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Hello All-

I live up in a ski town in the mountains of Colorado full-time with my husband and two boys. One of my boys has a disability and uses a wheelchair full time. Given that we receive more than 300 inches of snow per year and I do a lot of driving down to Denver over a couple of gnarly mountain passes for the kiddo's medical stuff, I have been a dedicated Subaru driver for many years now. We are looking at purchasing a new vehicle and my first choice is a Subaru Outback. It has enough room for kids and wheelchair (folded) and lots of gear, but for road trips, we would need to have a box for the top. The husband is trying to convince me to purchase a new Toyota Sienna AWD. Other than my issues with driving a mom van (I'm just not ready folks), I have some concerns about the Toyota AWD system vs. Subaru AWD. If I were just driving in the city, I'd be ok, but winter driving gets hairy up here and our winters last 8 months. The Sienna would be great for all our stuff and for transporting the wheelchair, no doubt about it...but I want to be safe and have confidence in the AWD performance. Does anyone have any experience or comparison to offer.

BTW, I always run Nokian Hakkapeliitta studded winter tires on my current Subaru (which basically turns it into a snow tank). I'd do the same with the Sienna if I chose to purchase.

Thanks and I really appreciate any info anyone can provide : )
 

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The Subaru has a legendary AWD system. If you are looking at a comparison, you might want to compare the Ascent with the Sienna to be more comparable from a size perspective. The Sienna will still have more overall interior space, especially if you need to load up all rows with passengers and need to still have space for luggage.

A challenge with the Sienna, even the AWD, is that it is a heavy vehicle and takes some time to learn how to navigate in really bad weather (take it slow, give yourself ample time to stop).

The Sienna offers a feature of an auto-access seat, but that is only on non-AWD trims. Many have noted very good results with non-AWD and dedicated snow tires (not sure I have seen a post where anyone has outfitted their Sienna with studded winter tires).
 

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The Subaru has a legendary AWD system. If you are looking at a comparison, you might want to compare the Ascent with the Sienna to be more comparable from a size perspective. The Sienna will still have more overall interior space, especially if you need to load up all rows with passengers and need to still have space for luggage.

A challenge with the Sienna, even the AWD, is that it is a heavy vehicle and takes some time to learn how to navigate in really bad weather (take it slow, give yourself ample time to stop).

The Sienna offers a feature of an auto-access seat, but that is only on non-AWD trims. Many have noted very good results with non-AWD and dedicated snow tires (not sure I have seen a post where anyone has outfitted their Sienna with studded winter tires).
Thank you so much for your insight, especially on the weight of the vehicle and stopping time. I figured that was the word on the comparison between the two AWD systems. I looked at the Ascent but it has nowhere near the cargo space capacity as the Outback (without folding down any seats). So it's Outback or Sienna.
 

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Funny, Monday my wife was shredding old financial documents and ran across the humongous Aspen Valley Hospital bill from the 2006 crash on that ended my 30+ year skiing "career". She asked me if I wanted to keep it as a souvenir and I told her no - not something I want to remember ... not that I remember much. Just call me "Massive Head Injury Jim"!

I assume that whatever issues you have getting around in winter aren't on main roads running to your ski town since highway departments in Colorado seem to keep those very well cleared. Most of the driving I did to, from and around Colorado ski areas over decades was in rear wheel drive sedans with winter tires on all 4 wheels although I used a tiny Honda CRX Si for five winters when there were only two of us going skiing. I never got stuck a single time except for not being able to get back to Denver a number of times when the Eisenhower tunnel or the passes were closed.

My view is that just about any RWD, FWD or AWD vehicle can work just fine in typical Colorado mountain winter driving as long as it has adequate ground clearance and "real" winter tires such as your Nokian Hakkapeliitta or the Bridgestone Blizzak we use on our vehicles including our Sienna FWD. Our Sienna is great fun to drive on snow and ice but I've had lots of practice. Blizzaks are wonderful winter tires. I remember waiting behind a long line of stuck vehicles on a snowy day in our Sienna a couple years ago. It was in a deep valley with the only two exits running up the sides of the two valley walls. The vehicle in front of my Sienna was an Audi A6 AWD. Granted it likely had only all season tires but it couldn't get enough traction to go anywhere. I finally pulled out and effortlessly powered around all the cars and up the hill driving around stuck vehicles that had slipped sideways in the road. I assume all the other vehicles eventually made it out by being towed. The only other vehicle that made it out of the valley with me was an old style Jeep.

