Sienna in the South


I have never been much of a “Minivan Mom.” However, when you are in need of a vehicle that can transport four generations across the country, you quickly become one. It was as if Lionel Richie himself called and asked, “Hello, is it the Sienna you’re looking for?”  The answer would have been a resounding YES.

The Sienna was all ours for a trek across the South, with South Carolina being the final stop. The goal was to get my 89 year old grandmother to her sister’s house in Dillon, South Carolina. Along for the ride were my parents and my two teens.

We were in the Sienna Limited trim with captain chairs in the second row.

The first thing I noticed about our ride? Minivans have come a long way! Such a solid vehicle, the Sienna makes the most sense whether you are hauling your family across town or across country.

The second thing we noticed? (Or I should say, my fourteen year old daughter noticed) Charging ports. Everyone wanting to claim a port in order to ‘stay connected.’ The Sienna has five USB ports, three 12V auxiliary power outlets and an AC outlet in the second row. Yes, even grandma had her own port. They say you can’t please everyone, but the Sienna did.

With four generations in the same vehicle, the chance that you will have a backseat driver is 100%. For me, my mom would hold that title. That being said, she absolutely loved the visibility that the Sienna offered; the better to see everything she thought I didn’t see.  You can probably guess what’s coming next…..My encouragement to put that rear entertainment system to use. Safe to say that before we entered our neighboring state of Louisiana, I had a movie going. And by the time we reached the Mississippi River in Vicksburg, Mississippi, they were on their third movie. The entertainment system has a drop-down screen that can show one video or two if you use a ‘split-screen’ view. Fortunately everyone agreed on the same movie. When my grandmother got out to stretch her legs it was all she could talk about.  It was then I realized she had never watched a movie in any vehicle ever. Thank you Toyota for new experiences!

Entering and exiting the vehicle was easy peasy. My grandmother was a bit amused with the sliding doors, not just that they slid open/closed, but that there was an easy to reach button for her to bring the doors to a close, and as equally satisfied that I had a button on the key fob to open said doors. See what I mean about the Toyota Sienna being a sensible vehicle? ‘If grandma’s happy, everybody’s happy.’

We stopped the first night in Alabama with no grumbling or complaining and everybody still loving one another. The cool a/c was a hit with my son sitting in the third row, in fact I’m pretty sure I saw him reaching for his sister’s blanket in my rearview mirror.

Waking up refreshed we hit the road again and aimed the Sienna for Georgia where we thought we’d mix in some fun. The ‘kids’ were still hopping in and out of the third row in the youthful way that teens do. Third row seating was sufficient, and with the dual moonroof, there wasn’t  a bad seat in our home away from home.

We made a stop at the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta. A fun stop for the real story behind the world’s most famous beverage brand. When we left, each of us a Coke in hand, the Sienna provided twelve cupholders, double what we needed! I love the two obvious cupholders in the center console but there were also two pop-out cupholders on the dash. Super convenient for being on-the-go. It’s the simple things.

The center storage bin in front was deep, it quickly became our spot to house fragile souvenirs and travel brochures.

Speaking of storage, my dad said he was fond of the depth of the cargo space. We each had a piece of luggage and he and my son were the ones responsible for loading and unloading. They never felt like they were playing a game of Tetris® to make everything fit. The Sienna’s class-leading cargo hauling capability rivals all other competitors. You get 39.1 cubic feet behind those third row seats. And when our hands were full, we just used the key fob to access the power liftgate. 

Next stop was Dillon, South Carolina. The Toyota Sienna, often referred to as the “Swagger Wagon,” is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 engine, vigorous enough to keep up with the family. With 296 hp and 263 lb-ft of torque, the Sienna is again a class-leader, boasting the most powerful engine in its class.

So having driven 1,098 miles how does the Toyota Sienna perform? The only van available in AWD, the Sienna is great for those who live in a slushy territory, fortunately we didn’t have to worry about that in August. The Sienna furnished a smooth, comfortable ride that eventually when the family karaoke ceased, the teenagers were rocked to sleep. Bumps were not concerning and road noise was kept to a minimum. (Either that or the aforementioned karaoke drowned out any incidental road noise that may have taken place).

I promise I wasn’t trying to channel Danica Patrick on the curvaceous roads of South Carolina, even though I had to pass Darlington Raceway every day to get to my hotel; but how well you take to the way a Sienna corners depends on how well you like comfort. The Sienna provides a soft-ride (remember me saying those bumps weren’t concerning) versus a more controlled ride.

Another item to note from mom, Toyota’s plethora of safety features on the Sienna. Her favorite? Lane Departure Alert. I don’t think I heard it at all on the highway, but those curvy South Carolina roads had me deactivating it in record time. The system is designed to detect lane departure on roads with visible lane markings. I blame it on the ambiguous markings of the South Carolinian road workers. Moving along…….

Siennas now have Toyota Safety Sense P which includes automatic emergency braking, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control, forward-collision warning and of course the momma loving lane-departure warning. A 360-degree camera system, Blind-Spot monitor, Front & Rear Parking Sensors and Rear Cross-Traffic Monitor are all optional.

In addition, the Sienna received a five-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The following day we went to Myrtle Beach to try to escape some of the heat, but ran into rain. It was then that dad discovered the Sienna’s Rain Sensor Windshield. I was driving along and he noticed the wipers automatically activate. How does it work? The vehicle can actually sense how much rain is on the windshield. It helps a driver pay attention to the road rather than fumbling with the vehicle’s wipers.

Still trying to escape the heat, the next day we traveled a bit further up into North Carolina. The Sienna was averaging 24 mpg/hwy and 18 mpg/city for a combine 20 mpg. It was here that we found the popular and somewhat eccentric ‘South Of The Border.’ I was surprised that it has become a bit more of an ‘attraction’ than that that I remember as a kid. I give it five stars in the “Cheesy but Cool” category.  Nonetheless, it provided many fun photo ops in the Sienna.


Onward to more educational points of interest, we made our way to Greensboro, North Carolina, where the famous ‘lunch counter sit-ins’ occurred in the Sixties. 

Time for a side-note and a little bit of history…….Greensboro is the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement and the F.W. Woolworth building where the Sit-ins took place now houses the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.

Remember at the beginning of our adventure how we set out to see family? My mom’s side of the family is from this area. Mom herself grew up in Greensboro, N.C. She was in Woolworth the day the “A & T Four” walked in. At the age of twelve she was visiting the store with her friend after school, they were walking out as ‘The Four” were walking in. She remembers the odd looks and stares they received and was happy to be exiting, worried for the trouble that was bound to ensue. The rest is in the history books. It was an incredible journey to have four generations road-tripping through the south, my kids seeing the stories they’ve heard come to life in a sense.

The week long excursion in the Toyota Sienna was as reliable as the southern accents surrounding us, but it was so much more. More than just a comfortable ride, and greater than all the safety features offered, it was an extraordinary trip that won’t soon be forgotten.

Thank you Toyota. Not just for accomplishing the task of me truly enjoying all that a minivan has to offer, but for the very reason vehicles are made. To create memories as they are driven, with loved ones. It’s truly all about the journey. Enjoy the ride.

MSR on the Toyota Sienna Limited Premium Trim in ‘Blizzard Pearl’ $51,114.

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