Looks just like a Toyota Previa with a body kit, doesn’t it? That is initially what I thought it was until I noticed the steering wheel’s positioning on the right side. Thanks to Canada’s import laws, today we get to sample a Toyota Estima, which has been imported from the Japanese home market and closely resembles our Previa minivan.
While similar in appearance to the Previa, the Estima also came in a 4.3″ narrower and 2.8″ shorter variant for the Japanese market. These downsized versions were called Lucida and Emina, which could also be had with a diesel engine. While their scaled-down size made them more maneuverable on Japan’s smaller and more crowded roads, it also offered a tax advantage for a lower total cost. Our example today is the regular-size Estima.
Unlike in the North American market, Toyota offeredd the Estima to Japanese buyers all the way to the 2000 model year, a full three years longer than the Previa. Power options were a 2.4-liter inline four featuring either natural aspiration or an optional supercharger.
Easily one of the most technically interesting minivans of all time, the Estima/Previa four-cylinder motor was mounted just behind the front axle, making it a mid-engine design. To minimize engine intrusion into the interior cabin, the cylinders were laid over at an angle like an old Lotus four-cylinder or Chrysler slant six, but much more so–in fact, almost horizontally.
Four-wheel drive was available, and if the badging on our featured van is accurate, this example has it. I’m not sure whether the body kit is stock or not, but surely the Estima/Previa was among the few minivans able to pull it off.