My wife's wheelchair fits nicely behind the Sienna's 3rd row. Super easy to load compared to sticking in a car trunk. I had to take its front wheels off to get it in the trunks of our several previous sedans. Thankfully, she doesn't have to use the chair anymore due to getting replacement parts - in her, not the chair.

Wheelchair in Sienna.jpg
 

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Funny, Monday my wife was shredding old financial documents and ran across the humongous Aspen Valley Hospital bill from the 2006 crash on that ended my 30+ year skiing "career". She asked me if I wanted to keep it as a souvenir and I told her no - not something I want to remember ... not that I remember much. Just call me "Massive Head Injury Jim"!

I assume that whatever issues you have getting around in winter aren't on main roads running to your ski town since highway departments in Colorado seem to keep those very well cleared. Most of the driving I did to, from and around Colorado ski areas over decades was in rear wheel drive sedans with winter tires on all 4 wheels although I used a tiny Honda CRX Si for five winters when there were only two of us going skiing. I never got stuck a single time except for not being able to get back to Denver a number of times when the Eisenhower tunnel or the passes were closed.

My view is that just about any RWD, FWD or AWD vehicle can work just fine in typical Colorado mountain winter driving as long as it has adequate ground clearance and "real" winter tires such as your Nokian Hakkapeliitta or the Bridgestone Blizzak we use on our vehicles including our Sienna FWD. Our Sienna is great fun to drive on snow and ice but I've had lots of practice. Blizzaks are wonderful winter tires. I remember waiting behind a long line of stuck vehicles on a snowy day in our Sienna a couple years ago. It was in a deep valley with the only two exits running up the sides of the two valley walls. The vehicle in front of my Sienna was an Audi A6 AWD. Granted it likely had only all season tires but it couldn't get enough traction to go anywhere. I finally pulled out and effortlessly powered around all the cars and up the hill driving around stuck vehicles that had slipped sideways in the road. I assume all the other vehicles eventually made it out by being towed. The only other vehicle that made it out of the valley with me was an old style Jeep.

My wife's wheelchair fits nicely behind the Sienna's 3rd row. Super easy to load compared to sticking in a car trunk. I had to take its front wheels off to get it in the trunks of our several previous sedans. Thankfully, she doesn't have to use the chair anymore due to getting replacement parts - in her, not the chair.

View attachment 46783
I love your story and appreciate your humor. I love winter driving...have lived up in Steamboat for almost 18 years now. The driving is great in town. It's really all the off the beaten path dirt roads that get plowed last (I have my own property management company and need to get to some really interesting places in the winter) and the Denver trips over Rabbit Ears pass and Eisenhower and the space in between where I almost always seem to get stuck in a blizzard that comes out of nowhere with no plow truck to be found. How does the Sienna do in the unplowed deeper stuff? Probably pretty good, I bet. The larger vehicle would take some getting used to for me but I'm a good driver and that would probably come pretty naturally.

To be fair, about 10 years ago I nearly died when I crashed my Ford Explorer driving through a canyon when I hit some black ice and I've been super vehicle safety conscious ever since. Only Subarus with the the Nokian Hakkapeliittas for this chica. So....the whole van thing is a big mind shift for me.

But...the available space can't be beat and the ease of loading and unloading the kiddo...and all the rest of the family crap would be a godsend. I have a 2017 Impreza hatchback right now and we manage but it's a huge pain in the arse. Everything must be folded to it's tiniest form and then no room for anything else.

I'm going to test drive the AWD version on Friday and make up my mind then. I'm sure all the space and hassle with be well worth the change and with all your ski and snow experience, I'll take your word that the Sienna is a safe and well-performing winter vehicle : ). You stories sound like some that come from my uncles. We are all from Ohio but we are a ski family....my Grandmother worked at one of the few Ohio ski resorts for many, many years and we all grew up on it. My uncles moved out to Denver/Keystone and always have loads of fun winter driving adventures to share with me. Best stories ever!
 

