Click image to enlarge
They were well built, safe, roomy, versatile, reliable, a bit underpowered and a tad pricey as minivans go. I am referring to the Toyota Previa minivan, which when on sale in 1990 as a 1991 model, both rear- and all-wheel drive versions.
While I’m at it, let’s give the Previa the Avant Garde Award for courage in styling and creative, if expensive, engineering. More on that later.
We have come to expect Toyotas to be well-built and reliable. So even today you’ll find older Previas with healthy-looking upholstery and tight-fitting, uniform bodies. The typical used Previa is unlikely to suffer that dreaded scourge of minivans – squeaks, rattles and groans.
On the safety side, early Previas came with a driver’s side airbag, optional anti-lock braking (on the four-wheel disc brake system), child-proof rear door locks, and side-impact door guards. In fact, the Previa when introduced was the first minivan to meet all safety requirements for passenger cars.
Safety, though, also includes such things as performance and handling. So-called active safety considerations.
On the handling front, the Previa is built on a car chassis, thus on the blacktop it behaves much like a car. Thanks in no small measure to a longish wheelbase (2,865 mm or 112.8 in.) and wide track (1,565/1,555 mm. or 61.6/61.2 in.), the ride is smooth and well-controlled. Suspension settings are soft enough to soak up bumps and road bruises, yet firm enough to reign in excessive body roll during cornering.
The power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is sharp and responsive, the brakes sure and easy to modulate. All-wheel drive will help you get moving on slippery mornings. And, the Previa’s aerodynamic styling and generously apportioned insulation add up to a quiet ride.
As for power: At first the only engine choice for the Previa was a 16-valve four-cylinder engine which developed 138 horsepower and 154 pounds-feet of torque. For the most part, that’s enough power (0-100 km/h in about 12.5 seconds), but you’ll often find the Previa’s engine working pretty hard to keep up with traffic.
By ’94 a supercharged version combined with all-wheel drive arrived (horsepower up to 161), along with a standard passenger-side airbag. For scoring purposes, let’s say the non-supercharged engine is a bit noisy and coarse when pushing hard to climb a hill with a full load of passengers. Supercharging the 2.4-litre four-banger helped quite a bit, but took its toll on fuel economy.
That said, the 2.4-litre four-cylinder was a tough Toyota engine and despite it’s rather unique placement, it is serviceable. Unique placement?
Right. The Previa’s engine was mounted under the front seats, but tilted sideways to allow for a flat floor. It’s accessible through a panel in the floor (you must lift the driver’s seat) or from underneath.
Under the hood up front, do-it-yourselfers have access to routine maintenance items such as the radiator, the fan belt and the air conditioning compressor.
With that engine in such an odd place, there is plenty of room inside for passengers and their gear. The Previa has seating for seven, with two swivelling captain’s chairs behind the front seats and a fold-up bench-style seat at the very rear.
That last seat was a dandy piece of work that offered the versatility of removable seats with none of the removing necessary. The seat just split in half and folded up outward into the sides where it’s out of the way.
Nits to pick: because the speedometer is recessed into the dash, it isn’t easy to see in a quick glance. And while visibility is usually good in all directions, when the rear seats are folded up, the view over the driver’s right shoulder is restricted.
Toyota made minor upgrades right up to ’97 when the Previa was discontinued. Interestingly, prices on the used market haven’t held up well at all, so you might be able to find one for quite a reasonable amount.
The Previa is a nice piece of work – maybe too nice (note the original price). But it has proven reliable over the years, its owners say they love it and ownership costs are low.
Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.