Skip to main content

The Toyota Previa is one of minivan history’s most underrated and overlooked models. It is tough to say just how dominant the minivan market was in America throughout the ’80s and ’90s. All around America, minivans were used as family haulers and work vehicles, hauling people and cargo everywhere.

The top-selling minivans of the time were the original offerings from Chrysler with the Chrysler Town & Country, Plymouth Voyager, and Dodge Caravan. The sales numbers of the Dodge Caravan alone were topping 300,000 units sold per year by the mid-’90s. With this market that is this dominant, it is easy to see why nearly every automotive company entered the marketplace with a minivan of its own. Toyota’s minivan offering with the Previa attempted the impossible, marrying sports car performance with minivan convenience and capability. Here is everything you need to know about the Toyota Previa and its American successor.

A side profile shot of a silver 2023 Toyota Sienna 25th Anniversary Edition hybrid minivan in an empty warehouse
2023 Toyota Sienna | Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

A mid-engine minivan?

When the team at Toyota saw the success of the American minivan, they decided to enter the minivan market with a dynamically different minivan. This minivan wouldn’t blend in with the competition that already was covering American roads, this new minivan would stand out both in performance and design.

To accomplish this, Toyota worked with California design company, Calty to produce a dramatically different minivan platform. This new platform would feature a mid-engine layout, with a four-cylinder engine placed most below the front seats.

This 2.4L four-cylinder engine would be paired with an automatic or manual transmission. With this drivetrain powering the rear wheels, this new minivan, which would be called the “Previa”, had a near-perfect 50/50 weight distribution.

Upon release for the 1991 model year, the Toyota Previa experienced decent sales of over 52,099 units sold according to CarSalesBase. Sadly, these sales quickly declined to just around 18,005 units sold in 1994 despite the addition of a supercharged engine.

The more conservatively styled American domestic minivans simply appealed to more minivan buyers, and by 1997, the Previa was finished in America. The Previa’s final year of 1997 only had 3,780 units sold in America. While the Previa failed in America, its sales continued overseas in select markets like Japan, China, and Australia through the 2019 model year.

How does the Toyota Sienna relate to the Previa?

According to The News Wheel, the Toyota Sienna was created as a “hard reset” of the Toyota minivan lineup in America. Instead of the Previa’s drastically different mid-engine layout, the Sienna was a traditional, front-engine, front-wheel drive minivan based on the Camry.

With its initial model year of 1998, Toyota built the Sienna at its Georgetown, Kentucky plant, where their American-market Camrys are built. Toyota even marketed the Sienna as the “Camry of minivans”

The Sienna experienced much more success than its Previa predecessor, with nearly every model year experiencing over 100,000 units sold. The Sienna’s best-selling year was 2006 when sales numbers stopped at 163,269 units sold. With the Sienna’s production continuing to this day, it is safe to say that Toyota’s more conservative approach to the successor of the Previa truly paid off in the long run.


Toyota Previa: The Mid-Engine Supercar (Sort Of) That Was Also a Van