Toyota's Ultimate Utility Vehicle minivan takes its swagger off road
We knew the Toyota Ultimate Utility Vehicle would be one of the most delightfully odd vehicles of the year the minute we heard about it months ago, and now that Toyota has released all the details, we find it better than expected. Not only is it the gnarliest minivan you've likely ever seen, but it's packed inside and out with innovative solutions and high-tech equipment that allows it to navigate the world's nastiest terrain and serve as a mobile workstation.
The Ultimate Utility Vehicle has parked at SEMA this week, on a break from the 16,500-mile (26,550-km) North American tour it was designed for. Toyota's Ever-Better Expedition is the American part of the Five Continents Driving Project, sending engineers on grueling road trips to push Toyota vehicles to the limits and engage with customers along the way. Toyota has completed the hot-weather part of the North American voyage and will soon embark on a cold-weather trip through Canada and Alaska.
As the mobile command hub of the expedition, the Ultimate Utility Vehicle is built to handle the toughest stretches with aplomb. It all starts with the redesigned body-on-frame construction. Toyota hollowed out the Sienna's unibody, reinforced it and secured it to a reinforced Tacoma 4x4 truck frame, giving the minivan the needed grit.
The chassis is enhanced with an Engaged four-link long-travel suspension, lifting the vehicle's ride height by 4 inches (10 cm). That suspension system gives the 22x12-in Monster Energy 539B off-road wheels up to 15.75 inches (40 cm) of cushion, while the 33x22 Nitto Mud Grappler tires claw into all types of ground below. A TRD supercharger boosts engine power, and a Wilwood brake package enhances stopping power.
A stock Sienna body might look a little odd sitting atop that monstrous underbody, so Toyota dressed it for the occasion. Attire includes an N-FAB custom front bumper, front winch, custom rear bumper, flared fenders and a PPG matte black finish. The roof houses a custom rack and LED lights bar.
During the build, Toyota realized that the oversized wheel-tire combination was too big for the Sienna, so it reworked the front and rear doors. The motorized rear doors slide out, instead of straight back, and the front doors are hinged at the rear, coach style, which only adds to the UUV's sinister look.
All that work might have you wondering why Toyota didn't just use a standard 4x4 as its command center instead of making a monster minivan? It's a fair question since Toyota's North American lineup includes two of the most rugged 4x4s on the market in the Land Cruiser and 4Runner. Part of it was certainly putting a fun face on its expedition and getting some added press, but Toyota also explains that it chose the Sienna for its spacious interior, which it's using as a high-tech mobile office.
The UUV's role is to provide a place for engineers to monitor vehicle data from all nine vehicles on the expedition, record video of vehicle performance during both day and night stretches, and communicate with Toyota HQ via Skype. The captain's chairs in back provide access to a high-tech logistics system that goes way beyond the typical in-vehicle telematics hardware. It includes a 60-in Sony LED TV, TracVision mobile satellite television receiver, mobile Internet, laptop trays, Wi-Fi, 17-in monitor, USB ports, 2,500-watt JBL audio system, and Flir M-324xp night vision camera system with HD recording.
Up front, Toyota has maintained the stock Sienna's look, but it explains that the controls have been reengineered around the 4x4 truck chassis that's now running the show.
All in all, the Ultimate Utility Vehicle is one of the coolest vehicles of the 2015 SEMA Show. We hope to see some footage and photos of it braving the cold in the coming months.