Toyota Sienna AWD or FWD?

Hi there,

I am looking to buy a 04 or 05 Toyota Sienna. I can’t decide if I should get an AWD or FWD. I wonder if I get the AWD, do i still need winter tires (we live in Denver and want to go to mountains to ski)? I think so because from my experience winter tires are so much better than All-Sesaon but I never had an AWD. Also, the run-flat tires are very expensive and supposedly don’t last long.If I replace them with regular tires then I have the problem that with the AWD there is no space for a spare wheel. So I am almost leaning towards the FWD with two sets of tires.

Any opinions?

Thanks, Holger

I vote FWD

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Stay away from a vehicle that comes with run-flat tires.

I don’t care for AWD, it just adds weight, reduces MPG, and is expensive to fix when something goes wrong with it.

If you have a separate set of winter tires, FWD is all you really need. And it’s easier if you can get yourself a spare set of inexpensive wheels to mount the winter tires on, rather than mounting/demounting tires from the same set of rims when the seasons change.

I can’t decide if I should get an AWD or FWD. I wonder if I get the AWD, do i still need winter tires (we live in Denver and want to go to mountains to ski)

If it were me, I would go for the AWD and Winter tyres.  If you must pick one or the other I would choose the winter tyres first.   Winter tyres help you stay on the road and to stop quicker and under more control.  The AWD may get you through worse road conditions, and get you to the places where even with winter tyres you may not be able to keep in on the road or stop it in an emergency.  AWD does not help you stop or control direction.

For your driving situation I’d recommend winter tires even if you go with AWD. For me, I’d stick to FWD with the winter tires. AWD will cost you in mpg all the time, and in higher service and repair bills compared to FWD.

Thank you for your replies so far. I feel confirmed that even if I get the AWD I should get winter tires. It seems that there are more AWD Sienna’s for sale here than FWD. What do you think about the fact that the AWD does not have a space for a spare tire while the FWD does? If I get an AWD and don’t have run-flat tires (which I am not eager to get because of the cost), wouldn’t you feel uneasy driven around without a spare tire? Or would you just have one in the trunk? Even having the additional benefit of AWD (with winter tires) and ignoring the reduced MPG and potential repair cost, just that spare tire situation makes me want to wait for FWD to be for sale. What do you think?

It sounds to me like people have realized that there are more disadvantages to the awd sienna than advantages, hence them being on the market. But the people that have a fwd sienna want to keep it. To me, that says it, go fwd.

My wife has a FWD 06 Sienna. The spare tire is mounted where the center differential is located on the AWD Sienna. There are kits to mount a spare tire in the cargo area, but you lose most of the cargo area and/or a back seat.

The run-flat tires on the AWD Sienna are very expensive and seldom make it to 20k miles. Perhaps this is why more AWDs then FWDs are for sale in your area.

Note: If you are looking to buy an 04-05 Sienna, the timing belt change interval is 7yr/90k miles whichever comes first. So you will be looking at a timing belt change in a year or two. I pretty sure the 3.3 V6 is an interference engine, the 3.0 V6 in the previous generation is non-interference.

Ed B.

Run flat tires are a disadvantage IMO. They are expensive, don’t last as long, have less replacement options, and need special wheels. IF AWD means run flats on a Sienna; then I would shop only for a FWD version.

See if you can get a price on winter “run flat” tires? My guess it they are pricey if available at all.

Just because it comes with run flats doesn’t mean you have to keep them. You can always get some all seasons then buy separate rims and tires for winter time. A can of fix-a-flat and a cell phone should be all you need if you do get a flat tire.

Trust me…4wd or Awd comes in handy if driving in mountains during the winter…I drive to the mountains in NH for skiing all the time…and there are times where 4wd really came in handy.

I agree with those who warn agaisnt the awd Sienna. If you rwally feel a need for awd, don’t try to compromise. Get an awd SUV (Pilot first choice, Hylander 2nd) with third row seating that is better designed for the task. IMO, the low clearance of the van and awd are counter productive. With the traction control standard, I feel the Sienna is a balanced vehicle as is. If it doesn’t give you the awd security you want, go third row SUV. You won’t regret it. The gas milage will be the same and the overall performance better. You loose some cargo versatility, but that’s it.
Also, never get awd as a replacement for dedicsted winter tires ! They go together and it’s a costly and unsafe mistake to think so.

Go for the FWD with a good set of winter tires, like the Michelin X-ICE or similar. We live near the mountains and spend many weekends there, summer or winter. In our hiking and ski club with 95 members, not many have AWD. There are 6 Subarus, one Chevy crossover, and one Ford Explorer.

Everyone else just has the standard vehcles with good winter tires. All ski areas need to have their access roads plowed regularly, or they would not do any business. If you go snowshoeing in the back counry, you may need a special vehicle; in that case I would get a good SUV with lots of ground clearance.

My previous car was a rear drive Chevy Caprice with Positraction and winter tires. It walked through virtually everything. After a particularly violent snow storm some years back, I was one of the few who made it into the office; many of my Jeep owning co-workers stayed home.

As others point out, the tires are far more important the that extra set of driving wheels. And a lot cheaper and more reliable.

Everyone else just has the standard vehcles with good winter tires. All ski areas need to have their access roads plowed regularly, or they would not do any business

Yup…however…many storms come up and the towns and ski areas can’t keep up…Not often but it does happen. In the past 10 years we’ve had 3-4 storms in the Waterville Valley area that I was able to go through with 4wd…I don’t know too many cars that can make it through 10" of snow…Cars all over the road…

You’re preching to the choir as far as I’m concerned. If you enjoy skiing where mountains, snow and inclement weather are the norm, and plan on including kids, the security of awd cannot be overstated. It has extended the enjoyment of these sports safety into “old age” for many like myself as well.

Avoid run flat tires and be aware that AWD does increase the complexity and expense.
FWD is fine depending on the tires.
Look at SAABs, which are popular in mountain regions and are FWD. For many many years the Aspen, CO Police Department used FWD SAABs although I think they may have converted to Volvos now. They have to maintain that upscale profile for the celebrities I suppose.

I’m not recommending that you buy a SAAB, only pointing out that FWD SAABs plow through the snow and muck pretty well for a 2-wheel drive car.

This has been a long running discussion. Agree that the Rocky Mountains get less snow than the East although the storms can be violent.

My neighbor across the street has a Dodge Ram 4WD with all the options, but he never skis or snowshoes. He has a cabin in the mountains. Says he needs that 4WD to go the last 300 feet.

His other vehicle is a Nissan Pathfinder (now used by the son to go to school), bought before he had the cabin, mainly because his friends had 4WD SUVs. His wife has a fulltime job and commutes with a … Nissan Sentra and always makes it to work.

You guys point out a need for 4WD a few times a year when things get really bad.
The only relatives I have with 4WD vehicles are both farmers and they have trucks to get them through their long lanes and around the barnyard…

If you want to pay for the the extra traction needed every now & then, by all means.

I use my 4wd several times a year…NOT just for skiing…Travel to visit my Dad at least once a month in Pulaski NY…Drive around Pulaski in the winter months with fwd…NOT fun…Just in the past 4 weeks they’ve already reached 120" of snow.

Plus camping during the summer…A couple of those mountain trails we like to travel into you NEED 4wd…

I’ll admit if all I used 4wd for was skiing…then I might not have it…I can always reschedule my trip…

AWD won’t help much if the snow gets deep. A Sienna doesn’t have much ground clearance.