We get a lot of snow - is AWD that much safer than FWD+TCS now?
With two kids (soon) we were thinking of a minivan, but we get a lot of snow and the only AWD minivan out there is the Sienna - it's relatively expensive (no corporate discount for me) and things like the run flat tires add up.
So could we get away with FWD with TCS? Technology has moved on a long way, or do we have to go for a mid-full size SUV?
I used to always have a FWD vehicle to drive for years until 2003 when i bought a subaru with AWD. The difference in traction while traveling is amazing. AWD won't help you stop any better (keep a safe distance!) but if you get caught in a snow storm you'll be happy with AWD rather than FWD as there will be less 'torque steer'. Also, the toyota is not the only AWD van available - they are just the only ones that are being made 'new'. Shop around for a used one if need be - there are uaually some really good lease returns that can be bought for cheap.
You could probably get away with FWD w/ traction control, but if you're going uphill in the snow, you need power to the rear wheels for best traction. I love my AWD (previously had AWD Town&Country which I liked alot too). The Sienna is a bit expensive, but if you are in snow country, you need AWD. Toyota quality is great. Get a used one if you can't afford a new one. I replaced my runflats with Goodyear TripleTreads - unstoppable. Use AAA instead of bothering with a spare tire.
I have a 98' Sienna FWD, I live in Vt and we get a LOT of snow, I live on top of a mountain, and work at Okemo Mt. I drive my van at work as well. With good winter tires it goes anywhere!! Last year I was caught in a blizzard and still made it up the hill. I'd love an AWD but my FWD goes great!
I have the 2006 Sienna Limited AWD with run flats and TCS. I can't drive this thing in the snow in Virginia. It takes about a 1/4 mile to stop. The TCS kicks in and the tires studders over the snow for a whole block before coming to a stop. I do better pumping the brake manually. So in the winter snow, I drive my front wheel sedan (2001 KIA Optima) everywhere without any problems. My Sienna sits in the garage during a snow storm and when the temperature is below freezing after a snow storm. The AWD does not change the braking, just the going. I'm sorry that I spent the extra $2000 for an AWD Sienna that I can't drive in the snow.
I've had the AWD 2008 for 2 1/2 winters, and it has proved very useful in our rural Ontario hilly landscape. Along with the TCS it is awesome. If you live in any snowy winter envirnonment, you know that it may be hours before a road with 3-4 inches (or more) is plowed. In such conditions the AWD with TCS is extremely stable, and I have had no problems with 'ANY' of the steep hills in our area. If my daughter is heading out in less than perfect weather conditions with her Corolla, I insist she take the AWD Sienna, as I put so much trust in its capabilities. (I emphasize her need to drive carefully and cautiously of course). I strongly recommend the AWD. The extra $$ over its lifetime is nothing compared to the extra security this AWD gives over the FWD.
I own a 2013 sienna AWD with the 18" run flat tires and it really SUCKS in wet snow conditions. In fact it is down right dangerous to drive. I have owned a Jeep CJ5, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota Tundra, Ford F350, Chevy Tahoe and this is by far the biggest POS when is comes to snow and ice. It is as bad as a BMW X5 with big wide tires.
I can tell you that tires make or break a vehicle. The Michelin run-flats are terrible in the winter and I suggest ditching the run flats for some blizzak or winterforce tires for the winter. For summer get yourself a good high mileage touring tire and you are set for years. Swap them when the weather changes and it will change your whole perspective on winter driving. If you are worried about not having a spare, go to a junk yard and get a rim, then put a tire on it. Get a jack from any junk yard or online and put the rim/tire and jack in your rear storage area. It won't cost a ton and you will have peace of mind. Do that or get AAA.
Go online and look at YouTube videos of Subaru Outbacks in the snow. You'll find that Subaru's are the best cars in snow country. Also, they have been perfecting their symmetrical all wheel drive system in all their vehicles since 1972. Check it out. Subaru is the most popular car in the Northeast and Northwest.
