By on March 18, 2010

I wanted to buy a Toyota Previa in 1992. Stephanie wanted a Grand Caravan. Guess what we bought? The Caravan was donated (with a number of issues, including a leak in its fourth transmission) to a local charity in 2007. If I’d bought the Previa, I’d either be still driving it, or could have sold it for good money to Eugene’s biggest taxi company, which runs nothing but old Previas. They all have between 400 – 600k miles on them. Oh well.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

41 Comments on “Minivan Thursday CC Outtake 3: The One I Should Have Bought...”

  • avatar

    Those ugly, underpowered, mid engined pieces were dead reliable. I still see them on the road in Pennsylvania.

    • 0 avatar

      You forgot to add “unsafe” On a sharp corner one of the rear wheels would lose contact with the payment.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

      @mikey: you mean, like a VW Golf? lol

    • 0 avatar

      The Previa wasn’t too bad.

      The Van that preceded it was terrifying: a six-foot tall, mid-engine vehicle with a shorter wheelbase (88″, fer chrissakes!) than the contemporary Tercel. I recall my father spinning ours out on the skyway in Burlington. I spun it twice and got blown two lanes over with regularity. But the Van had more space inside than the Previa.

      You want to talk to me about unsafe Toyotas? You don’t know from unsafe Toyotas!

      They rusted pretty bad, too: we bought ours to Rust Check every single year out of pure self-defence. All that said, the mechanicals were reliable, durable and very low-maintenance. I don’t think we replaced anything on that thing save tires and brakes.

      Ours died when a guy ran a red and T-boned me.

    • 0 avatar

      A lot of vehicles will lift an inside wheel if hustled through a corner–you might be surprised.

  • avatar

    Previas keep on running and running, but man were they awful to drive. In a corner, they would reach the limits of grip at about 30mph. The steering was beyond numb, but the worst was that turbo four. It was completely gutless unless you had the throttle through the floor. It could not maintain a set speed going up a hill. If you had the throttle at 95% it would start loosing speed, and if you went to 100%, it would downshift, make a roar, and start gaining speed, so it was a constant back and forth of accelerating and then backing off. Just an absolute treat.

    • 0 avatar

      We had a supercharged 4. It was a bit under powered (160 HP, 200 ftlb) but worlds better than the NA motor (130 HP, 150 ftlb).

      The NA motor couldn’t go much past 75-80 MPH without you wondering if you maxed it out, wheras the S/C motor could hold 90 MPH and still have power.

      I can always spot a S/C previa on the highway because of the loud supercharger whine.

  • avatar

    Paul – I see this vans running around Eugene everywhere. Whats the story on them? Does the taxi company just pick up used ones or have they been in taxi service since new?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      They bought used ones (probably from CA mostly) starting about five years ago, and built up a fleet of them, and had a central maintenance facility. But just a month or two ago, they switched over to individual driver-owned cars, and now some of the drivers are running other cars too.

  • avatar

    And! An S/C LE All-trac was EXPENSIVE.

    It had an MSRP of $32,938 in 1997 which is equal to $43,837 today.

    • 0 avatar

      Oh, yes they were expensive. I was hawking Toyotas in the early 90’s. We didn’t get a lot of people who cross shopped the Mopar (or any other) minivans against the Previa. But there were a couple of occasions that stand out in my mind, when prices were mentioned, people either laughed or walked away… or both.

      I did much better selling Celicas to middle aged men. Really.

  • avatar
    Uncle Mellow

    I borrowed a Previa once. Well it wasn’t actually a Previa , it was a Lucida , which is the Japanese domestic version , rather than the export Previa version. The Lucida is a few inches narrower , to suit Japanese roads.You would have to park the two together to spot the difference. My elder daughter was starting University , and I didn’t think I could fit all her clothes and other essentials in my car for the 400 mile round trip. The Toyota was the 2.2 litre turbo-diesel with 4 wheel drive, and was a memorable experience.The engine, transmission , and turbocharger all sang independently , and together with the swith console above the windscreen I felt a little like an airline pilot.
    New Previas are no longer available in Europe ,which is a pity.

  • avatar

    I think, like the Aerostar and Astro, the Previa was largely based on pickup truck mechanicals. Maybe that was the earlier Toyota Van, though.

