The Toyota Sienna, when it was launched, was touted as the “Camry of minivans,” heralding a new phase in Toyota’s history. Just about 20 years ago, Toyota replaced its mid-engine Previa with the very first Sienna model in 1998 as a front wheel drive that was built on an extended platform as the Toyota Camry, which was then very popular. Its name derives from the Italian town, ‘Sienna.’
The three models CE, LE and XLE came with the excellent fuel economy of 16 miles per gallon for in-city driving and 22 miles per gallon for long distance highway driving. This was one reason for its popularity in the minivan segment. As it slowly began to face competition from other car manufacturers in the same segment, the Sienna also underwent some upgrades to retain its stake in the minivan market.
The 2001 edition saw a major redesign of the tail lights and also both front and rear bumpers. Other upgraded features in this version of the Toyota Sienna included an engine with a well-boosted torque output due to the inclusion of a variable valve timing feature, not to mention a complete revamp of the HVAC controls on the central console. The lower end CE model came fitted with a two passenger bench seat in the second row, while the LE and XLE models featured captain’s chairs in the second row. The sliding door on the driver’s side was a standard feature in all Toyota Sienna minivans belonging to this generation, as were the removable seats.
Another major positive of the 2001 Toyota Sienna was its enhanced safety features which included a side torso airbag. The Toyota Sienna fared very well, in fact, even better than its predecessor, Previa, in six frontal crash test measures. This model received a consistent five-star rating for the safety of the frontal driver, frontal passenger, and the side rear passenger and received a four-star rating for side driver in crash tests that were performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
Among its competitors in this time frame was Hyundai’s Odyssey which was a minivan offering many features on par with the Sienna’s.