I have owned 3 AWD Siennas a 2011, 2013 and our current 2013 AWD XLE. We live in a heavy snow and Ice region ( Northeast) New Hampshire and let me give you the landscape on these vehicles. Run Flat Tires are crap... The day you buy the car include it in the deal to have the dealer put on regular 235 55r 18's and you'll never have a problem! Also if you live in a cold snowy area, All-Season tires ( even ones of quality) are crap in the snow as well and cannot handle the snow and ice. I have 2 sets of wheels and I swap them every October and April depending on how the weather is. The Snows and AWD system is nothing less than amazing together. Period. Anyone who states it is not good is because one of 2 things.. 1. They still have run flats on the toyota. or 2 they are running all-seasons in snow. Both do not engage the AWD properly. My 2015 with Snows is like a plow truck. Blizzards, stopping power and no slipping whatsoever. It is awesome with the proper tires. All seasons in snow ( coming from a cold winter area my entire life) just do not work with this awd system. the system distributes slippage to correct the lack of traction, however if your running run flats or regular all season in the snow, it makes the system non-reactive. The simple way to get the best results is snow tires in the winter and all-seasons in the spring. These vans are awesome if you put the right rubber in the right conditions. My next set will be studded snows ( even better) than studdless. I almost put studded snows on it but it does not need them, it is simply put "remarkable" with snows for snow and ice and all- season in the spring. There is a huge difference between FWD and AWD, but just have the right tires! 4wd and AWD still slides on ice! I don't care if you have 8 wheel drive, on ice you'll slide. In snow, you need snow tires to handle and disperse the snow, especially in cold climates. Period. If I lived in any state that gets cold temperatures ( most of the east coast) I'd have snows on my rig. Period. Ice is a different beast in itself. I can't count how many idiots I see 5 miles up the road in a ditch in a snow storm that thinks" Hey I got 4wd", well, like I said you could have 4,6,8,10 wheel drive and you still cannot stop on ice.. Good luck with shopping AWD Siennas, they are the only way to go with the right tires for the right conditions.
I have a 2014 Toyota Sienna, FWD. My experience was last winter, we had the touring tires and were trying to get up a mountain in snow and it was terrible. The engine throttles down and the traction control kicks in and it was a problem for us. This year I got All Weather tires on the front, and we tried climbing a hill in snow this season and it performed MUCH better. Tires matter in snow. And I would keep all weather on all year. We tend to drive on beaches of Florida in the summer, and you can get stuck there too if you don't have proper traction, at least on the drive wheels. I don't like that the engine of the Sienna sits back behind the front wheels--I think that hinders traction and performance. I had a FWD Oldsmobile Silhouette for many years that had all weather tires, and that car was so reliable in the snow--any snow, any hills. The engine sat directly over and a little forward of the front tires and I think that made a difference when traveling over snow and sand. If I could have another Silhouette, honestly I would have gone with that over the Toyota that I now have.
After previously having a Nissan Quest, FWD, which had excellent traction in all conditions, I was unprepared for the traction problems I have with my current 2010 Toyota Sienna XLE, FWD. The Sienna is hopeless on upgrades in snow, even with new winter tires on all four wheels. The lack of winter traction is so disappointing. It stops well, and handles well on level ground, but this van will not go up hill in snow! I live in a snow belt area of the Alleghenies (low mountains) and have to borrow a Subaru AWD to go anywhere that includes a snow covered hill. I would suggest special rain tires for summers also. Also, the van hydroplanes easily on wet roads. Do not buy a Sienna FWD if you live in hilly snow country. Have had no experience with AWD Sienna, so I don't know if it would be better. It couldn't be any worse!
You are posting on CarGurus Canada so I will assume you live somewhere that gets significant snow during the months of November-March (if you live in Vancouver and that's not the case, disregard). The AWD will make a big difference IF and ONLY IF you also plan to put proper winter tires on your vehicle. I ditched the run-flats on my Sienna AWD for a summer pair of Michelin energy-saver All-Seasons, and then bought a second set of rims to mount my winter Michelin X-Ice winter tires. The ride quality is far superior on either tire to the old run-flats, which were very rough and had poor performance. In summer I get good mileage, in the winter the AWD with the snow tires is amazing, the traction is as good as any vehicle I've driven (although the aggressive TCS means you can't get it to go sideways very easily even if you want to). I mostly got the AWD because my wife is the primary driver of the van and she was coming from an AWD SUV previously, and so I knew she would be accustomed to the driving characteristics of an AWD vehicle. I love it and would never go back to a FWD vehicle, the ability to put power down on low-traction surfaces is a game-changer. I can creep up my snowy driveway as slow as I want now, while my neighbours are taking runs at it or getting out to push. No more worrying about whether you'll get wheel spin when trying to make a left turn through traffic, or a right turn at a red light. Never been stuck in snow despite 2+ feet on my residential street that may take weeks to see a plow. The only downside to this is that you are running without a spare. You have a number of solutions to this issue: carry a can of fix-a-flat and a pump kit with you, carry one of your extra summer/winter tires with you in the trunk for long highway trips where you are worried about being stranded, or just call AMA if you get a flat. The only flat I ever had on this vehicle was discovered in my garage, and I was able to drive to the tire shop on a half- deflated tire to get it repaired. Your mileage may vary.
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