The 2020 Toyota Sienna with its optional all-wheel drive makes winter easy for families.
Mother Nature’s plans and our vehicle test schedule have overlapped quite nicely this early winter season. This week, we tested the $ 47,239 all-wheel drive Toyota Sienna Limited 3.5L AWD minivan. All-wheel drive (AWD) is unusual in the minivan world, and we like that Toyota keeps the option alive year after year. We found this test interesting because many of the AWD vehicles we test in winter have a performance or off-road aspect to their personalities. The Sienna has neither, and that is not a negative in this family segment that is defined by equal parts space, safety, and value. Our testing was done entirely on the public roadways of Metro Boston during a pair of storms that had the Governor of our Commonwealth standing at a podium telling us all not to panic. We didn’t panic, and the Sienna performed its role flawlessly. Here’s what we discovered about this AWD van.
Toyota’s Sienna Limited 3.5L AWD has a buttery-smooth drivetrain that would be at home in any Lexus. In fact, it is at home in many Lexus vehicles including the legendary RX crossover. Toyota has tuned its AWD system for one purpose in the Sienna. To get you started in the slippery stuff. This is not a performance system that is going to help you corner at the limits of adhesion. It is not a system that will help you negotiate an off-road course. It will help you get moving in any situation where the road is slippery. Such as that steep hill on the way to your kids’ school that has a stop sign at the top. Or maybe the snow and ice-covered parking lot after a hockey tournament. In any slippery on-road situation, the Sienna is going to be able to move forward better than any 2WD minivan. In our testing, it never even needed its traction control system. The Sienna just moves forward smoothly and reliably when the roads are snow-covered.
Toyota knows that parents of large families are busy people. Unlike some sports sedans and crossovers, minivans are not vehicles that manufacturers expect owners to be swapping out all-season tires for winter compound tires in late fall. Toyota also knows that space is where it’s at in minivans. To that end, it has removed the spare entirely. Normally, we insert some harsh words here, but we see what Toyota is up to. The tires on our tester were Bridgestone Turanza EL400-02 RFT all-season tires. RFT stands for “Run-Flat-Tire.” The plan is that you will be able to keep going on your daily errands until you can schedule a local tire replacement if you get a puncture. We like that plan a lot better than a pretend repair kit that will be frozen like a Klondike bar in winter.
We did some research and found that the Turanza RFT tire Toyota picked has below average ratings on Tire Rack. For example, a score of Poor in winter performance. A score of Fair in wet performance, and a score of Unacceptable for both “would you recommend” and treadwear. So there’s that. However, in our subjective two-storm test, the tires seemed very good on wet and slippery surfaces and were very quiet on the highway. If you plan to take your Sienna skiing frequently and are going no matter what the forecast is, you may want to consider swapping out the all-season tires for winter rubber. Short of that extreme type of service, we suspect you will find the tires that Toyota has chosen to be more than adequate for winter duty.
Sienna Approach Angle & Ground Clearance
Another consideration in real-world snow driving is coming home to a plowed-in driveway. This hard-packed, piled-up snow from the local plows forms a barrier between you and a steaming cup of hot cocoa by the fire. In a crossover like a Subaru Ascent or Kia Telluride, the vehicle has a high bumper height so that you can drive up and over such obstacles – within reason. They also have a high ride height so that you can get the middle of the vehicle over the hump. The Sienna has neither of these advantages. It would be wise to have a shovel in any winter vehicle, but in the Sienna, you may need to use it just to get into or out of the driveway.
Sienna Winter Driving
Unlike a tossable AWD sports sedan like the Genesis G70 or Acura TLX, you are never going to put your Sienna into a turn expecting it to slide and then for you to catch it using the throttle. Unlike while driving a Subaru Forester, you are never going to say to yourself “I bet I can climb that snow mountain over there.” Nope. The Sienna is a family hauler and you are going to take things slow and steady. We did, and we found that the Sienna does a lot better than those dire tire ratings might lead you to believe. We did shovel the end of our driveway and we did keep things well within the safety limits of the vehicle. Do so, and you will never have a situation where the Sienna fails you. Were we looking for a minivan that would see a lot of winter driving, the Sienna AWD would be our first choice.