD on the navigation screen if the parking brake was applied and the van was not moving in the old van; this is apparently not possible in the new one. She misses some of the features that the old van had; namely the power-folding mirrors and front parking sensors. She seems to enjoy the fact that its driving experience is very similar to the old one’s. She and I both enjoy that it gets better fuel economy than our 2008 did. We took a 250-mile highway trip yesterday and landed right on the EPA number of 23 MPG, which is 2-3 MPG better than we saw in the old van (and jives with the new van’s EPAfuel-economy ratings on the window sticker).
So far, we have transplanted one accessory from the old van (our weather-resistant cargo mat; think of it as a generic WeatherTech mat), which fit perfectly in the new van. We have also purchased one accessory – all-weather floormats. The old van’s gray floormats were nasty after five winters and five years of kids standing on them. Wanting to avoid a repeat, we paid a little over $100 for Toyota all-weather mats and stored the carpet mats unused in our basement. My gripe about the Toyota mats is that they seem to be too small. If I could take a mulligan on that decision, I would have chosen the WeatherTech mats next time, if only for their superior coverage. Toyota does give you some “holy crap, I see it!” yellow warning labels on the driver’s floormats, so you don’t sue them if you do not use the provided anchors and you die in an unintended acceleration accident.
By paying invoice price and getting 0% financing, we got a good deal on the van. Plus, Toyota provides free scheduled maintenance for the first two years of ownership. We’ve always had our old van serviced at the local Toyota dealership (even after its warranty expiration), so free maintenance makes that even easier to do.