When anyone thinks about the early minivans of the 1980s, the Chevy Astro van is one of the first vehicles that come to mind. With a solid base capable of hauling a camping trailer and enough cargo capacity and seating to satisfy a large family, it didn't take long for the Astro to become one of the most popular passenger vans in the 80s and 90s.
Chevy Astro Van History
Throughout the early 1980s, family vans were just starting to come into vogue. There were two minivans that were king of the hill within the U.S. minivan market of the 1980s: the Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager. The leading foreign competitor was the Toyota Van, first introduced to U.S. markets in 1983. By 1985, Chevrolet entered into the family van market with the Chevrolet Astro.
About the Chevy Astro
The Chevrolet Astro van was introduced to the market in 1985. Like many vehicles in the 1980s, it was a rear-wheel drive and had a body that was larger than most other so-called "minivans" on the market. It was smaller than the Chevy Express full-sized van, but it sported a similar unibody which structurally gave it more towing capacity. With a powertrain based on Chevrolet trucks and a 4.3-liter V6 engine, the Chevy Astro van had an impressive towing capacity of up to just over 5,000 pounds. Compared to the 3,500 pound towing capacity of most other available minivans, this made the Chevy Astro the van of choice for families with lots of gear or equipment to tow.
The Evolution of the Astro
While many minivans of the day had front-wheel drive, the Chevy Astro maintained a rear-wheel drive system which many drivers preferred. The rear-wheel drive was especially desirable among families who towed large loads. The original 1985 Astro was built on a strong truck base and had a significant towing capacity, but over the years, Chevy continued to improve upon the Astro with a number of modifications.
- In 1989, Chevy provided customers with an extended body option that offered ten full inches (19 cubic feet) of additional cargo space.
- In 1990, consumers could opt for an all-wheel-drive system (rare for the minivan market) which dramatically improved handling in poor weather conditions, but it also significantly lower fuel economy.
- In 1995, the Astro had a redesigned front end that matched the same appearance of the Chevy Express vans, as well as a new passenger side airbag. By the mid 1990s, only the extended body chassis was manufactured, and the shorter body design was discontinued.
- In 2002, Chevy provided the Astro with a larger suspension and 16-inch wheels for a smoother ride and even better towing capacity.
- Chevrolet canceled the production of the Chevy Astro van in 2005.
Pros and Cons of the Chevy Astro
During the time from when the Astro was first introduced to when it was discontinued, the van made many customers happy and others not so happy. The difference came down to what consumers were looking for when buying the van in the first place. Families who purchased the van for towing large equipment or for camping were generally pleased with the towing capacity and the cargo space. However, consumers looking for a luxury ride or for fuel economy were not so pleased with their purchase. The following were some of the pros and cons of the Chevy Astro.
Pros of the Chevy Astro
Many consumers liked the following characteristics of the Astro:
- Rear-wheel drive and all wheel drive provided better handling in difficult weather.
- Larger suspension in the mid 1990s allowed owners to use the van to tow large loads.
- An extended body provided for substantial cargo capacity, which made traveling with a large family very easy.
Cons of the Astro
There were just as many customers who didn't like the Astro as there were those who liked it. The following characteristics were a bit of a turn-off for many customers:
- The truck-based drivetrain and suspension made for truck-like handling.
- The design was somewhat boxy and outdated.
- The position of the engine near the cabin reduced legroom and increased cabin noise.
- The height of the van off the ground made it difficult for children or even shorter adults to get in and out of the van.
- The fuel economy was similar to many Chevy trucks, but not quite as good as other car-based minivans on the market.
Buying the Chevy Astro
For the most part, people who bought a Chevy Astro either in the 80s, 90s, or beyond were satisfied because it did offer a safe ride, the ability to tow large loads and up to eight passengers, and of course, the capability to deal with almost any situation that a family vacation could produce. The Chevy Astro served families well through the years, and even though it was discontinued, many aspects of the design lived on into the future in the creation of other Chevy vehicles.