Toyota’s 2021 Sienna minivan is all new this model year. It benefits from a new platform and Toyota’s unusual all-wheel drive (AWD) system. Instead of using a transfer case and driveshaft to send power from front to rear, the Sienna, like the RAV4 Hybrid, RAV4 Prime, Venza, Highlander and Prius, uses an electric motor rear to drive the rear wheels.
2021 Toyota Sienna Electric Motor All-Wheel Drive System
This system is much simpler, and we believe lighter, than a conventional front-wheel-drive platform fitted to AWD. And the good news for new Sienna buyers is that it’s not new to Toyota, just to this model. Toyota has been using this new AWD system in the RAV4 Hybrid for two generations. We tested it on snow years ago in the RAV4 Hybrid and were impressed with the results.
Related: Toyota’s Mysterious All-Wheel Drive System Explained
2021 Toyota Sienna – Power to spare
The Sienna uses a hybrid powertrain with impressive torque and 245 hp to drive all four wheels. Two-wheel-drive versions are also available. Here in New England, we love the idea of all-wheel drive in any vehicle. Especially the daily drivers and family vehicles that we will be using in all weather conditions.
Related story – The 2021 Toyota Sienna’s 36 MPG will save its drivers $14,000 in fuel costs
2021 Toyota Sienna AWD – Perfect in the real world
The Sienna is no brute of a vehicle built for off-road adventures. If you want such a beast, Toyota has the 4Runner and the Sequoia. The Highlander and RAV4 are also better suited to off-road driving and extreme weather conditions. Instead, the Sienna is built for all road weather conditions. And in our tests today, it turned out to work just fine.
2021 Toyota Sienna AWD – Winter Testing Results
We only had about four inches of snow to test the Sienna, but that was enough to convince us that the AWD system works just fine. We tested the Sienna on both uphill and downhill hills, and tried a variety of turns. We also moved it around an unplowed paved driveway to see how well it worked in reverse. On every test, the Sienna performed well. In case you’re wondering (as we are), yes, Toyota confirms that the Sienna’s all-wheel-drive system works in reverse.
The Sienna can overpower its front tires on slippery surfaces if you give it too much throttle. All-wheel-drive vehicles can do this. However, if you use a soft toe on the throttle and also ECO mode, the Sienna barely lets a wheel spin. Traction control stays out of the party for the most part. This is exactly how we like our vehicles to handle in snowy and icy conditions. We despise traction control that cuts power and kicks in too soon. Toyota has a perfectly balanced all-weather drive system in this new Sienna.
2021 Toyota Sienna – Tires
We also had the opportunity to test the Bridgestone Turanza tires that our Limited version was equipped with. As most drivers know, all-wheel drive does nothing to help you stop, and little to help you turn in normal winter driving. The tires are really what’s most important. Here, Toyota has again made the right choice. We checked the Turanza’s Tire Rack rating and found the tire had an “Excellent” rating in snowy conditions.
Toyota has paired proven all-season tires with a modern AWD system to create a new Sienna that we think most family drivers will feel confident in, whatever the road conditions. Whether they’re heading to the cabin during a storm, ski trips, hockey games or any winter family adventure, the AWD Sienna is the perfect choice.
John Goreham is a longtime member of the New England Motor Press Association and a recovering engineer. John has completed Team O’Neil Rally School’s winter safety program. Although he tests vehicles on snowy public roads, at no time does he put the public in danger. You can follow John on Twitter, and view their credentials on Linkedin
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