Hooniverse Weekend Edition – Could any of these Vans be considered pioneering Crossovers?

Welcometo the Sunday Edition of the Hooniverse Crossover Controversy Weekend. With the pending death of two Asian Crossovers, and the fact that this category is growing ever larger with each passing year, I was wondering if any of these particular vehicles could ever have the Crossover label attached to them. Sure, they are vans, but the crossover is suppose to combine the passenger room of a Minivan, with the all wheel drive traction of a conventional SUV. Therefore, I present to you some of the Vans of the past that are really early pioneering Crossovers.

Once again, let’s start with a Toyota, this time it’s the Master Ace Van, which was simply called the Toyota Van when introduced in North America in 1984. The 4WD versions were introduced two years later, but were rather short lived here as they were discontinued after 1989. The four wheel drive models came with skid plates and a transfer case for low and high four-wheel drive, making these trucks true off-road capable vehicles. Toyota called the passenger versions the “Wonderwagon” in the states, and the “LE” versions were very well equipped, including an ice maker/refrigerator between the front seats, dual air conditioning, captains chairs, dual sunroofs (the front tilted and rear opened fully), and more.

Canadian Markets received a special EXPO86 version. The 1986 “Espirit” model was finished in a unique light blue color with a white wave pattern on the lower half. A unique bronze colored plaque was affixed to the B-pillar behind the drivers and passengers doors that said “Spirit of 86” inside a globe. The rest of the world received the Master Ace Surf, which included a raised roof section, which contained 6 additional windows. The Master Ace was replaced worldwide by the Toyota Previa in 1990.

Speaking of the Previa, this egg shaped van was sold in the United States between 1991 and 1997. The Previa was also offered in an All Wheel Drive variant that Toyota called All-Trac, but it didn’t have the off-road capability the Master Ace 4WD did. This was a Mid-Engined Van, which constrained the size of the power plant, offering only the 2.4L 2TZ-FE I4 that produced only 135HP. Later Previas could be equipped with the Supercharged version of this engine, with a power bump of 25HP (to 160). While the rest of the world continued to sell the Previa, this multipurpose van wagon was no longer offered after the 1997 model year in North America. It was replaced with the US produced Sienna, which was basically a Camry Minivan.

A European Crossover of sorts made its way to the US in limited numbers, and that was the Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro. This was a 4WD version of the Volkswagen Type 2 (T3) converted by the Austrian firm Steyr-Daimler-Puch. With such a short wheelbase, the 4WD version achieved a 48/52 front/rear weight distribution. These conversions were only available within the US from 1985 through 1991. The engines used for these variants was the 2.1 L Wasserboxer, used until the end of Vanagon importation into the US in 1991. This engine used a more advanced engine management system known as Bosch “Digifant I” which now digitally managed ignition timing as well as fuel delivery. It produced 95HP by this time.

There were other 4WD vans that were on the market, including several versions of the Chrysler Town & Country (Plymouth Grand Voyager, and Dodge Grand Caravan), and the GM vans including the Chevrolet Venture, Pontiac Montana, Oldsmobile Silhouette, and later versions of the uglified vans in the form of the Chevrolet Uplander, Pontiac Montana SV6, Buick Terraza, and the Saturn Relay. All of them are rather forgettable, as the 4WD systems were not at all advancd, and ground clearance was never increased the way the current crossovers are.

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