Here’s a model that I still see occasionally around our Tokyo neighborhood – and one I don’t believe we’ve covered here at CC yet – the Toyota Granvia. It’s probably unfamiliar to our North American readers, but was and still is, quite popular in East Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. Let’s take a look…
Toyota has always had a full stable of vans; small, medium, large…commercial and passenger. Up until the early 1990’s, most of these vans were flat-front, forward-control models – with the engine up front between the front seats (doghouse) and the driveshaft going back to the rear axle. But changing crash standards, primarily outside Japan, were causing Toyota to look at alternative designs.
The unique and innovative Estima/Lucida/Previa was one example – taking the four cylinder engine, laying it over on its side, and putting it underneath in the middle – then extending the nose and running a shaft to the front to run the auxiliary components, helped free up space and improved crash-worthiness. But it was overly complex, and over-engineered – and thus too expensive.
A simpler method was to just extend the nose and move the engine and front axle forward – that’s what Toyota did with the Granvia – one of its models in the large van category. The Granvia was 4.8 meters long, 1.8 wide, and around 1.9 in height – basically, about the same size as a Gen 1 Sienna, though a little taller.
In profile, it reminds me of the old Ford Aerostar, which had a similar drivetrain configuration.
Moving the engine forward significantly reduced engine intrusion into the cabin.
Engines varied by location – Europe preferred the 2.4. or 3.0 liter four cylinder diesels, while other markets had the diesels and a gas 2.7 four cylinder and a 3.4 liter V6. Toyota updated the front in 1999.
This series of the Granvia was built until 2002 in Japan, where it was superseded by the Alphard which went to a transverse-mounted engine driving the front wheels. But it was continued in other markets, growing larger, but retaining a front longitudinal engine and rear wheel drive.
Toyota still builds one forward control van here in Japan – the H200 HiAce which hasn’t changed much since 2004. Noted for their toughness, they are a staple of tradesmen here and are routinely seen at job sites, and in long wheelbase form are also used as a commuter van that can seat up to 15 passengers.