    If that’s true, given the longevity of Toyota trucks, the van makes sense.

    • 0 avatar

      No, they had very little to do with the pickup trucks. The engine was back of the steering column, for one.

      They were essentially scaled-down versions of the Hiace van/buses that you see everywhere except the US and Canada. This made them incredibly durable (the Hiace shared that with the Hilux) but also really expensive to produce.

  • avatar

    Not much of a pickup connection with this. These are mid-engine with a 4 cylinder laying on its side under the floor behind the front seats.

  • avatar

    I always thought they looked like big eggs. I still see them on the road from time to time here in the Chicago area. They’re hard to miss.

  • avatar

    Owned a 1991 bought used in what? latter part of the 1990s.

    Liked how the seats could be removed to maximize carrying capacity and if I ever needed to dwell within it.

    Inform thineself about the SAD shaft if ever pondering a purchase.

    Deplorable mileage in-town but on flat land freeway at 70 mph attained 30 mpg.

    Research at local wrecking yard where I used to work indicated the engine and tranny were very reliable with a few minor inexpensive trouble-prone parts.

    Rust evident in a salt-using area but not nearly as bad as some vehicles.

    Here is the Yahoo group with a wealth of info about the “bean” as the aficionados refer to the critter.

    The big windshield was an easy target for micro-meteorites and tire-flung gravel.

    Long-term upkeep MAY be problematic due to relatively low sales and a lack of aftermarket parts.

    Long-term care will not be as simplistic as owning a GMC clone-mobile where mechanical parts availability will likely be a minor consideration for a lengthy period, excepting vehicle-specific trim pieces etc.

    As an official curmudgeon driving sanely and refraining from on-road antics I never noticed real impediments to forward momentum other than requiring 4 snow tires in winter and some sand bags in the rear of the Bean and even then care was required to avoid becoming stuck due to a lack of traction on even slight hills.

    Four-wheel drive could have been a blessing a few times but prior proper planning either avoided the few local hills or avoiding rush hour so adequate pre-hill velocity could be attained and other tricks-of-the-trade minimnized the 4×2 inability to transfer power to the slippery stuff.

    Brakes worked pretty good, even on ice and snow, better than the propulsion portion.

    Side winds weren’t bad, perhaps due to the apparent relatively heavy weight of the Bean.

    Did sleep in the critter a few times on road trips. Tossed in a foam mattress and slept well.

    If interested in a Bean check out the Yahoo group to learn of problem areas.

    If bought cheap enough the critter may be cost-effective transportation for thee or even a possible back-up-mobile for dwelling within as the class war continues to its logical conclusion, though there are better alternatives for a true live-within-mobile.

    The low in-town mileage may be a “deal breaker” though.

    My several years with my Bean were relatively happy ones, though and my liver did quiver delight when I saw a steady 30 mpg at 70 mph.

  • avatar

    I seem to recall, perhaps incorrectly, that these had bad front crash scores which doomed them as marketable family haulers. Is this the van I’m thinking of?

    • 0 avatar

      Correct sir. These things were death traps, I remember an interview with someone working with offset frontal crash testing who owned a “bean” until he saw what happened to one in a low-speed crash.

      A friend’s father had one, so we used it for a 4 hour road trip and the interior was something out of “Star Trek”. Since the engine was in the center between the two front seats it had an wacky shaped center console. As others mentioned, it was an ill handling beasts as well. The tires screamed during any attempt at cornering. The huge windshield made it look like the vehicle in front of you was a little too close no matter the real distance.

      Sorry but this vehicle was the odd-man out – there are reasons (other the price) that they didn’t sell well.

    • 0 avatar
      A is A

      “I remember an interview with someone working with offset frontal crash testing who owned a “bean” until he saw what happened to one in a low-speed crash.”

      Good memory.

      The “someone” was Brian O´Neill, from the IIHS. The video was aired at Dateline. Here is the video:


      The Previa was a deathtrap in the same category than the infamous Pontiac Montana.

      I love 1990s crash tests. The were so…uhm…”eventful”.

  • avatar

    I borrowed a friend’s Toyota Van to move my stuff when I first left the nest. As I recall it was a little creepy feeling to drive, but I didn’t feel unsafe at all.

