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.
Looking for a Used Sienna in your area?
CarGurus has 27,305 nationwide Sienna listings starting at $995.
Search Toyota Sienna Questions
Are you a UK consumer? CarGurus now has a discussion forum in the UK.
Toyota Sienna Experts