toyota_sienna_red_250Before I toured Toyota’s Newport Beach, California design center, I didn’t really think watching how Toyota develops its cars would affect my feelings toward their products. Oddly, it did. Seeing the passion the designers put into  “coolifying” the Toyota Sienna was somehow endearing.

Toyota_clay_modeling150For all the technology that goes into car making, the one step they cannot automate or robotize is the clay modeling of cars.  It has to be done by hand, by humans. Their “coach” is a 40-year veteran from Japan whose keen eye can tell if one side of a clay model is even 1/8 inch off.  It looked exhausting but also a rewarding way for an artist to spend a work day.

I was invited along with several other bloggers to tour the design center in the wake of the massive Toyota recall.

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I have driven a Sienna before. A few years ago, Toyota loaned us one for a cross-country family road trip. Since then, my kids have asked for that car every summer.  They loved their individual space and all the places to plug in.  I liked it because it drove like a car, not a truck, which made the drive less stressful.

The 2010 model certainly looks more elegant, less minivan-ish, which I really like.  The exterior designer explained how they accomplished that look:  rounded back panels, hidden door tracks and windshield wipers, bold front end.  From the front, the Sienna has the look of an SUV. The interior designer used words like ocean vista to describe how his team developed a more attractive inside.

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Test Driving a Sienna

But  looks aren’t going to sell me on a car if it doesn’t perform well in the test drive.

Toyota sienna shopping spreeTwo other bloggers, PeachHead and TravelingMomFluential and I were commissioned to spend $1000 per Sienna to buy a list of items requested by a pre-selected charity.  It was a brilliant idea because we had a chance to use the car in an authentic way – shopping. The only thing missing was a gaggle of kids whining to get ice cream or go home.  With authenticity in mind, we agreed we better stop to at Sno on the Go, my new favorite cold treat, thanks to Traveling MomFluential.

On this trip, we packed our trunk with everything from a microwave to a baby swing that was later delivered to the Orangewood Children’s Foundation.  I remember the large trunk feature from my last road trip in the Sienna.  By the time we left the relatives, we had a lot of junk in the trunk.

Are minivans cool? I am at the point now where I can afford to choose cool and image over utilitarian because my kids are getting older.  I didn’t exactly feel cool in the Sienna, but I didn’t feel uncool either.  I only know that it’s cool to feel comfortable and safe in a good-looking car.