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I bought my first Outback in 2001, and got another new one in 2013. The 2020 sure looks nice.... Other than maybe an Audi, you won't find a better bad weather friend. But as Adksienna said above, it's going to be tight for your needs. You'd be best considering the Ascent if you want to keep Subaru on your short list.

Our Sienna is FWD, but we also have an AWD 2018 RAV-4 and a Honda CR-V in the stable. The part-time AWD systems on these two competitors adds to their capability, but it's not a Subi. I love that the RAV-4 does have a 4WD lock button for low speed operation that keeps all 4 wheels in play, but the Sienna lacks that all-important feature for getting going. Unfortunate. And while the RAV4 has decent ground clearance, the Sienna definitely gets high-centered too easily in snow. So maybe the Highlander would split the difference in the Toyota lineup.

Winter tires on all our vehicles makes a huge difference.

Let us know what you decide.
 

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Steamboat is one of the ski areas that I don't remember driving to although I've been there a few times with the Kansas City Ski Club via sleeper bus. My wife has been there many times - I was often too busy with work and Steamboat was not one of my favorites. We both did club and inter-club racing and of course a bazillion Nastars. A favorite memory is a friend and me doing something like 25 side-by-side Nastar runs in one day. My wife was totally bummed when her doctor said no more skiing after hip replacements. My crash was a good excuse to stop skiing and to keep her from skiing against doctor's advice.

Maybe you need a real 4WD if you are dealing with mud roads and unplowed snow that bad. I've powered through more than 10 inch deep fresh snow in the Sienna but it was fluffy snow and easily pushed out of the way. I'd suggest a Toyota 4Runner but it's current design is ancient, interior is cramped and its headlights are awful. A brother-in-law loves his 4WD Toyota Sequoia but it's huge and cost substantially more than a Sienna SE. The Sequoia does have great ground clearance - 10 inches for the current one - and an interior almost as roomy as the Sienna. Maybe a used one if a new one is too pricey?
 

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We had a 2006 Outback for about 11 years. We really liked how secure it felt on wet and snowy roads. But we had to start dumping a LOT of money into the engine and exhaust starting at around 90k miles. It seemed to use an excessive amount of oil starting early in its life.The dealer tried to tell me that "normal" oil consumption for the Subaru boxer 2.5l engine was 1 qt/600 miles, if you can believe that. I tried pushing back on that, but got nowhere.

By 90k, we had replaced the rear main seal, head gasket, and both cats, which probably clogged due to excessive oil burning. Subaru faced a class-action lawsuit over the oil burning issue at one point, I think it was 2013/14 model years. They purport to have re-engineered the motor, but it looks to me to be the same basic design since the Outback was introduced in 1996. Our Outback essentially needed a new engine at 100k.

Here in the PNW, about every other car you see is an Outback. They are popular for good reason IMO, aside from the 2.5 engine, I think they are well designed and engineered. But our independent mechanic, who sees a lot of them, said that by 100k "they either burn oil, or leak oil, or both". Our experience is consistent with this.

Another issue with the 2.5L engine is that it is pretty gutless. Decent max hp, but a very narrow power band. We had a 5 speed manual tranny, which helped, but now your only option is CVT.

All of this is to say if it were me, I would avoid any Subaru with the 2.5L engine. Maybe they have addressed the oil burning issue, maybe not, but I know we'll never buy another one, at least with that motor.
 

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Riverrat: Your 2006 and my 2002 used the old timing belt SOHC EJ25x engine. My 2014 has the FB series engine that resolved the classic Head Gasket issue of those earlier boxer engines.

Agree, that my Outback is not quick, but it can certainly go fast! No, zero to 60 time (unless you are talking STI) is not a Subaru thing.
 

