First laps: 2015 Toyota Sienna SE+
At last year’s SEMA show, Toyota took the stage not to announce some ridiculous new tuner-spec sport compact, but rather to show off a minivan–one that could turn laps quicker than a 2015 Chevrolet Camaro SS. It was the Sienna R-Tuned Concept–a gutted-out, lowered and caged take on a car that normally puts practicality first.
What’s going on here?
When was the last time you saw Bridgestone Potenza RE-71Rs on a minivan that wasn’t a broken Miata owner’s Mazda5?
The Sienna R-Tuned boasts modifications too extensive to list, but the gist is this: You take a 2016 Sienna SE, rip out the seats and any other rear cabin niceties, leaving only the dashboard and the steering wheel intact. Then, you replace the suspension with a custom double-adjustable setup that can accommodate 18×10″-inch wheels and 275-section-width tires, throw a limited-slip differential into the stock six-speed automatic, add a cold-air intake to help the V6 breathe a little better and then you take that sucker racing in the 2016 One Lap of America.
They let you drive that!?
Unfortunately, no. Toyota’s campaigning not one, but two Siennas in One Lap. One is the sexy R-Tuned van, which is running in One Lap’s “Exhibition Stock Touring” class. In other words, it’s essentially doing parade laps–really fast parade laps.
Toyota’s second entry is its Sienna SE+, and while the R-Tuned may be a cool showpiece, the SE+ is the company’s bread-and-butter. This is the one they invited us out to play with.
Aha, so what’s that, then?
The SE+ is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a sport-tuned variant of the existing SE trim. Like the R-Tuned, it’s based on a front-wheel drive model with the standard V6 and six-speed auto. There’s no limited-slip differential or suspension tomfoolery. You even get to keep the rear seats.
Outside, you get quite a few aesthetic upgrades. The grille, mirrors, wheels, headlamps and badges all get some form of blackout treatment, whether it’s a tint over existing chrome or polished elements (such as on the grille or the wheels) or a straight-up paint job. The 19-inch wheels are finished in “Laser Black” and (on this particular car, anyway) are shod with Pirelli P Zero summer tires. We wager that’ll be a regional availability thing.
Inside and underhood, you get some TRD-branded bits (such as a shift knob and radiator cap), but mechanically nothing has changed.
And how does it drive?
Keep in mind that the SE+ is a street car. This one has higher-temp brake fluid and upgraded front and rear pad compounds to better suit its competitive mission, but it’s essentially the same V6-powered van you can buy in a showroom any time you like.
It’s also a very heavy street car. Even the R-Tuned concept, gutted though it may be, still tips the scales at 4,000lbs with a driver. The SE+, loaded down with 800lbs of standard minivan equipment, a driver and four passengers (because minivan), is about as lightweight as a GMC Yukon. Let’s just say there was a little body roll.
We got the opportunity to take the SE+ out for laps of the Main course at Summit Point Motorsports Park in West Virginia. We gleefully held up traffic in the over-encumbered MPV, blasting it from pit-out down the main straight and crossing our fingers that the brakes actually worked in the (all-downhill) approach to Turn 1.
The SE+ was actually far more composed than it had any right to be. Placing it on the proper line through the “lower,” more technical section of the course was simple enough, and even as loaded-down as it was, it would still claw its way out of the tighter corners with a mash of the throttle. Only once did the author fear for his life, with the SE+ in the hands of another journalist who had less regard for the laws of physics.
Leftlane‘s bottom line
The SE+ is exactly what you’d expect: A minivan designed to help the type-A moms and dads of the world come to grips with their ever-growing herds without feeling too miserable. It’s not going to set the bar for performance people-movers (A Grand Cherokee SRT this is not), but for those who have accepted the fact that minivans simply do the job of moving munchkins better than anything else out there, it’s a perfectly fine way to do it right.