Toyota Sienna All Wheel Drive System How It Works


Anyone who is toting around people and things, whether it’s kids and groceries or musicians and instruments, wants a minivan that will stick to the road no matter what the conditions are on the pavement. 

The Toyota Sienna all wheel drive system is unique. In fact, the Sienna is the only minivan that offers an all-wheel drive, making it the perfect choice to handle driving in less-than-perfect weather. It also has an automatic braking system (ABS), traction control, and stability control. 

While all-wheel drive (AWD) is found on a lot of older Sienna models, the modern versions don’t make it standard. You can order it as an option and there are several variations of AWD that Toyota offers. 

Here are the facts regarding Toyota Sienna all-wheel drive system:

What is AWD?

All-wheel drive systems are those that deliver power to both the front and rear tires. This keeps the vehicle on the road by preventing sliding or traction loss due to a bumpy road, slippery conditions, or other anomalies.

toyota sienna all wheel drive system

It used to be the only vehicles available with AWD were full-size SUVs or trucks. Owners of those vehicles needed AWD for heavy-duty work chores or off-roading. Manufacturers starting offering AWD as people became more safety-conscious and now 50 percent of all vehicles have the option for it. 

However, the Toyota Sienna remains the only minivan with that option. It upgraded the Sienna in 2014 and made AWD an available option. That put the Toyota minivan a step above its competition in this niche market. 

Today, the Toyota Sienna is a hybrid with a standard front-wheel drive and optional AWD. 

How AWD Operates

Any AWD operates with little to no driver input unless you have select modes options. The vehicle’s traction is optimized by torque going to all the wheels. This happens through things like multi-plate clutches, differentials, and viscous couplings which distribute power. 

Most people wouldn’t notice when AWD is in effect because the vehicle continues to operate as smoothly as it does under normal conditions. 

Different Types of AWD

AWD isn’t just one type of system. It includes Full-time AWD and part-time AWD, although there is only a shade of difference between the two. 

  • Full-time AWD means both the front and rear axles get traction control all the time. This gives the vehicle full power all the time and allows it to handle better on the road. It provides more traction in bad conditions like ice or snow. 
  • Part-time AWD allows the torque to go to two wheels and that can be either the front or the back depending on the make and model. The system activates the remaining wheels when its electronic sensors detect adverse road conditions requiring extra traction. 

There are also differences in 4WD and AWD, although the differences aren’t that significant for most drivers to notice. Both 4WD and AWD systems send torque to both front and back wheels for traction.

However, most say the 4WD systems are more powerful and are better at handling rugged terrain. They are more preferred for those who go off-road a lot. 

What Toyota Offers

Toyota offers those options, plus others for many of its models. The Toyota Sienna AWD system is an example. There are five options available. 

  • Part-time 4WD
    The driver selects the mode the vehicle operates in when it’s in 2WD or 4WD. Power goes to the back wheels when it’s in 2WD mode.
  • Full-time 4WD
    The vehicle operates with torque on all four wheels all the time.
  • Full-time 4WD
    This has a multi-mode selection that allows the driver to choose between part-time and full-time 4WD operations but otherwise operates full-time. The rear wheels get the power when in 2WD mode.
  • Full-time AWD
    Operates with variable power to go to all four wheels based on road conditions.
  • Full-time 4WD
    The drive power goes to the front wheels with the rear getting power depending on road conditions.

Although Toyota has all these options, all may not be available on all Toyota models. The Sienna has the option for full-time AWD but not any of the 4WD options.
Any of the Sienna models can have AWD added as an option.

What Is The Toyota Sienna All Wheel Drive System Good For?

Most people think of AWD for off-roading or pulling a vehicle out of a ditch. It can be used for those things but it has more practicality than that. AWD helps the vehicle drive more safely in snow, ice, rain, and mud. 

It also helps get a car unstuck if it gets a wheel bogged down in a hole or mud because there is enough power on the other tires to drive the car out.

The Toyota Sienna, with its AWD options, makes it the right car for driving safely in snow. In fact, it was named the best minivan for winter weather driving because the AWD prevents the vehicle from spinning out of control in the snow. 

all wheel drive helps stay on the road

That provides some extra confidence for those who use minivans to pick kids up from school, picks dogs up from grooming or who drives their parents to the doctor’s office.

