Most Americans remember the original Toyota Previa (JDM: Estima). It had an innovative mid-engine layout which placed the engine under the front seats, laid down sideways, driving the rear wheels. It did 0-60 mph in about 13 seconds. It had a buzzy exhaust. It was a space-maximising MPV with a usable third row and fairly impressive cargo space even behind the deployed third row. It looked like a spaceship or an anonymous blob, depending on your outlook on life.
My parents have owned all three generations of the Previa. The first one I will spare of your precious time; it was sold worldwide and had mass appeal in North America. My parents had a LHD 1992 Previa LE here in the States.
The second generation didn’t make it to NA, although it was still sold in most Eurasia markets. The appearance had clearly evolved to a sleeker, more luxurious form. In late 2002, my parents bought a RHD 2002 Previa in Hong Kong. It had an improved 2.4L 2AZ-FE inline-4 with a significant HP bump. It also had a centrally located instrument panel. Nice touches included convincing wood trim and leather upholstery. The third row became a drop-down design and disappeared into the floor.
The JDM Estima also received a Hybrid version. Oh, and the engine was no longer under the floor. It moved to the front where it belongs, and drove the front wheels just like all other modern non-luxury cars.
In 2006, the car was traded in on the freshly debuted third-generation Previa GL. This model no longer sold in Europe, although it continues in Australia as the Tarago. Eventually, demand from China led to a LHD version being introduced. The car was and remains one of the sharpest-looking 7-seater MPVs to grace the roads.
The interior continued the futuristic theme, but the quality of plastics regressed to thin, cheaply textured pieces as typical for Toyotas of the mid-aughts (see dashboard pic below). A feature long popular in the lazy States, power sliding doors are finally available. Still not widely available in the US are the second-row ottoman foot rests. The leather was buttery smooth and comparable to that found in Lexus cars. The second-row captains’ chairs not only adjust forward and backward for legroom, but also side-to-side; I found this feature @#$% amazing.
Although the 2.4L engine now features VVT-i for an improved power and torque curve, the well-known 2GR-FE 3.5L V6 was soon added to the Previa lineup. Japan and Hong Kong RHD markets received an Estima E-Four Hybrid version. Sharp 17” wheels were standard on Hong Kong models, but the JDM Estima had a cheaper base trim with 16s. Our car had HID headlamps, new to the segment at the time.
The JDM Estima Aeras was also a popular import in Hong Kong, leading official Toyota distributor Crown Motors to eventually sell Previas in Aeras trim:
The current Previa remains fairly popular in China, although status seekers now gravitate to the larger Alphard and Vellfire luxury twins.
The Previa never evolved into the oversized hulks that are modern American-market MPVs. Despite that, it remains a stylish, spacious van. Few cars look this good at 10 years old. Any others have interesting Previa ownership stories?