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Selling our 2002 Forester 5 speed was not easy(especially after having the head gaskets done and having it driving like new again) but with a growing family we needed more room. I actually let it sit in the driveway for over a year before I came to terms with the fact that we just didn't need it. We are now in a 2010 AWD sienna and for our purposes, it is every bit as good as the Subaru was. The van feels substantial but drives nothing like an Explorer, Expedition, Tahoe or similar larger truck based SUV or pickup. In the snow(it is much better). I have had several 4x4 pickups and SUVs and they do not inspire confidence on snowy or icy roads, I guess due to the higher center of gravity. Living in your area for the last 20 years, I can recommend the Sienna 100 percent for your on road driving. For your back roads in the winter if you were okay in the Subaru, I would think you are fine in a Sienna. However, as others stated, if this is your main concern a truck based vehicle (or a Highlander as @fibber2 mentioned) may be better for ground clearance and beefier suspension, etc. The newer highlanders have different awd modes that will likely help too, though I think it's a tough option to find. Your issue on the snowy dirt roads will likely not be traction, however but ground clearance and potholes. FWIW, we do run studless studded snow tires and carry chains in the winter, but have not needed the chains....yet. Also FWIW the guy bought this from told me he and his neighbor live at the end of a private road that was only plowed after storms. He said he never got stuck, but his neighbor in his subaru would get stuck all the time. Take that story with a grain of salt because I have no way of fact checking.
 

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Thanks everyone for all your advice, discussion and wonderful stories. I went and did a thing... I am finishing up the deal at the dealership for my new 2020 AWD Sienna. I really love it and feel pretty confident after all the great discussion. I will be putting the Nokians on it and I feel pretty solid that it will be a solid winter snow van. It is soooooooo roomy. I’m just going to be so happy not to have to try to breakdown the wheelchair every single time I take our son in and out of the car and considering I will most likely be the school bus as well with all the COVID stuff, it was the smartest choice. I have had issues with my past Subarus guzzling oil before and o ring leaks, etc. The Toyota will hold its resale value well. Whooohoooo! Van life!
 

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Welcome to Van Life! Stick around and ask questions. We have a pretty well versed and helpful bunch of nice folks on this board.
 
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Welcome to the Van world, if you are still craving for clearance, there are things that you can do to your van to get more clearance ;););)....
Smart Choice, I have a 2018 F150 but the ride in the van can't be beaten.....It drives like a sedan and is sooooooo comfortable.....

Javvy
 

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You have to remember that all AWD Siennas come with run-flat tires which are not great...plus, no spare. I had to get all season tires for my 08 LE AWD and throw spare one in the trunk. I have a dedicated set of rims and tires, General Arctic 12, and swap them before it gets really cold. With snow tires and older AWD system, it plows through the snow without any problems. You probably can get a used set of 18" OEM Toyota rims and get a dedicated set up.
 

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Hello All-

I live up in a ski town in the mountains of Colorado full-time with my husband and two boys. One of my boys has a disability and uses a wheelchair full time. Given that we receive more than 300 inches of snow per year and I do a lot of driving down to Denver over a couple of gnarly mountain passes for the kiddo's medical stuff, I have been a dedicated Subaru driver for many years now. We are looking at purchasing a new vehicle and my first choice is a Subaru Outback. It has enough room for kids and wheelchair (folded) and lots of gear, but for road trips, we would need to have a box for the top. The husband is trying to convince me to purchase a new Toyota Sienna AWD. Other than my issues with driving a mom van (I'm just not ready folks), I have some concerns about the Toyota AWD system vs. Subaru AWD. If I were just driving in the city, I'd be ok, but winter driving gets hairy up here and our winters last 8 months. The Sienna would be great for all our stuff and for transporting the wheelchair, no doubt about it...but I want to be safe and have confidence in the AWD performance. Does anyone have any experience or comparison to offer.

BTW, I always run Nokian Hakkapeliitta studded winter tires on my current Subaru (which basically turns it into a snow tank). I'd do the same with the Sienna if I chose to purchase.

Thanks and I really appreciate any info anyone can provide : )
I would NOT BUY either vehicle is you live where it snows 300" per year! Buy big chevy/ford/dodge sport ute, maybe a Toyota Sequoia,etc.. You will find as the children grow older, you'll need more cargo room, let along a wheelchair,etc..

ps: 74, drive a 2020 Sienna with wheelchair side lift...

IF you must choose between the Toyota Sienna AWD and the Subaru, pick the Toyota, you'll NEED the room!
 

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Just adding my Maine perspective. I have owned a series of AWD Siennas simply because it is the only AWD van. We don't get as much snow as you do, but we also get "mud season" every spring. My experience has been that I can get through some pretty bad conditions with the Sienna, with the limitation being the clearance. It is not as good as a 4wd pickup truck, but I get through some pretty bad conditions if I'm careful about clearance.
 

