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The Toyota Previa was one of the most unique products that Toyota ever sold in America. The Previa was a product of its time, a unique minivan in almost every way that aimed to take some customers away from the conservatively styled Dodge Caravan. Of course, uniquely styled minivans were nothing new by the early 1990s, with GM unveiling its Chevy Lumina AVP, Pontiac Trans Sport, and Oldsmobile Silhouette. Still, the Previa was different.

The Toyota Previa was a mid-engine, California-designed sports car in a minivan body. No, really, the Previa had a mid-engine layout with a near 50/50 weight distribution, rear-wheel drive, a five-speed manual transmission, and a rev-happy Toyota four-cylinder placed under the front seats. Sadly, this 1990s minivan never held up to the competition in the U.S. and was quickly discontinued. Despite its discontinuation in the States, there was still a good amount of sales overseas and some excellent engineering from Toyota to keep up with its competition’s larger engines. Here is everything you need to know about the Toyota Previa and how its engineers increased its power without adding additional mid-engine options.

The Toyota Previa was a successful minivan, just not in America

The Toyota Previa was initially released for the 1991 model year to some great fanfare from Toyota loyalists. While Toyota may be a household name today for dependable, predictable vehicles, the 1980s and 1990s were a little more exciting for Toyota fans. From the Celica Supra to the futuristic MR2, Toyota offered dynamic cars you couldn’t find at American Dealerships.

The Previa, with its Calty-engineered platform, midengine design, and five-speed manual transmission option, aimed to be a performance minivan that offered an exciting experience for drivers, unlike its American domestic competition. Sadly, the Previa hardly sold enough units to stay in production. This Toyota minivan’s best-selling year was 1991, with 52,099 units sold, according to CarSalesBase. Compare this with the Dodge Caravan, which had sold upward of 300,000 units a year through the 1990s, and the Toyota never stood a chance. However, the Previa did experience good sales overseas, and sales of the minivan continued in Japan, Australia, Hong Kong, and elsewhere through the 2019 model year.

How to add more power without displacement

A red 1991 Toyota Previa minivan model parked on the side of a road near fields of yellow grass
1991 Toyota Previa | Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A., Inc.

When the Toyota Previa was unveiled to the public, it was sold with a 2.4L four-cylinder engine with a decent amount of power at 135 hp. Unfortunately, the Dodge Caravan, Plymouth Voyager, and Chrysler Town & Country all had more impressive horsepower numbers thanks to their V6 engine options. By the mid-1990s, the Chrysler family of minivans could be had with a 162 horsepower V6 engine, making the mid-engine Previa look incredibly slow by comparison.

The Toyota Previa team had to be creative with their engineering. The mid-engine Previa was chained to a four-cylinder engine as its only option due to its small engine bay designed to accommodate just one engine type. According to Cars Directory, Toyota found power with forced induction in 1994, adding a supercharger to the Previa and bringing power levels up to 160 hp.

The Previa was a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive Toyota with a supercharged four-cylinder engine and a five-speed manual transmission. Sadly, its minivan body never appealed to sports car drivers, and minivan buyers overwhelmingly preferred the more conservatively engineered Chrysler lineup of minivans.

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