By on October 17, 2012

The Volkswagen Microbus, Mazda MPV and GMC Safari. These are the now-departed vans that were driven by their rear wheels, but ultimately fell victim to market forces, technological progress or the insurmountable drive to make cars greener and safer. With the Microbus just recently going out of production, Toyota is the sole torch bearer for the rear-drive van. But you’ll have to go to Indonesia to find it.

The Toyota Innova is sold in Vietnam, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Vietnam, the Phillipines and the UAE. But its main market is Indonesia, which is quickly becoming the apple of many automakers eyes. Indonesia is one market where the compact van is thriving, with Mahindra, Tata, Chevrolet, Suzuki and Nissan all fielding their own entrants. The Innova drives the rear wheels, just like Toyota’s own Avanza, an even smaller van that is Indonesia’s best-selling car.

The Innova comes with three 4-cylinder engines, with a 2.0L and 2.7L gasoline engine and a 2.5L diesel. A live-axle outback betrays the Innova’s Hilux-based underpinings, but the realities of third world roads likely have a lot to do with this kind of packaging. The cheapest Innova starts at around $21,000 in Indonesia, which prices it out of the “low-cost” car range. But equipment is sparse on the base models, with a two-speaker sound system, steel wheels, no rear wiper and no power accessories. The top-trim model retails for about $26,000 and features luxuries like an airbag and ABS brakes.

Toyota currently occupies 60 percent of the Indonesian market, which is good for 750,000 units annually. With 234 million people, Indonesia is on the radar of auto makers all over the world, and their local tastes will be an important consideration for future products. If compact minivans are the vehicle of choice, then we’ll probably see more of these cars cropping up in developing markets beyond Indonesia. We won’t get them, but you can already buy the smaller, cheaper Avanza in Mexico.

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26 Comments on “Want A Rear Drive Compact Minivan? Toyota’s Got It...”

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    Remind me about why I want a rear drive van.

    • 0 avatar

      More space efficiency than a midsize or even fullsize SUV while rivaling some for towing capacity (my mazda is rated for 5k lbs with the towing package). It’s surprising, but my MPV is actually shorter than most midsize sedans.

      Just towed a motorcycle back from Philly with my Mazda, and this next weekend I’m taking the van on a camping trip to Michigan, I pulled out the 2 rear rows of seats and installed a diy wooden platform and put in a mattress, I have a nice bed for two now!

      I also have the benefit of a part time 4wd system with locking center differential (unlocked diff allows for use on semi-slick paved roads). The fr construction is inherently more robust than fwd vans and their failure prone transaxles (once loaded up with passengers and cargo). Look up the GVWR of a fwd van, you’ll be surprised how little additional passenger weight they’re actually rated for!

      • 0 avatar
        Robert Schwartz

        Better than an SUV. I suspect that it is also better than an ox cart.

      • 0 avatar

        “Look up the GVWR of a fwd van, you’ll be surprised how little additional passenger weight they’re actually rated for!”

        I’m going to have to call shenanigans on this statement, at least for ‘Merican FWD vans. The payload of a 2013 Grand Caravan is 1540 lbs, i.e. more than 3/4 ton, with a GVWR of 6050:

        The last BOF RWD minivan sold here, the 2005 Chevy Astro, had a payload of 1591 lbs (GVWR of 5900 on curb weight of 4309):

    • 0 avatar

      Theoretically, towing and towing and towing…that oxcart maybe? When the ox dies? From a traffic accident? (^_^)..


  • avatar

    Don’t forget the long-departed Ford Aerostar. You could even get it with a stick (and my parents did). Much more fun than the minivans that came after it, especially in a Western New York winter.

  • avatar
    Spanish Inquisition

    Who needs a RWD compact van when you can get the Previa in all of its supercharged AWD glory?

    • 0 avatar
      Spanish Inquisition

      On further reflection, the normal Previa was rear wheel drive anyways.

      Also, 5 speed manuals exist, according to Wikipedia.

      You know what you’re bringing to your next LeMons race.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes, 5 speed Previas do exist. I’ve seen one myself at my dealership in my porter days…. and it was a striper if I’ve ever seen one…. no it wasn’t supercharged and it had NOTHING in it. It had manual crank windows and manual locks…. and that was it. Oh and maybe carpet….

        Very rare bird indeed.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      I owned two Privas, a ’92 and a ’95. Both were AWD and both had automatics (the only choice available). The ’95 had the supercharger. With the 4 cylinder engine flopped on its side under the front seats, it was an extremely space-efficient vehicle. Everything’s relative, but it handled far better than the FWD Honda. And, as is typical of Toyotas of that era, it was bulletproof.

      The problem was, with the engine and drivetrain components being unique to that vehicle, it was also expensive to make; and there really wasn’t room for an engine bigger than the 2.5 liter 16v four that was in the car, so power output was kind of limited.

  • avatar

    Drove one for a couple of thousand kms in India.

