Minivans are all about versatility. But they are also about innovation and packaging. The Toyota Sienna minivan may not seem like much more than a family hauler, but it has one bit of technology that may make it on to more and more all-wheel-drive minivans, trucks and vans.
Toyota already uses this one great trick in its Highlander and RAV4 for all-wheel-drive traction.
This is a great trick that works for an AWD minivan
The Sienna has all-wheel drive, which isn’t surprising. But what is surprising is that it’s not connected to the engine up front. Instead, the Sienna is a hybrid with three motors. The first two motors help power the front wheels. The third is not connected to the engine at all. Instead, the rear is all-electric.
The Sienna’s all-wheel-drive system is very similar to the one in the RAV4 and the Highlander. Like in those SUVs, it powers the real wheels when it senses the vehicle losing traction. But there’s no mechanical connection.
Instead of being connected by a driveshaft, the Sienna’s independent rear motor kicks in when it senses it’s needed. It works. It’s also a lot lighter and a lot less complicated than other systems. The Sienna doesn’t have a transfer case. It doesn’t have a driveshaft.
No driveshaft means no lump in the floor
There’s added weight, sure, but it’s a lot less than the four-wheel-drive systems you get in trucks or SUVs. Even with the added weight of a third motor the van is still rated at 35 MPG combined. The regular Sienna Hybrid van is rated at 36 mpg combined. That’s not much of a penalty for the added security of a all-wheel-drive.
The Sienna is self-charging. IT is a hybrid that doesn’t have to be plugged in. The van charges itself using the heat and friction in the brakes for regenerative braking to charge its batteries.
The Sienna AWD starts at $41,050, or $42,890 with all wheel drive. A fully-optioned Limited version is about $60,000.
The Sienna isn’t the only all-wheel-drive minivan
The Chrysler Pacifica minivan also has an AWD option. But, the Chrysler’s system is much more conventional. But not all conventional. The Toyota Sienna and Chrysler Pacifica were both updated recently.
The van uses a traditional gas motor (a hybrid is optional) and a nine-speed transmission. But instead of one long driveshaft connecting the rear wheels to the all-wheel-drive system, it uses a three-piece driveshaft with elbow-like joints that filter the power back. In extreme conditions the Chrysler’s transmission can send 100% of its power to the back wheels.
Because of that trick driveshaft the Pacifica can still manage to include the van’s trademark Stow ‘N Go seats that fold into the floor. In the past vans that had all wheel drive had a lump in the floor where the driveshaft lived. Chrysler has banished the bump in the 2022 Pacifica.