MAPLE VALLEY, Wash. -- A crinkled blacktop route, lined with tall firs and lacing through foothills of the Cascade Range east of Seattle, serves as our laboratory to sample the competent road manners and precise handling traits of the sleek Sienna minivan from Toyota.
We discover that Sienna's go-pedal holds plenty of juice beneath a driver's foot, thanks to a lively V6 engine lifted from Camry, Toyota's best-selling mid-size sedan.
The minivan's long and broad platform, also derived from Camry, feels substantial and forges an expansive passenger compartment filled with three rows of seats plus enough space for everyone in an expanded family to travel in cozy comfort.
Securely strapped in a contoured bucket seat, one test driver grips a wood-and-leather steering wheel with both hands and from time to time eyes the array of Optitron electronic gauges in the instrument cluster -- speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, LCD odometer and trip meters -- which dazzle in vivid blue and white light.
External noise stemming from wind and road, always difficult to prevent from intruding into the cabin of a vehicle in motion, seems muted and controlled, creating an interior which remains exceptionally quiet like the confines of a fine luxury car.
And everywhere handy features appear for comfort and convenience -- including far too many cupholders to count.
Obviously with this third-generation design for Sienna Toyota has found a way to take the alluring properties of popular Camry and repackage them in the practical format of a family minivan.
That's why we describe the 2013 Sienna as the Camry of minivans.
Toyota introduced Sienna in 1998 from a production line which ran parallel to Camry at Toyota's assembly plant in the Kentucky hills at Georgetown.
A second-generation Sienna emerged in 2004 with production shifting to a Toyota plant pitched in the heart of America's Corn Belt at Princeton, Indiana.
The redesigned third-generation Sienna of 2011 -- also coming off that Indiana assembly line -- scored some expressive new sheetmetal styling, far more space in the passenger compartment and a load of added safety features.
Sienna for 2013 builds upon the third-generation Sienna of 2011 with an array of new standard convenience features and the V6 engine installed in all models.
It trims out as Sienna, LE, SE, XLE and deluxe Limited.
Toyota's aluminum 3.5-liter V6 engine with dual camshafts plus dual VVT-i (variable valve timing with intelligence to optimize cam timing and maximize power production at all engine speeds) produces 266 hp at 6200 rpm and torque of 245 lb-ft at 4700 rpm.
The exclusive transmission is an electronically controlled six-speed automatic with intelligent shift control and sequential shifting.
A stretched front-wheel-drive (FWD) platform derived from Camry supports the slick aerodynamic structure of this minivan outfitted with flexible seating in a spacious cabin plus cargo space in the aft bay with access through a tail-side liftgate.
For optional all-wheel-drive (AWD) traction, Toyota's electronically controlled system switches continuously and automatically between FWD and AWD for sure-footed traction.
On tap to help stop the vehicle, Sienna has four disc brakes linked to the anti-lock brake system (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD).
Additional electronic vehicle controls include vehicle stability control (VSC), which corrects lateral skidding, plus traction control (TRAC) to check wheel spin and a brake assist (BA) system to add maximum braking pressure during an emergency stop.
In the expansive cabin, Sienna 2013 provides three tiers of seats.
The first row houses two tall captain's chairs with broad seats to fit a variety of American body sizes.
On the second row in 7-passenger cabins a pair of captain's chairs slide forward and backward by 23 inches -- they move rearward to maximize legroom or come forward close to front seats for a child rider.
Second-row buckets also tip forward to make more cargo room, or they may be removed easily by flipping latches.
On Sienna's top trim -- Limited -- the second-row Lounge Seating buckets recline fully and add pop-out foot rests.
In Sienna's 8-passenger cabins, the second row scores a center seat tucked between the two buckets and it may be removed easily and stowed in the rear bay.
The third-row Split & Stow seat folds flat with one motion as seatbacks split 60/40.
Sienna's cabin is surrounded by hidden air bags -- up-front inflators for front seats plus seat-mounted side air bags and another to shield the driver's knees, then curtain-style air bags tucked in headliners above side windows for all three rows.
Toyota casts MSRP figures for the 2013 Sienna upward from $26,450 for the entry-level Sienna FWD. Top trim Sienna Limited AWD runs up from $41,240.