What does Toyota get out of this?
Automakers have tried for years to remove the stigma from the minivan. No matter what they do, tough--aggressive designs, "sport" models, marketing terms like "man van' and "swagger wagon"--minivans can't shake the reputation as generic people movers driven by bored housewives. Toyota thinks its involvement in One Lap can help change that perception. Lund says Toyota had three goals in mind while competing in the One Lap of America.
The first goal was to listen to the vehicle. "We are putting it through eight days of driving, long-distance driving, we are driving it on different tracks. The vehicle responds to me: what it likes, what it doesn't like. I'll figure out, if I want to make the vehicle more sporty, where I need to go," Lund said.
Goal number two was to listen to the One Lap competitors. "When we first arrived, they were a little bit skeptical. They seemed to roll their eyes a little bit. And now more people are believing that a van can perform well," said Lund.
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The third goal was to change the image of what a van can do. Instead of making these vans faster through sheer force by adding a supercharger or swapping in a V-8 engine, Toyota has taken the opposite approach by using the stock engine and adjusting the suspension, at least in the case of the R-Tuned. "The R-Tuned is an example," said Lund. "If you fine tune the handling of a sport van, it can compete with exotic sports cars."
With its stock suspension, the SE+ also had an advantage over some of the sports cars in the competition. "If you add any element, like rain, all of a sudden it becomes competitive and it starts beating some of those exotic cars," he said.
Lund also summarized the engineering implications of both vans. "By driving this van [the SE+], I'm learning where I am today. By driving the R-Tuned, it tells me where I could go. I need to take that performance feedback and consider all aspects, and figure out where to go," he said.
Toyota Sienna SE+, 2016 One Lap of AmericaEnlarge Photo
On track in the SE+
After the SE+ competed in a road course competition at Autobahn Country Club in Joliet, Illinois, last Friday, I got the opportunity to drive it around the 2.1-mile, 15-turn south course. Without the suspension changes of the R-Tuned version, the SE+ handled like, well, a minivan. It dove in turns and understeered like a big fat van when pushed into corners. However, it wasn't so bad that it couldn't be tamed and it got around the track just fine. While the 3.5-liter V-6 offers plenty of power for everyday driving, it didn't have nearly enough to stave off the Viper, 911, and Evo that were almost certainly annoyed by my presence. It made me want to try the R-Tuned version which would certainly be able to carry more speed through turns.
The SE+ is clearly no track toy, but I'm impressed by its ability to withstand the rigors of track duty. Today's cars are pretty robust, even if they are made for family duty. Slapping on some heavy duty brake pads, using high-performance brake fluid, and installing a set of performance tires can give any vehicle some genuine track capability...even if it's a minivan that does a pretty good impression of your living room.