People-carriers (also known as MPVs, or Multi Purpose Vehicles) do have a 21st-century aspect to them. Part of it is to do with ecology, since they transport a lot of humanity for the price of a single tankful of fuel, reduce emissions and save on roadspace. They represent a responsible approach - the community and family-based notion of motoring, as opposed to the two-seater, rubber-burning, devil-take-the-hindmost competitive one.
The Toyota Previa is, by general reckoning, the prettiest and boldest of the MPVs. It was introduced in 1990 but still looks progressive up against high, boxy recent rivals like the Nissan Serena. It even makes its strongest competitor, the venerable Renault Espace, look conservative - though the Espace has recently had a facelift that nods towards the Previa's eager lines.
But if you want real design flair and style, coupled with practicality and care for the environment, the Toyota is the one. The facia looks as if it was conceived by somebody from the Star Wars production team; the mid-engine layout opens up the cockpit and floor-space, and improves the handling balance; and there's comfortable accommodation for eight people, luggage included. The sliding side-door makes access easy, and though the vehicle looks like a pantechnicon from the outside, the driving position is so good and the handling so agile that it's as easy to drive as any biggish car.
For all its audacity and imagination, however, the Previa isn't without its drawbacks - but if I were in the people-carrier market, I'd buy it. Comparative scarcity keeps second-hand prices high.
GOING PLACES: Quick, powerful 2.4-litre twin- cam engine, mounted amidships. 0-60mph in 13 secs, 50-70mph overtaking speed nearly 15 secs. Engine a bit noisy when pressed. Gearbox good, but gearshift not so good on the test car.
STAYING ALIVE: Alert and agile handling and good balance. Twisty-road driving a little compromised by sheer bulk, but surprisingly responsive. Low-speed ride, turning circle, body construction all good. Anti-lock brakes, visibility excellent.
BANGS PER BUCK: Lots of space for people and luggage. Electric front windows and mirrors; two sunroofs, the rearward one electric; through-cabin hi-fi, anti-theft radio. Fuel economy approximately 22mpg in town, 26mpg at cruising speeds. pounds 19,998.
CREATURE COMFORTS: Lots of room. Reclining seats. Third row of seats foldable to sides. Driving position adjustable, controls well-spaced.
STAR QUALITY: Amazing grace for the space. Imaginative design. Easy to drive, easy access.
TURKEY QUOTIENT: Cheapskate facia materials, noisy engine, expensive.
AND ON MY RIGHT: Renault Espace RT TD ( pounds 18,495): a strong contender, the turbo-diesel cutting running costs, handling better, less room; Mitsubishi Space Wagon ( pounds 15,569): smaller and more cramped, cheaper, reliable; Nissan Serena 2.0 ( pounds 16,410): curious-looking, spacious, adaptable.
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