by Clint Burgess

The idea of a sport utility vehicle has convinced many vehicle buyers to go the route of a large, gas-consuming rig that may sometimes be too much vehicle for their basic needs. When you step back and take a look at what sport utility vehicles are, it's easy to recognize their roots. The SUV as we know it has descended from a long, distinguished line of minivans. And while the popular SUV continues to garner fame and praise from the auto community, the minivan has quietly gone along doing its duty for families and soccer teams alike. One of the better minivans on the market, the Toyota Sienna, is from a manufacturer that knows what it takes to make a good minivan.

After the initial introduction of the Sienna, there was push by Toyota to make it a little more stylish and offer more options, resulting in a slick driving machine with dual sliding doors, leather interior and a sunroof. What more could a minivan owner ask for? Not much, but Toyota has managed to put more into the already well-stocked Sienna -- and practical car buyers are lining up to get into the 2005 model.

The base price for this middle-class dream machine is right around $24,000, but that's with plenty of options. There are also limited-edition models available that jump up significantly in price to about $35K. Standard options on the Sienna include dual sliding doors, rear A/C, CD player and keyless entry. While these options may be enough for some consumers, there are more available on the XLE and the XLE Limited. Power sliding doors, a removable console, a DVD system and rear audio controls are just a few the extras found here. Don't forget that leather as well as a navigation system is also available, bumping this minivan up to luxury

vehicle status.

The market for family vehicles has undergone a bit of a slowdown over the past couple of years, due to the competition from SUVs. While an SUV can be considered a family vehicle, the niche market for minivans and other vehicles that are focused on specific transport of families is on the rise. Safety is a big part of that resurgence in interest from auto buyers. The Sienna has got the bases covered when it comes to getting your precious cargo from one point to another. In government crash tests, the Sienna earned five stars, the highest rating possible. Other features -- like anti-lock brakes and side curtain airbags for all three rows of seats -- make the Sienna a clear choice when it comes to safety.

The Toyota Sienna feels like a luxury vehicle as well as transport: You can pack in the kids and the dog without worrying about it. The standard V6 is enough for dads not to feel too weird about driving it, and the seating configuration is just right for mom.

Publication date: 06/02/05

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