There’s a deep-rooted love/hate relationship out there for minivans, even when versions like the Toyota Sienna we tested a few months back are quite good. They serve as a fantastic vehicle option for anyone with a large family, those who work for companies like Uber or Lyft, or those who require a low-slung transit vehicle for the elderly.
The longevity of this platform has been rekindled recently as minivans continue to be far more firmly planted and less unwieldy than large SUVs, come with large sliding doors, and have rear seats that either fold into the floor or are removable all together.
But on the flipside, many still blame the minivan for the downfall of the station wagon, as the far more practical vehicle trumped the classic family-hauler on virtually every level save for aesthetics and handling. There is also an issue with the fact that since the demise of the Chevy Astro there hasn’t been an all-wheel drive variant available outside of the top-end version of the Toyota Sienna, driving many toward SUV purchases.
Hell, most guys would rather mow the lawn every day for hours on end than be seen driving the family van around town. This got us thinking: What kind of minivans would we drive if it was deemed absolutely necessary?
After a few hours of putting our heads together, we came up with six options, all of which would be pretty badass to own even if they may not all be street legal. So break out the juice boxes and put on a Disney flick for the peanut gallery in the third row because it’s about time to have some big fun with the humble minivan.
1. Ultimate Karting Sedona
Karting is one of those hobbies that is fun for both kids and adults, and having a vehicle that’s designed to haul these miniature race cars down to the track and back is tantalizing to say the least. Paying tribute to the championship-winning Kia Racing Optimas, the Sedona seen here rocks 20-inch BBS CH-R white racing wheels that have been wrapped with Pirelli P Zero rubber, and it was a hit at SEMA few years back. From the custom-built roofrack that’s designed to hold a CRG Bambino kart to the Fiamma awning and the custom aluminum and diamond-plated trailer sitting atop matching 18-inch wheels, this van is a total winner in our book.
The Sedona’s interior got a lot of attention as well, morphed into a rolling garage complete with tools, spares, supplies, and work space. Flooring inside has been coated in black-and-white RaceDeck rubber, and the back now sports a toolbox with a built-in Infinity subwoofer and a tire bead breaker. Custom diamond-plated shelving offers additional storage for things like spare tires, a 5-gallon gas tank, and extra karting gear, all while a set of Sparco “Chrono Road” seats finish the features up front.
2. Toyota Sienna R-Tuned Concept
Unlike the Kia, the van here is a total track demon which remains completely street legal. Toyota teamed up with custom car builders DG-Spec for this build so that the Sienna SE “Swagger Wagon” could receive performance tires, wheels, brakes, race suspension, and a grippy limited slip differential for additional bite. Utilizing a stock 3.5-liter V6 engine and a six-speed automatic transmission, this minivan has bested vehicles like the 6.2-liter Chevy Camaro SS at Willow Springs, and is the official 2016 One Lap of America minivan for the automaker.
Sporting a Kaminari carbon fiber hood, sticky Nitto tires, RPF1 Enkei wheels, and a slathering of TRD goods, the livery laden Sienna is the ultimate Dadmobile. Stay tuned as we load into this bad boy for a one-week road trip with Rutledge Wood, and follow us as we take on one of America’s most intense endurance races.
3. Rutledge Wood’s Subaru 360 Minivan
Speaking of Rutledge Wood, we would be amiss if we didn’t include his tiny Subaru 360 golf van. Originally aired on the History Channel during an episode of Lost in Transmission, the little red van seen here is the actual size of what you would get back in the day if you really wanted one.
Weighing in at less than half a ton, but not running at all, this little van desperately needed a full restoration. So Rutledge and his team took the rusty relic and slapped an EZ-GO golf cart frame beneath it, put a brand-new 20-horsepower gas engine in it, and installed some 10-inch mag wheels. They also fixed some body issues, sprayed it red, installed a custom roof rack, and redid the ratty interior. This was all done in the hopes of creating a fun little “street legal” vehicle that could double as something that is “Golf Cart Path” legal as well.
4. Takero’s JDM-spec Honda Odyssey
Takero’s Honda Odyssey collective is arguably one of the coolest things to ever come out of Japan. People think he’s nuts, but this Japanese grandpa actually builds and races JDM-spec family haulers for a living. Unlike American versions, many generations of the Japanese Odyssey did not have sliding rear doors, sported a four-cylinder engine, didn’t always come with a third row, and once lowered looked far more station wagon-ish than van-like.
This particular vehicle has been outfitted with a custom HKS turbo system that helps it generate around 440 horsepower, Prodrive forged 20-inch wheels, a Takero’s big brake kit, a titanium exhaust system, and low-slung coilover race suspension. It also comes with some of the nicest looking carbon aero this side of a McLaren P1, with virtually every body panel replaced with the lightweight material — all of which was handmade by Mr. Takero.
5. Toyota Sienna Ultimate Utility Vehicle
This is a minivan that’s designed to appeal to Jeep enthusiasts and guys who aren’t into lowering their vehicles. Toyota’s Ultimate Utility Vehicle (UUV) was a big hit at SEMA last year and served as part of Toyota’s North America Ever-Better Expedition earlier in the year. Utilizing a Sienna body that sits on a Tacoma truck chassis, this mean machine comes complete with a TRD supercharger, 22-inch Monster Energy 534B off-road wheels, and a slew of mud-loving add-ons.
A few of our favorite additions to this zombie-ready minivan is the N-FAB custom bodywork, the motorized rear doors, that custom LED wrapped roof rack, all of the one-off interior tech mods, and the fact that it sports a Flir M-324xp night vision camera system with HD recording. This extreme machine also rolls on a Wilwood big brake upgrade, along with a slew of off-road necessities that were fabricated for it by Engaged Suspension. Tubular upper control arms, upgraded Heim steering, Engaged 4 link long travel suspension, and a set of fully fabricated boxed lower control arms are just a few of the many upgrades you’ll find here.
6. Honda Odyssey Pike’s Peak Hill Climber
Our final contender for the ultimate minivan crown is none other than the 2013 Pikes Peak International Hill Climb ass-kicking Honda Odyssey. Honda Performance Development (HPD) and Honda R&D Americas, Inc. basically took a turbocharged, 500-horsepower Odyssey and re-calibrated it to the point where it could fly up the infamous Colorado mountain pass.
Originally developed by Honda Manufacturing of Alabama in Lincoln, Alabama where the minivan is manufactured for America, this intercooled 3.5-liter V6 minivan is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Unlike the other minivans here, this one is a full-blown caged race car, complete with a gutted interior, a six-speed manual gearbox and limited-slip differential swap out of an older Acura TL, race-spec suspension and brakes, forged 19-inch BBS wheels, and so on.