Skip to main content

Over the past few years, the Toyota Previa minivan has become a cult classic gem of the 1990s. When the Previa was in production, hardly anyone paid any attention to this egg-shaped Toyota minivan. Still, as time has passed, more and more enthusiasts are realizing just how revolutionary these vans were, even if they largely went unnoticed in America during their production.

With the Previa offering so many revolutionary ideas behind its development and the Prius entering its first generation during the Previa’s final year of production, it is wild to see just how close the American marketplace was to having a Toyota Previa with a hybrid drivetrain. Here is everything you need to know about the Toyota Previa and where you need to go to get your hands on a hybrid version of this minivan!

The Toyota Previa was a sports car in a minivan body

In the 1980s, the Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager changed the American automotive landscape forever. Gone were the days of the 1970s with huge land yacht sedans for families. The new family car was an efficient, boxy, and unassuming minivan with front-wheel drive. Toyota was looking to enter the minivan market with a van of its own, one that would shake the stigma of the dull, run-of-the-mill minivan and make the minivan a cool vehicle to own and drive.

To do this, Toyota tapped on the shoulder of Calty, its California-based design studio in the 1980s. The minivan would eventually be called the Previa, and it would have a revolutionary mid-engine setup with the engine placed right under the front seats. This mid-engine design meant the engine could be serviced easily without issues regarding the engine bay room. Spark plugs could be changed easily, and the engine could be accessed from any angle. This mid-engine design also meant the Previa had a near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution. Along with a manual transmission and rear-wheel drive, the Previa was a sports car trapped in a minivan body.

The Previa failed to sell in America

Sadly, the Toyota Previa was just a little too unorthodox for the average American consumer. Right as the Previa was released, Chrysler’s lineup of minivans received a V6 engine option, leaving the Previa’s little four-cylinder in the dust. Toyota hoped to rectify this with a supercharged version of the Previa, but it was too little too late, and the Previa’s platform couldn’t support an engine with a bigger displacement. The Previa was discontinued after the 1997 model year, according to Cars-Directory, just as the Toyota Prius entered its first year of production. However, while the Previa failed in the U.S., it was successful overseas in Japan, where it was called the Estima and lasted through 2019.

The Toyota Estima had a hybrid option

Overseas in Japan, the Toyota Estima got a hybrid drivetrain in 2001, making it the world’s first hybrid minivan, according to Toyota. This hybrid system was extremely mild, with a small 17-horsepower electric motor powering the front wheels and a 24-horsepower motor powering the rear wheels. These vans were only available for the Japanese market initially, but during the minivan’s third generation in 2006, production was expanded to include Hong Kong, a region of China. This hybrid system was similar to the Lexus RX 400h, according to AutoGuide.

While the American market Previa never came equipped with a hybrid powertrain, it is great to see that Hong Kong and Japan both enjoyed one of the first hybrid minivans ever created. Additionally, with current import laws, enthusiasts are just a few years away from importing a hybrid Estima of their very own!

Related The Japanese Toyota Estima Had 1 Big Advantage Over the American Toyota Previa

The Japanese Toyota Estima Had 1 Big Advantage Over the American Toyota Previa