  • avatar

    Mine never got more than 21 mpg on the road and it was tuned
    like a top.

    very expensive to maintain if it ever does need anything; fortunately
    it hardly ever does. I never did anything to mine that was not elective.

    the brakes were marginal and the controls were a bitch to learn.
    But what a layout; certainly the best design of any minivan.

    I like how you can park it on the wrong side of the street cause
    the back looks like the front.

    Now my GF’s son is driving it. I wonder if he will be able to kill it.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Boris Johnson has one. He rides a bike all the time, but probably not because there’s anything really wrong with the Previa.

  • avatar

    I don’t like their styling. I think the Van (and even the 1st gen Sienna to an extent) have cleaner styling.

    • 0 avatar

      Funny, I always liked the styling on these “beans”! It was a very clean, pure expression of the “rounded jellybean” school of design.
      They were a little like the “vacuum cleaner” GM minivans (Pontiac Trans Sport, Olds Silhouette, etc.) of the period, but more timeless. The Sienna that followed was forgettable.

  • avatar

    i always found these interesting, but friends had a new one in the late 90’s. They ended up hating it and getting rid of it after only 2 years.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I always thought that previa was something they sold cures for on late night TV.

  • avatar
    bill h.

    OK, I can understand all the hate generated towards these things.

    But fact is, we bought a base supercharged model in 1995 and it still sits on the street in front of our house 15 years later, used mostly as a hauler for stuff rather than people, or as a ‘spare’ when other vehicles are in the shop. For the size footprint it leaves (barely larger than some compact sedans) it has an amazing amount of room.

    We had the SADS replaced, and new shocks. Cruise control died so we just do without. But everything else (even the a/c) still works 15 years going, and the thing just won’t die. Even the paint is still shiny.

    Compared to contemporary vehicles it gets lousy mileage, and it is unsafe in a crash. But even without anti-lock it stops well, and I find the handling is actually decent with good tires (I guess because the weight balance is pretty even with the engine layout), despite being taller than other vans. The supercharger does need to keep its oil topped up once a year (we quit using the $ Toyota stuff and just use synthetic motor oil, per some of the online support groups), and it still accelerates OK for what it has.

    Oh, and I’ve been told the ‘Previa whistle’ on acceleration is due to a badly designed seal in the exhaust system. Since it’s still on the original 15 year old exhaust, I haven’t had a chance to see if it goes away after replacement.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    I put a bunch of miles on one of these in the early 1990s during a family vacation through England and Scotland. I remember that the driving position was horrible thanks to a narrow foot well, all thanks to the engine being between the driver and front passenger. I was plenty happy to see the last of that vehicle when I turned it in.

    I always wondered if these weren’t derived from a large-for-Japan RWD car platform with the normal car body removed for replacement by a large blob of metal and plastic.

  • avatar

    Previa IIHS crash test on Dateline NBC:

    starts at minute mark 6:35

  • avatar
    H Man

    Count me as a huge fan of the 80s vans. Terrifyingly FUN to drive. I really enjoyed pulling up scary close to people at stoplights. And you’re sitting directly on top of the front axle (not to mention the engine) so parking and tight maneuvering was top notch. Other than the radiator and cooling systems, they were very long lived and reliable.

    Never had a Previa, but a friend scored one off Craigslist for $500. 5 speed, to boot.

    • 0 avatar

      I worked for a company that had one of the 80s Toyota vans. Could haul a ton of gear (OK, a lot of gear), and yes, it was a kick in the pants to hoon on when it was empty. I had one driver who always took at least two hours to do a 30 mile delivery, I knew it was because he always took the long way back on twisty roads. Previa had more space, but wasn’t nearly as fun to drive.

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    Look at the photo – you are NOT sitting on top of the front axle. In fact, where you sit is not much different than modern vans. The constraining factor is that the front door can’t begin until the front wheel well ends (well I suppose you could scallop the front door out – the Toyota’s is scalloped a little). What IS different is that there is a very short hood (just an almost vertical panel for access to remote fluid filling plus all the stuff driven off the problem prone aux. driveshaft – a/c, alternator, etc.) and a giant windshield that comes way down low. This gives the optical illusion that you are closer to the front bumper than you really are. The bumper to base of A-pillar distance is ridiculously short but bumper to driver’s head distance is not much less than average for a minivan.

