Toyota Previa: A History of the Eggcellent ’90s Minivan

When shopping for minivans, most families look for reliability, affordability, space, and safety features. Typically, they don’t look for a supercharged engine, manual transmission, or spaceship-like interior. But for those who sought those features two decades ago, Toyota made an odd minivan in the 1990s that checked all of those boxes. Exploring the Toyota Previa is a weird and wild ride, and it’s enough to make anyone miss the ’90s, even those who never lived through them. 

The Toyota Previa: 1991-1997

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The Previa is a minivan Toyota manufactured in the United States from 1991 to 1997. It sports a signature oblong shape that makes it easy to spot, though it’s rare to see out and about these days. Sadly, not many of these family haulers are as well-preserved as they deserve. 

The Previa is unique to the point of bizarre, and it makes one wonder what Toyota was thinking when it stuck with this design for a half-dozen years. That’s right: Every model year looks identical, and Toyota keeps photos to prove it. Still, it’s a fascinating vehicle because nobody makes anything like this anymore. One look at the Previa is all you need to understand the level of quirkiness we’re talking about here.

This egg-shaped marvel looks like something out of a comic book or a cartoon about spaceships due to its flat windshield and super-short front end. But that’s not the end of its otherworldly features. 

The Toyota Previa’s oddities

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Aside from being a three-row egg on wheels, the Toyota Previa also has plenty of other endearing quirks. For starters, its engine isn’t where you’d expect it to be. To create the super-narrow front end producing the oblong shape, the Previa had no room for a motor under the hood. So designers stuck the engine under the front row. Yep, the Previa has a mid-engine design, not unlike a sports car. 

Also odd is that the Toyota Previa came with a supercharged engine option, unexpected for a minivan. According to MotorTrend, the Previa could produce up to 161 hp and 204 lb-ft of torque. At one point, it also came with a manual option, though that didn’t stick around after the supercharged engine arrived. Plus, the base model was rear-wheel drive with a manual transmission, two other features you’d normally find on performance cars.  

But like a camper van, the Toyota Previa had second-row seats that could turn 180 degrees to face passengers in the third row. This was probably a helpful feature for children playing or eating together on long road trips, but it’s certainly something you won’t find in modern-day minivans. 

This list only scratches the surface of all the oddities, but it should give you some insight into the strange phenomenon that is the Toyota Previa. 

A new minivan

By the time it released the 1997 Previa, Toyota had noticed that consumers looking for a minivan probably wanted something a bit milder than the egg-shaped wonder. The Previa’s U.S. sales had peaked the year it debuted, with 52,099 units sold, and declined almost every year from there, CarSalesBase shows. By 1997, Toyota sold only 3,780 Previa units stateside. So the automaker discontinued it after that model year. In its place came the Camry-based Sienna, Toyota’s minivan most of us know today. 

Today’s Sienna is a fuel-efficient hybrid with plenty of family-friendly features, but some critics aren’t fans of its appearance. Toyota’s designers used Japanese bullet trains for inspiration, prompting some observers to deem it a quirky-looking minivan. But, hey, it still can’t compete in quirkiness with its egg-shaped predecessor.