Saturday, January 18, 2014


Two years ago, we were surprised to find that we needed to get a new van, quickly, because our daughter had totalled our existing one.  (Which always sounds like the van is a heap of steaming junk wrapped around a telephone phone; it wasn't -- but it was damaged moderately when she sideswiped a car.)  So the plan was that we would lease the replacement -- a Toyota Venza, as it turns out -- for two years, then pay it off and keep it.

Well, that's still kind of the plan, but since then we've come to the conclusion that as long as we'll still going to be in the business of occasionally moving lots of people or lots of stuff, a minivan is better than the sub-mini that is a Venza.  Don't get me wrong, the Venza is nice enough, it's just not big enough.  So this morning we went to Honda to see their Odyssey, which has gotten pretty good reviews, and then to Toyota to see their Sienna, which has also gotten pretty good reviews. We expected to like both, but to want to get the Toyota.

Oh, my.

I know that a lot of the difference is the difference in cost -- as equipped on the showroom floor, the Sienna was $33k and the Odyssey was $40K.  For seven thousand dollars, I expect to be wowed, and I was.  The Odyssey is a very nice vehicle.  I went through my checklist of things I like/don't like about the Venza, including things I wish it had, and in almost every category, the Odyssey was excellent.  In categories where I had nothing listed, such as ergonomic 'feel' of the console area, it was excellent.  The price makes my jaw drop, but it certainly had the chops to show for it.

Still, we like the Venza enough -- not completely, but enough -- that we assumed we'd like the Sienna, too.  The reviews are good, its made by the company that made the Venza - yeah, we're going to like it.  Maybe not as much as the Odyssey, but enough.

No.  Not enough. Even given that we expected it to be less impressive than the more expensive vehicle, we were surprised.  For example - when you reach for the hidden handle to raise the rear hatch door, you have a chance of touching the bulb instead (and if it's hot? Surprise!)  The cup holders in the front, on the center console, are good -- but they added two more, taking a space that could have been storage.  The rear-view screen is small and subject to glare.  The design of the dashboard array just felt clunky.  Knobs are not intuitively obvious.  Controls don't make sense.  The interior felt old, badly designed, as if they'd taken one from five years ago, slapped some trim on it, and called it done.  Not to say that the Honda just made sense -- I had to search to find out what the button marked LDW meant - but it seemed more intuitive, to both of us. I don't know if Toyota fired the design team that made the Venza, or what, but the design of the Sienna just isn't as clean.  The vehicle does the job - it just doesn't do it well.

Even the pricing seems off.  Toyota says zero percent financing for five years. Honda says one point nine percent financing for five years. Advantage Toyota, right? Except that in the small print, Toyota notes that if you're financing it, the total price for the van is about a thousand dollars more (even though the local finance person assured me that the price doesn't change if you're financing it). Now, they've got to make money, and if they're agreeing to wait to be paid, maybe that's part of how they do it.  And  maybe Honda does that bump too - but it struck me as being just a little bit sly.  It wasn't the price -- it was the price IF.... with an asterisk after it. 

So, we'll see.  This isn't to say we'll get the Honda -- price does matter.  But it makes it more likely that we'll decide not to buy at all -- just pay off the lease on the Venza and keep it for a while.  See what happens.

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