    These were just too weird for the mainstream American market, besides being too expensive, poor handling, unsafe in a crash, hard to work on, slow, rustprone and getting bad mileage. Other than that they were great vehicles. What a shame that Toyota replaced them with something so boringly normal that it’s practically invisible despite its size. I rarely see any Previas left on the road here in road salted PA, not that there were many to begin with.

  • avatar
    Jack Denver

    Oh, sorry I misread. I can only imagine how well you’d do in a frontal collision in one of those things.

    • 0 avatar
      H Man

      Lucky for me during my 3 different 80s Toyota vans, I never had any mishaps of the sort. I never have driven a Previa, but I’m currently stuck in Colorado driving my folks 99 Sienna. Much more refined and quiet and fast than my 80s vans, but I know which one I’d rather own.

  • avatar

    Unable to explain my repeatedly checked and observed and correctly computed higher-than-expected 30 mpg at a steady cruise-controlled 70 mph while in the auto tranny’s over-drive mode.

    Twas while motorvating across I-80, I-29 and other flat mid-western areas while seeking best possible mileage so limited observation points to areas outside the few metro areas where traffic could cause a deviation from the controlled steady-state hum-drum 70 mph allowed by miniumal traffic flow and lack of entering traffic and the too-many idiots requiring miles of sloooooow acceleration to accelerate from their freeway entrance sped of typically 30 or more mph less than the posted limit or the average actual speed of traffic flow, etc etc etc (the multitude of impediments to safe logical driving practices observed by the enormous number of brain-dead droids infesting the roads).

    Anyway…… repeated observations and the handy electronic portable electronic brain confirmed the true actual 30 mpg figure at 70 mph with the mentioned restrictions.

    Minimal on-board weight… spare tire, my 220 pounds of all-American muscle, gristle and lard. A couple dozen pounds of tools, etc.

    I DID have the Bean tuned and maintained beyond the basics such as oil changes, etc (did those myself) by a top-notch Toyota-trained mechanic.

    He did a few little things he declared improved the Bean in some ways such as little tweaks to this and that setting and he used a small Dremel-sized grinder to slightly alter a few parts in the air induction system….. but nothing major.

    However, the Bean never attained nuthin’ but lousy mpg in town.

    It was only steady-state freeway speeds but even then a strong head or side wide could wreak havoc on mpg.

    Thanks to the udders for their comments and observations, they were interesting.

    The Chevy Van had its “love song” from the 70s. I wonder if the Bean ever received its ballad about the barefoot babe pleasuring her ride-offering hero?

  • avatar

    These have always been a favorite vehicle of mine and if I ever had a van this would be it. I wonder how easy it is to mod the supercharged 4 to about 300bhp? That would be so much fun!

  • avatar

    This short article says it all about Toyota. I still would buy another one and I believe thay will get out of this mess like Ford did with the Pinto and Explorer.

  • avatar

    I own a ’95 Dodge Grand Caravan ES which I purchased new. The GC handles better, is safer and much more functional…always a Chrysler minivan selling point. Also, when needed, much cheaper to repair and parts are plentiful as Chrysler was selling near a 1/2 million of these vehicles per year back in ’95. There was a reason…they were the best packaged minivans for the money. Still so today.

    Not to mention my GC has 217K miles and is on the original untouched 3.8 V6 and transmission.

    Yep, that’s right…217K miles on the original, never touched but for maintainance, transmission…and I constantly use it to haul stuff as it is commercially used.

    All it takes is a little PROPER per factory maintainance.

Read all comments

Back to TopLeave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.

Recent Comments

  • FreedMike: Meanwhile, would you like a list of other automotive stories that haven’t gotten one iota of...
  • Shockrave Flash Has Crashed: Rust got mine, trunk and brake lines.
  • kcflyer: Well, the midterms are only a few months away. If Dems are going to use covid fears to push out millions of...
  • ToolGuy: @Arthur Dailey, yours is a thoughtful post. When I commuted to work in a series of EV’s starting 10...
  • FreedMike: Sorry you feel that way, Art…I used to like talking to you before you decided to be a jerk. The only...

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber