The first Toyota Previa released in 1990 was a response to the runaway success of the American minivan, a vehicle category invented by Chrysler. It didn't dislodge the minivan trio of the Chrysler Town & Country, Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, but it gained a foothold in the segment.
These days, that segment has been supplanted by SUVs in popularity, but the Previa endures in its third iteration, and it's more American than ever. The most obvious Yankee influence is the overall laziness. The languid impression begins when you see the Previa's key, which is a remote fob. To enter the vehicle, you need not even press the remote. The van senses the remote's proximity and unlocks the front door for you. For your passengers to enter either one of the Previa's side doors, press a button on the remote and the door will electrically open by itself. Likewise with the rear door: Press a button on the remote and it slowly lifts itself to provide access, beeping a warning as it does.
After adjusting the power seat to your desired setting, you just press the engine start button and the minivan's 2.4-liter, four-cylinder powerplant rumbles to life - no need to tire yourself by inserting a key. The Previa is a luxury minivan now, distancing itself from its mass-transport-oriented Hiace kin via avant-garde styling and leather-and-wood interior. Toyota loves wood so much that the top half of the steering wheel is made of it, a rather tacky touch if you ask me.
But the people in the second row won't have anything to complain about. Those fortunate to be in those two captain's chairs have extending leg rests like the ones found in airplane seats. Based on the amount of space available, we're talking business class here. The third row is not as roomy, but still good enough for short trips and short people.
The whole look and feel of the Previa is relaxed luxury. The engine has 170hp at its disposal, and it uses that to carry the body quite well. The engine and chassis don't feel strained when you push them, but they don't act overeager either. The Previa drives exactly like what it is - a minivan.
And being a minivan - a vehicle designed to be roomier than a sedan without the mammoth inconvenience of driving a full-size van - the Previa has stayed true to its roots. It can take you and six friends around the city in comfort, while being nearly as maneuverable as a Camry, with bumper sensors on all four corners assisting you.
Is the Previa worth more than two top-of-the-line Innovas? The Innova may not have the powered goodies and the flair of the Previa, but it's not a bad car at all (more than 10,000 people bought Innovas last year). The best answer to that question may lie in an old Latin quote: "Everything is worth what its purchaser will pay for it."