Rare Rides: A Supercharged 1995 Toyota Previa, Mystical Minivan

Of all the Good Nineties Minivans, the Toyota Previa (like the Mercury Villager Nautica) stands out. Engine in the middle, driven wheels at the rear, superior build quality, and supercharging all made for a unique minivan offering never seen before or since.

But unique didn’t sell in America (still doesn’t), and the Previa taught Toyota a lesson about its customers.

The Previa was Toyota’s overdue replacement for the generally ignored Van, offered in North America from 1984 to 1990. Called TownAce in most markets, the Van was not well-suited to North American roads with its utility truck origins and tendency to feel unstable at highway speeds. Its dated design and appearance did nothing to earn Toyota market share when it competed directly with the excellent front-drive vans from Chrysler, so it was time for a rethink.

Toyota spent a lot of time and money in development of the Previa, which was intended to showcase the company’s engineering and preview technologies and ideas for the direction of future minivans. The Previa was designed by a two-man Japanese-American team to ensure its market success everywhere.

<img data-attachment-id="1614378" data-permalink="https://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2018/02/buy-drive-burn-luxury-minivans-1994/toyotapreviaminivan41994exterior-photosotoyota-previa-minivan-4-doors-1994-model-exterior-photos-4/" data-orig-file="https://carsnspeed.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rare-rides-a-supercharged-1995-toyota-previa-mystical-minivan-10.jpg" data-orig-size="1600,1200" data-comments-opened="1" data-image-meta="{"aperture":"0","credit":"","camera":"","caption":"","created_timestamp":"0","copyright":"","focal_length":"0","iso":"0","shutter_speed":"0","title":"","orientation":"0"}" data-image-title="1994 Toyota Previa" data-image-description="

Image via Toyota

" data-medium-file="https://carsnspeed.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rare-rides-a-supercharged-1995-toyota-previa-mystical-minivan-7.jpg" data-large-file="https://carsnspeed.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rare-rides-a-supercharged-1995-toyota-previa-mystical-minivan-1.jpg" class="aligncenter size-large wp-image-1614378" src="https://carsnspeed.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rare-rides-a-supercharged-1995-toyota-previa-mystical-minivan-1.jpg" alt="Image: 1994 Toyota Previa" width="610" height="458" srcset="https://carsnspeed.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rare-rides-a-supercharged-1995-toyota-previa-mystical-minivan-1.jpg 610w, https://carsnspeed.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rare-rides-a-supercharged-1995-toyota-previa-mystical-minivan-6.jpg 75w, https://carsnspeed.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rare-rides-a-supercharged-1995-toyota-previa-mystical-minivan-7.jpg 450w, https://carsnspeed.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rare-rides-a-supercharged-1995-toyota-previa-mystical-minivan-8.jpg 768w, https://carsnspeed.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rare-rides-a-supercharged-1995-toyota-previa-mystical-minivan-9.jpg 120w, https://carsnspeed.net/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/rare-rides-a-supercharged-1995-toyota-previa-mystical-minivan-10.jpg 1600w" sizes="(max-width: 610px) 100vw, 610px">A mid-engine design was selected; its power arrived via a 2.2- or 2.4-liter inline-four engine mounted under the front seats. The 2.4 was available in naturally aspirated or (eventually) supercharged guises, while the 2.2 was a turbocharged diesel. In its basic form, the Previa was rear-drive, but all-wheel drive was available with or without supercharging as the All-Trac. Transmissions varied depending on the drive configuration and included a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic.

Previa went on sale for the 1991 model year. Though the van’s rear-drive layout and mid-engine placement meant a more even weight distribution, it also meant engine sizes were limited. While other manufacturers could offer six cylinders in their family haulers for the American market, Toyota couldn’t. The naturally aspirated 2.4-liter engine (the diesel was not available in North America) produced just 133 horsepower, and with seven Americans, their cargo, and the potential drag of all-wheel drive that just wasn’t enough. To enhance Previa’s appeal Toyota added a supercharger and an S/C badge on the tailgate. Power jumped to 158 horses, and fuel economy increased from 17 to 23 miles per gallon. In ’94 the extra power was restricted to the options list on the LE model but was optional on all trims in ’95.

But supercharging couldn’t fix Previa’s other issues in North America. Consumers did not warm to the egg-shaped design and passed it by in favor of more traditional-looking offerings from other brands. It didn’t help that the Previa was also more expensive than its competition, even if it was absolutely made of much higher quality materials. For its family consumers concerned with safety the Previa was also a fail and netted an overall Poor rating from the IIHS. Toyota needed another rethink.

After 1997 Previa was finished in North America, though it lived on through the 1999 model year in other markets. For its second-generation internationally, the Previa moved to a front-drive platform with the Camry, and became much more traditional. Toyota learned its lesson about North American minivan consumers, and the Previa’s domestic replacement was the much more traditional Sienna. Built with the Camry in Georgetown, Kentucky, the Sienna’s engine had six cylinders, and its driven wheels were at the front. Dealers celebrated while used Previas soldiered on everywhere, quietly.

Today’s Rare Ride is the typically seen emerald green color, in basic DX plus S/C trim. With 238,000 miles the upholstery looks brand new. It’s for sale in rural Kentucky for $3,500.

[Images: Toyota]

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