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Traveling With pets

2011 Toyota Sienna


2011-toyota-siennaI’ve never thought of myself as a minivan person – that is, until Toyota asked us to be a member of their Pet Expert Team (PET) and help them create the ultimate pet-friendly vehicle. I think they’ve succeeded in meeting their goal with the 2011 Sienna Minivan.

For several months, we’ve been fortunate to drive this vehicle to and from events, around town and pretty much anywhere our pets go.

To look at the newest Toyota model, let’s take a leap back several years. My very first Toyota (years ago) was a black Toyota pickup truck with a white camper shell that I affectionately referred too as “Shamu.” By the time I said goodbye to Shamu, it had over 225,000 miles on the original engine. Maybe that’s why I’m such a fan of Toyota.

While I’ve been a long-time fan of SUVs up until now, I am pleased to report that I’ve become a huge fan of the minivan. Mostly because the Sienna offers the kind of room I need to cart animals around, participate in adoption events, transport feral cats for TNR, and still feel a little luxurious while doing all these things.

The 2011 Sienna comes in four different styles, the LE, SE, XLE and Limited with choices of a 4-cylinder, V6 or All-Wheel Drive (AWD). We’re driving the AWD Limited edition and it’s more luxurious than I thought possible. The leather interior and a wood dash adds a touch of class to the minivan and the seat warmers help us stay warm in cold deserts of Arizona.

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Gas Mileage: Lets start with mileage – because at $3.50 a gallon, that’s a major consideration of any vehicle. The reports say that the Sienna gets 16 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway. We learned that it actually does better than that and have been averaging 21 mpg in the city and closer to 25 mpg on the highway.

Seating: This van seats 7-8 people depending on arrangement, with plenty of storage space left over. We usually have two dogs, a cat or two, three humans and plenty of passengers who want to climb in and ride along with us.


Here’s a highlight of some of the pet-friendly features you may not have thought about:

Clearance: Another feature we love is how low to the ground it is without feeling low to the ground. This allows easy loading of animals (and people), without ramps. If you’re carrying a large kennel filled with foster puppies or carting two arthritic dogs to the vet, this is an essential consideration!

Quiet: The van is absolutely silent while driving, which makes it much easier to travel with animals. Another great feature is dual temperature controls for both the driver and passenger, and another set of rear air controls that either the driver or passengers can control. I keep my side extra cool at 66 degrees, my husband keeps his side at a warmer 72 degrees, and the animals can use the extra rear vents to have a nice 70 degree air flow – all at the same time. With so much room, this is an important feature of driving with pets!

All Wheel Drive: The Toyota 2011 Sienna is the only minivan that comes with AWD. I never have to worry about getting stuck on back roads or while cruising the desert, and it is a feeling of security when you’re navigating slick roads during a rainstorm.

Smart Key System allows you entry into the vehicle when your hands are full with leashes and pet food. This is important because I rarely have the ability to coordinate keys (or specifically, to search for keys) when my hands are full. As long as the keys are somewhere in my possession and I’m within a few feet of the car, the door I’m closest too will unlock automatically. No keys needed!

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Split-Screen Entertainment Center: People think this is a great feature for kids, and they’re right, but it’s great for pets too. The pets love it because we can put on a “pet sitting” video and we have calm pets the entire ride! The kids love it because they have wireless headsets and a dropdown, extra wide monitor ensures that no one is fighting over what to watch. One child can play video games while another watches a movie. The USB ports let me plug in on long road trips (when someone else is driving) and offer me a large screen to work from. We love it because the pets and kids are absolutely silent and we don’t have any fights over what to watch. The screen is 16.4” wide and remote-controlled (or driver controlled). Priceless!
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Satellite Radio, 5-CD Disk Changer: The great thing about this is the long trips and commuting we do. Now we can listen to satellite radio, one of five CDs, a movie, or our phone. It’s a wonderful addition because we can also listen to our favorite animal talk shows.

Power Dual Moonroof: Let me just say that my pets love dual moonroofs. It’s a safer way for them to get fresh air while driving around. I love the fact that I have full control over everything from the driver’s seat.

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Rear Panoramic Camera: Extra safety for kids and pets! This wide camera lets me see behind corners and is a must-have in any vehicle these days. The on-screen backup guides make tight maneuvers and parallel parking a breeze. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9lJkoXaMjb4&NR=1

Dynamic Radar Cruise Control: In case you don’t know what this is (I didn’t), it’s cruise control that senses other vehicles. This allows your car to speed up or slow down as traffic permits without any effort on your part. It’s a little tough to get used too, but once you trust in the system it’s an unbelievable asset…

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Automatic High Beams: A feature I never thought I would need but now wonder how I would live without it! The van senses oncoming traffic and automatically adjusts your headlights to make sure you don’t blind anyone.

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Power Sliding Doors: The ulitimate in luxury! There are 3 ways to open doors, manual, automatic, wireless.

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Bluetooth Enabled: The entire vehicle is wired for bluetooth and iPod, which makes communication safe and easy. For those with long commutes or any who want to take a road trip with pets, this is the feature you want included.

Lounge Seating: When it comes to seating, the Sienna has it made. Footrests on the passenger seats and extra extended seats makes it super comfortable for everyone. Whether you’re napping or watching a movie, these seats are the ultimate in luxury. Go to 0:51 to see the cool leg rests!
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Split & Stow Seating: This feature allows me to make everyone comfortable, including the pets. I can place the puppies in a large crate and secure it to the base of the floor to make sure no one flips out of the kennel when we’re traveling. In addition, my larger dog can ride in the middle, safely secured to a harness and zip line that stretches across the middle seats. Meanwhile, the family has plenty of room to stretch out and watch movies. It’s the ultimate pet-party-family-friendly van!
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Storage: I always travel with both pet and human emergency kits. We also travel with a lot of “comfort” items. We can store these kits in a number of places, but one of the more popular areas in the back stow area. That way, when we’re attending an adoption event, all of our animal and human needs are cared for without taking up a lot of room. There is so much room in this van, I continue to be amazed. Last month, we loaded a new sofa in the back and it fit with room to spare, still allowing two adults to climb in the front and maintain our leg room. Amazing.

These are just a few of the amazing features you’ll find on the Sienna and I’m sure we haven’t located even a tenth of them. But, all in all, this is the vehicle you want if you’re traveling with kids or pets. As tested, this van retails at $50,000. We know that’s a lot of money to spend on a vehicle, but the great thing about Toyota is they run for hundreds of thousands of miles (Shamu, my first Toyota and the first car I bought, had 225,000 miles on it when I traded it in!). Toyota is the only place I’ve seen that kind of value in a vehicle.

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