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Cars of Summer: The Toyota Sienna Goes Shopping

For most people, summer is driving season. AAA estimates that 35 million people will hit the road this Fourth of July weekend. Even if you're not heading out with the crowds, summer means day trips, road trips, drives to the beach, festivals, fairs, visiting friends and commuting in the bright sunshine. This summer, U.S. News is putting the cars we test through their summer paces and giving you tips and advice for making the most of your summer driving. In this installment, the 2011 Toyota Sienna heads to Leesburg, Va. for a little outlet shopping.

The Toyota Sienna XLE drives well in the suburbs, but is a bit large for the city.

My husband and I took the test Sienna XLE to the Leesburg outlet mall, just west of Washington, D.C. After slipping the Sienna easily into one of the generously oversized parking spaces, we hit the mall and came back out with our haul, including a 6-foot long bench. All of a sudden, driving a minivan became a lot more appealing. With a few tugs and pushes, the third row folded neatly into the floor. The bench slid in between the second row seats with plenty of room to spare, and all of our other purchases had plenty of space. Even after leaving the outlets and hitting the grocery store, we didn’t come close to filling the Sienna. Our wallets would have been empty long before the Sienna was full.

A 6-foot long bench and some groceries were no problem for the Sienna.

The Sienna was fine to drive out in the suburbs and on highways, but all that cargo room meant it was a little tough to maneuver in the small parking garages around the office. I appreciated the deep center console that kept my large camera and camera bag out of sight, and handy touches like a coin holder on the driver’s left (where the tolls are) made a lot of sense.

The center console held my camera bag and could have held my purse.

But while all that’s great for the driver’s needs, the Sienna was short on spaces for stowing kid and passenger gear. The test van didn’t have a center console for the second row, so the cup holders were far from the seats, no matter how you adjusted them. A small child would have trouble reaching and putting drinks back. There weren’t any cubby holes in the second row for toys or books. There were pockets on the backs of the front seats and handy hooks that I suppose could have held a backpack of toys (I used it for my purse), but again, they would have been tough for a kid, especially in a booster or car seat, to reach.

Hooks help keep purses and groceries in place, but may be hard for kids to reach.

Older kids and adults will find a lot to like about the Sienna, but families with smaller kids will want to make sure their little ones can reach all their stuff.

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