    Fantastic ride, typical toyota numb handling, rock solid build quality, very refined turbo diesel coupled with a slightly sloppy 5 speed manual.

    No sliding door option, traction control or side airbags available in any version at any cost.

    One big unknown is the crash worthiness of the vehicle, India and a few other south east asian nations have no crash worthiness requirements at all.

    I got around 14-15kmpl which translated to 37 mpg doing 70 mph / 115 kmph on the highway with the air conditioner on full blast and a load of 5 adults along with 200+ pounds of luggage.

    The previous version “Qualis” was also a very strong seller, and is near indestructible even in the commercial use segment which established the Toyota brand in India.

    The Innova is selling like hotcakes in the Indian market right now, desirable color and option combinations have a wait list of 3-4 months.

    Add a DPF / regen system to satisfy the emissions norms, add a few airbags, include a traction control system; hike the price up by a couple of thousand dollars, I will be first in line throwing money at Toyota once they launch it.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve ridden in both the Innova and the Qualis. They’re basically what we’d call SUVs here in the states — as the article mentions, it’s a Hilux chassis, so it rides more like a BOF SUV.

      The Innova is slightly longer than a 1st gen/2nd gen short-wheelbase Dodge Caravan (before the 1996 re-do with doors on both sides) — about 15 feet long. It’s about 10 inches short of the 1st gen/2nd gen Grand Caravan, and about 20 inches short of the 3rd gen and later Grand Caravan.

      As scrappy17 mentions, the Qualis was a good off-road vehicle, and it worked great up in the Himalayas.

      I can’t comment on crash-worthiness, but they were a step-up from some of the piece of crap cars you can ride in India. The Qualis was more spartan, just like older SUVs here were more spartan.

  • avatar

    Well, it’s based on a Hilux… You can not break those things but hell, the ride in the back must feel a bit like being a racquet ball in a tumble drier!
    Any ways RWD vans did not go away because of a communist plot to emasculate men and remove freedom.
    It’s just a simple thing called progress.

  • avatar
    Angus McClure

    The lack of availability of some of these attractive vehicles that are not available for import here is an example of government at work. The carnage on our freeways might also be contributory.

    I do not long for the “old days” when my cars were from the 40’s and 50’s but I sure liked some of the stuff available just after that. This rwd van fits perfectly.

  • avatar

    Sorry, no sliding door not a minivan. (Just ask my wife). This is an asian SUV on a midsize pickup chassis.
    I’m sure it does its job well in its environment. It’s still harder to put a kid in a carseat than a real minivan with a sliding door. Or easily putting your work stuff in the back seat without walking around the open back door.. I know, life is so tough now days.:-)

  • avatar

    I rode in a bunch of Innovas when I was in Vietnam earlier in the year. Pretty cramped, but feels very solid.

  • avatar

    I’m not sure if you could call it a minivan if it doesn’t have sliding doors. The MPV designation might fit better.


    That aside, it would be sorta nice to see more smaller, utilitarian vans/MPVs around here. A lot of small businesses still use Astros and Safaris as work vehicles, at least in my area.

  • avatar

    That makes sense. Here in the States, there is no real reason for a minivan to be rear-wheel driven. None.

  • avatar

    Used to have one of these. Solid, reliable car. Not too comfy, too much noise inside, but a ride in a friend’s top end model proved that it was quieter by far. Must’ve had more sound deadening. Typical Toyota in seriously shortchanging lower end model. These were getting long in the tooth here. It’s just been refreshed, with slightly different headlamps, etc. but very minor changes overall. The main complaint about these in Indonesia is that it uses too much fuel. I suspect its eventual successor might be FWD, with smaller engine.

    BTW these were considered minivans in Indonesia, or at least MPV, not SUV. The platform has an SUV variant called Fortuner.

  • avatar

    The prices are misleading. The base model is actually priced at about what you’d pay for a top-of-the-line Yaris or a bottom-feeder spec Corolla.

    Great vans (yes, we call them vans… even without the sliding doors) compared to some of the prehistoric competition they face out here.

  • avatar
    Kristjan Ambroz

    You are forgetting the Hyundai H-1, which is also RWD and still going strong in several parts of the world.

  • avatar
    Robert Gordon

    “Toyota is the sole torch bearer for the rear-drive van. But you’ll have to go to Indonesia to find it.”

    Very poorly researched article, the whole premise of the article that Toyota are the only ones offering a rear wheel drive van is just utterly wrong. It’s not even as if the other RWD vans are obscure – these are mainstream high volume models from major manufacturers.

    Hyundai iMax
    Ford Transit
    Mercedes Viano
    Mercedes Vito
    Various Iveco

    And probably loads more..

    • 0 avatar

      None of those could be described as compact though

      • 0 avatar

        The Ford Transit is about halfway between the Innova and a current generation Grand Caravan. It’s about 16-feet long in RWD form, so a foot longer than the Innova and about 10 inches short of a current Grand Caravan. It’s about the same length as a first/second gen Grand Caravan.

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