One of Toyota’s strangest creations has reached the unusual position of almost being cool. The Previa is just old enough that they’ve all but disappeared from suburban parking lots, which is good for this ovoid van. Removed from its banal existence running kids around town, you can better appreciate what Toyota actually built.
A mid-engined van. I mean, truly mid-engined. The powertrain – a 2.4-liter inline-four gas engine, tipped over at 75 degrees, mated to either a 5-speed manual or, as in this case, a much more common 4-speed automatic – was located almost exactly midway between the wheels.
And that powertrain was longitudinal, so the Previa was rear-drive (or, optionally, all-wheel drive). An unclothed Previa looks like some wild hypercar from the cab-forward era. The later models even got superchargers, to make up for the unblown Previa’s pathetic performance – it had just 138 horsepower on tap, so it was no sleeper.
Nor was it particularly cheap, or particularly space-efficient. In reality, it carried over a lot of engineering from its similar predecessor, known here as simply the Toyota Van, while the competition from Chrysler used a very efficient (and cheap) front-drive platform based on the powertrain of the K-cars. While the Previa is much more interesting, any rational analysis would conclude that Chrysler had a better idea. The Previa can be thought of as a band-aid to carry the company through until the Sienna, based on the Camry, was ready in 1997.
But just look at it! A few decades later, it’s swoopy interior (check out the glovebox!) and sci-fi shuttle sheetmetal are endearing. The visibility out of these things is incredible, with thin pillars and secondary windows ahead of the door openings. This particular one is impressively clean, and being a non-supercharged model with an automatic it’ll be less of a bear to buy and maintain. And while it has #vanlife competition from importable JDM vans like the Delica and HiAce, parts will be much easier to source – and you can fold all the seats down into a flat platform and sleep inside. The Buy It Now price is a not-astronomical $8,950, and it is a claimed one-owner car with 91,000 miles. Caveat emptor and all that.