Chances are you’ve said you’d never, ever drive a van unless it’s one of those tricked-out conversion models from the ’70s.
Convincing the average guy to wheel a modern take on the family hauler is like trying to sell us on an evening at the ballet over 50-yard-line seats at the Super Bowl.
No, seriously. In a matter of one day, Toyota single-handedly changed our perception of vans with two souped-up Sienna concepts developed with the performance shop DG-Spec. Not that the carmaker hasn’t already been breaking new ground when it comes to luring more males into vans. Toyota, which inspired the whole idea of the “Swagger Wagon,” says the median buying age for its sportier Sienna SE is 39. The vehicle is one of the driving forces for Vankulture, a modern-day custom van group with 52,000 Instagram followers.
But these two higher-performance concepts, first unveiled at the 2015 SEMA show, are far more radical spins on the Toyota van in what DG’s Dan Gardner calls “taking on platforms that others wouldn’t.” And after spending time driving the Siennas on one of the best road courses in the country, we walked away with three huge takeaways that have completely shifted our idea of a minivan.
1. Fast Van
The Sienna S-Tuned concept, based on an all-wheel drive Sienna “Limited,” boasts features like a stiffer suspension system and higher-performance tires that we found ourselves enjoying more on the racetrack than on the highway.
So we’re not that surprised Toyota has gone on record saying the S-Tuned Concept ran a 1:35 minute lap time around the Streets of Willow Springs in California, the designated test grounds for our recent wheel time in the vans. For comparison, a Nissan NISMO 350Z S-Tune holds a fast lap time of 1.33.87 on the Willow Springs track.
Still not convinced?
2. Faster Van
Then maybe the Sienna R-Tuned Concept will sell you on the radness of vans.
Engineered as an even more radical take on the Toyota van, this more race-inspired ride ran a 1:27 lap time at the Willows Springs road course, according to Toyota. That’s level with the fastest laps set by a Porsche Boxster Spyder and Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 on the SoCal road course.
The R-Tuned Concept crushed the record held on the course for all front-wheel-drive vehicles, which was previously held by the Ford Focus ST with a lap time of 1:28.4. We personally witnessed Rolex GT series racing champion Craig Stanton pull off a faster lap time in the R-Tuned Sienna than the 426-horsepower 2015 Camaro SS Coupe on the course.
3. Market Viability
That said, the reality is that the race-inspired R-Tuned Concept will never make it to market as a consumer vehicle in its current form. But that doesn’t mean that some of the van’s performance features will never make it into production.
In fact, we get the strong sense that Toyota is already toying with a few ideas found in both the S and R Tuned concepts that could make their way into a higher-performance Sienna.
If so, we’re betting there’ll be a lot more guys finding themselves opting for a van in the future.
Photos courtesy of Toyota