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Hello All-

I live up in a ski town in the mountains of Colorado full-time with my husband and two boys. One of my boys has a disability and uses a wheelchair full time. Given that we receive more than 300 inches of snow per year and I do a lot of driving down to Denver over a couple of gnarly mountain passes for the kiddo's medical stuff, I have been a dedicated Subaru driver for many years now. We are looking at purchasing a new vehicle and my first choice is a Subaru Outback. It has enough room for kids and wheelchair (folded) and lots of gear, but for road trips, we would need to have a box for the top. The husband is trying to convince me to purchase a new Toyota Sienna AWD. Other than my issues with driving a mom van (I'm just not ready folks), I have some concerns about the Toyota AWD system vs. Subaru AWD. If I were just driving in the city, I'd be ok, but winter driving gets hairy up here and our winters last 8 months. The Sienna would be great for all our stuff and for transporting the wheelchair, no doubt about it...but I want to be safe and have confidence in the AWD performance. Does anyone have any experience or comparison to offer.

BTW, I always run Nokian Hakkapeliitta studded winter tires on my current Subaru (which basically turns it into a snow tank). I'd do the same with the Sienna if I chose to purchase.

Thanks and I really appreciate any info anyone can provide : )
I have a 2015 Sienna LE AWD and it has been a great ski vehicle. The first time I drove it on a long ski trip (from northern California to Telluride) I was running Michelin all season tires and they did pretty well. I was impressed by the handling - we experienced about 6-8 inches of unplowed snow on the trip and pretty much drove through a blizzard all the way across Nevada. Ice traction was not great, but I have been driving in snow and ice my whole life. Since that trip, I got a separate set of dedicated winter tires/wheels (Michelin X-Ice) and I have done two winters with those tires. With the "real" snow tires, the Sienna has been awesome in the snow and ice. I did a road trip to Utah two winters ago and was staying at a lodge that had a very long, steep entry road. A storm dropped about 11 inches of snow. The driveway was packed down and really slippery, and several people with big macho AWD SUVs had a really hard time getting up the road on their all season and off-road tires. The Sienna took it in stride with zero spinning. Someone saw it parked at the lodge and said "how did that thing get up here?" Like someone else said, the Sienna is a heavy vehicle, so you need to take that into account when braking. I drive it in snowstorms up to Tahoe for skiing all the time. And I can carry five passengers in comfort, six with three in the third row seat with skis on top and gear in the back. For reference, we also have a 2006 Subaru Outback which is also great in the snow (my wife's vehicle). Prior to the Sienna, my primary ski vehicle was a 4wd Toyota Tundra.

In my mind, the only drawback to the Sienna for winter driving is ground clearance (about two inches less than an Outback). I increased the clearance on mine by about a half inch by putting a slightly taller tire on it.

Having the cargo room of the Sienna is awesome - I use mine as a mini camper with the second row seats removed. And mechanically it is pretty bomber.

I don't think you can go wrong with either choice. Have fun.
 

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Thanks everyone for all your advice, discussion and wonderful stories. I went and did a thing... I am finishing up the deal at the dealership for my new 2020 AWD Sienna. I really love it and feel pretty confident after all the great discussion. I will be putting the Nokians on it and I feel pretty solid that it will be a solid winter snow van. It is soooooooo roomy. I’m just going to be so happy not to have to try to breakdown the wheelchair every single time I take our son in and out of the car and considering I will most likely be the school bus as well with all the COVID stuff, it was the smartest choice. I have had issues with my past Subarus guzzling oil before and o ring leaks, etc. The Toyota will hold its resale value well. Whooohoooo! Van life!
Curious if you got the SE model. I have a 2018 XLE AWD. 2018 SE didn't offer AWD option. Enjoy your Sienna AWD!
 

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Welcome to being a Sienna owner. I know it's a bit late to answer as you've already bought a Sienna. But a lot of people don't know that Toyota has made great awd vehicles that also competed in rally races that beat many a Subaru. Although the Sienna isn't a true awd vehicle, it does split it's power from front to rear 50:50 just like Subarus when needed via multiple sensors. As you yourself have found out, the spaciousness in a van just can't be beat. And there are lift kits available for the awd Sienna if you ever needed more ground clearance for snow or for going off the beaten path.
 
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