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The Carchive: The Toyota Previa

Chris Haining May 22, 2014 Cars You Should Know, The Carchive 14 Comments


Welcome to this week’s second opportunity to look at the days of yore through a pair of very contemporary Ray-Bans.

The Toyota Previa? That’s not exactly from yore, is it? Well, in fact the first Previas began to roll off of production lines almost a quarter-century ago, so they’re actually prime Carchive fodder. And, well, I like’em.


“This original MPV clearly challenges conventional concepts about multi-purpose vehicles”

Previa, whose name is a portmanteau of “Preview” and “chlamydia”, hit the market in 1990, ready to attack other established minivans on the global market. This meant the Renault Espace in Europe and the various members of the Chrysler Caravan family. But this time around Toyota’s hi-occupancy family hauler was a far more refined proposition than the van-with-windows which came before.

I always loved the Space Cruiser, mainly for the fact that the celestial nature of its name seemed completely at odds with the robustly mundane nature of the product. Of course, elsewhere on the globe it had been named differently; MasterAce was the version which was forever destined to be unpopular in the German market, and Wonder Wagon was the deliberately ironic name applied for advertising purposes in North America. Previa, though, would be a global name, with Estima and Tarago being reserved for JDM and Australasian markets.


“The body stylist of any prestige car would be proud to call the Previa their own creation”

Bodily, the new car was worlds apart from that which had gone before. The Liteace van based previous machine was about as rectilinear as domestic transportation got. This time around the adopted form was so ovoid as to inspire the nickname “eggvan”. I always rather liked the looks of these, mainly because they were 100% not derived from anything else on the market.

It must have been very tempting to have simply cribbed from the design of the Espace, or to have opted out of creativity altogether and launched an MPVised hatchback along the lines of the Nissan Prairie or Honda Civic Shuttle. We should applaud Toyota for bravely creating a new form.


Mechanically, the Previa wasn’t as far divorced from the past as the exterior might suggest. The layout was familiar; mid engined, rear wheel drive with a four cylinder engine with the pots all lying close to the horizontal. The engine itself was 2.4 litres big, with twin cams but still outputting a not exactly sparkling 133hp. Nevertheless, for people-lugging duties performance was sufficient. 11.3 seconds elapsed on the journey to sixty, an optional auto box dragging things out an extra two seconds. The good aerodynamics helped the bus to a 110 mph.


“In this seven seater model you’ll find a degree of refinement associated more with executive aircraft than land-based transport”

One feature which defined this generation of Previa is the fact that there was only one sliding door, and it was on the left hand side, showing a strong bias towards serving the Japanese market and those few other places where they drove on the left. England, for instance, where the Previa did reasonably well.

The same wasn’t really the case in the USA. Why buy the expensive, funny looking Toyota when you could buy a competitively priced domestically produced machine with a bigger engine? The fact that the Previa was designed around its engine so closely as to preclude anything bigger being installed was a bit of a millstone around the neck.


“Step inside the Previa. Once aboard, you’ll agree nothing else compares”

We got a bit of a raw deal in the UK. Compared to some of the unbelievably comprehensively kitted out Japanese Market Estimas, our Previas were merely very well equipped. JDM models could end up with a glazed “J-Top” , easy-close assisted side door, a TV set, all kind of lovely things. We also missed out on the All-Trac 4WD version.

We also missed out on the higher powered version which was introduced to satisfy US demand for Moar Grunt. With added superchargement the power rose to 160hp, making the Previa far more competitive against V6 motivated rivals. But it was too little, too late, and the Sienna took over the Previa’s role in 1997.

It seems that the majority of Previas I see today actually originated on the orient before being parallel imported to the UK. Also, they’re not all the same size. The Estima was joined by narrower, shorter Emina and Lucida models which shared the same mechanical package and feature set, all in the interest of fitting into a lower band in the arcane Japanese vehicle taxation system.

This, by the way, is a really annoying brochure. The content and presentation is fine, but I find it frustrating how many visual short-cuts are taken. Witness the appalling Photoshop efforts sprinkled liberally among the pages; wheel-trims being crudely superimposed over non-UK spec items and the same treatment given to the stereo unit.

What I really want is a brochure for the hi-spec JDM variants of this machine, and the moment one appears on eBay within my budget (sub £2) I’ll be all over it.

(All images are of original manufacturer publicity material, photographed by me, badly and hastily. It’s become a tradition. Copyright remains property of Toyota. MasterAce? What were they thinking?)

  • Time to trot out this again!

    <img src="http://tanshanomi.com/temp/previa_pu.jpg"&gt;

  • Sjalabais

    The Previa is a great design and I find the 133hp engine quite a blast* to drive.

    Previa, whose name is a portmanteau of “Preview” and “chlamydia”…

    Bold. Very bold.

    *= Minivan-blast-level-11: Make the kids scream.

  • smokyburnout

    Saw an Alltrac one last time I was at the junkyard. An animal had used the interior as the bathroom so i didn't play "find the engine" but nabbed the badge
    <img src="https://pbs.twimg.com/media/Bl3o3T-IQAAC7DN.jpg"/&gt;

  • wunno sev


    Fabergé Previa

  • "This time around the adopted form was so ovoid as to inspire the nickname 'eggvan'."

    Perhaps, but I prefer my ovoid vehicles a bit more eggy, like the 1942 L'Œuf électrique (whatever that means):

    <img src="http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3629/5782251068_cdbff795f8.jpg&quot; width="500">

    • Van_Sarockin

      Coo Coo Ca Choo.

    • Sjalabais

      I see room for improving the rear visibility.

  • Van_Sarockin

    I always hoped that the Previa would do well. And I never gave a rats ass about it.

  • Devin

    Weird details I love – Bottom of doors longer than the top.

  • dukeisduke

    Chris, what year is that brochure? The striped seats were used in the earlier vans here ('91-'93), but those vans don't have adjustable headrests – only the '94-'97 models have those. I owned three Previas, a '94 and two '95s, and all were LE S/C models, with superchargers. I loved the Previas, just wish I'd owned one that didn't have a zillion miles on it. The vans are pretty bulletproof, though, with Toyota engineers claiming they're second only to the Lexus LS in longevity.

    • Sjalabais

      Interesting claim – most mechanics I have met locally dread the mid-engine-concept. Changing a clutch on these will result in a 40000NOK assault on one's hard earned money. That is 6700$ and so spit-against-the-wind-crazy that used Previa's of the first generation actually go for non-excessive prices, uncommon in Norway. They sell instantly if they don't look used up (2 out of 5 cars for sale are sold within one day, supersimple just-checked-that-study).

      • Perc

        The general rule of thumb for Japanese cars in Europe is to not buy anything odd.

        The normal stuff like Avensis, Almera, Primera and so forth, stuff that sold in any meaningful numbers, will be easy and cheap to own and maintain. Anything more exotic than that and you'll wish you bought a VW.

  • previadiaries

    I've got a pair of LHD Previas and the sliding door is on the right (and the fuel filler is on the left). While mine are S/C, I assure you, they're still not fast.

  • gryphonking

    Mine was terrific. I used it as a "limo" to drive around many prominent science fiction writers back in the day, and they marvelled over it. It did everything I asked of it except tow, so I wound up trading it in on an Expedition that became my rescue truck/stormspotter vehicle, but I will always miss that Previa.
    My Toyota mechanic pal says he's serviced some Previas that had over 300,000 miles on them, that only ever had regular, by-the-brochure maintenance done during their whole lives.
    Also, the Previa did something well that Americans use as a judge of many things: unlike my Flex, the Previa could easily carry sheets of plywood.