The traction control on the Sienna works in conjunction with the AWD. The TRAC system will sense if a wheel isn’t properly gripping the road. When that happens, it slows the vehicle to allow that tire to make better road contact. 

The Toyota Sienna also has stability control that also works with the AWD and TRAC systems to keep the vehicle stable and on the road in ice or snow. Stability control will also slow the vehicle down if it veers off the road to ensure it doesn’t crash. 

How Does the Toyota Sienna AWD System Work?

Toyota models, whether they are older models or newer versions, operate with an AWD system that utilizes power to the two front wheels until the vehicle detects a loss of traction or slippage. The system then shifts into AWD and sends power to the rear wheels automatically.

This is the only type of AWD Toyota offers but the company offers other options in 4WD for other models. AWD is available as an option on the Sienna so all the Siennas, new and used, may not have them. You will need to ask if the model you are looking at has AWD.

How Is the Toyota Sienna All Wheel Drive System Different From Other Models?

The first noticeable difference between the Toyota AWD and that on other cars is that the Toyota version is available on a minivan. No other minivan on the market has AWD. 

There are some other differences between those AWD systems in non-hybrid cars and hybrid cars, like the newer Sienna models. 

Hybrid models have an unusual AWD system that depends on an electric motor to turn the rear wheels when the AWD is activated while the non-hybrids have the traditional AWD system where a driveshaft connects both front and back wheels.

The traditional system in non-hybrid Toyota cars uses a single electromagnetic clutch located in the transaxle that routes power to the back wheels when it’s needed. The vehicle uses the front wheels most of the time.

Other manufacturers either have their AWD on all the time or use speed as a control variable for distributing power. One other manufacturer has an automatic system to select whether the front or the back gets the most power.

While all of those are available on cars and trucks, none are options on a minivan. And one of those options combines the AWD with TRAC and stability control like Toyota does in the Sienna.

Which Toyota Sienna Has AWD?

Toyota models from 2014 and up can have AWD as an option. That includes all versions of the Sienna from the entry-level to the Platinum.

The new hybrid models also can include AWD as an option, but it will operate differently from the traditional system on non-hybrid models as it uses an electric motor for the back wheels rather than a drivetrain.

How Good Is the Toyota Sienna AWD System?

It is considered to be an excellent option, especially for inclement weather. Car magazines listed the AWD on the Sienna as one of the reasons the vehicle was picked as the best minivan for winter driving.

The Sienna can handle snow, ice, and mud using the AWD option and remain on the road.

Does AWD Cost Additionally on the Toyota Sienna?

Getting the AWD option on a Toyota Sienna does have an additional cost but it isn’t that much compared to the overall price and trim package of the vehicle.

According to Kelly’s Blue Book, the vehicle with XSE trim is priced at a starting point of $42,000 with the AWD costing an additional $760. 

The next version, the Limited, is priced at $46,700 for front-wheel drive and costs $48,500 if you get the AWD. The top model in the series, the Platinum, tops out in price at $49,900 with the AWD package only costing $560 more. 

You will not necessarily pay more for AWD if you buy a used model with it already installed as it is included in the price. You’ll need to ask your salesman if there is a difference in the price of used models that have AWD and those that don’t have the option. 

You may be surprised to find out there isn’t much of a difference in price between the two.

Is AWD Worth the Money?

The answer to that question depends on what price you put on safety. It also depends on where you live and the road conditions you experience daily. Those who live in areas where there is regular snow, ice, rain, and mud will consider the additional money paid for AWD of high value. 

Those who drive on mostly sunny highways with virtually no rain may see it as unnecessary. However, those drivers could still need it if they ever get stuck off-road somewhere or want to venture off highways onto dirt roads or the countryside. 

All in all, getting AWD isn’t a frivolous thing. It is an extra safety precaution that will come in handy at some point. When you are considering paying more than $40,000 for a vehicle, an extra $500 to $1000 for safety isn’t that much more to spend. 

The fact that the feature operates automatically is a plus because it isn’t something you have to think about when it’s raining or snowing. 

toyota sienna with AWD

Read: Does a Car Battery Drain Faster In Cold?


The AWD on the Toyota Sienna is a smart detail that offers those who need minivans an extra safety option. It will give drivers more confidence to drive in rain and snow with the knowledge their tires will continue to grip the road and they will arrive safely no matter what they are toting inside.

Leave a Comment