It was in 1985 when the Chevrolet Astro entered the scene. The mid-size rear-wheel drive van from Chevrolet came out to compete with the Toyota Van and Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager. The Astro was equipped with power train components found in GM's light trucks. But unlike these trucks, it came with unibody chassis and a front sub-frame for the front suspension and the engine. The name Astro was first used for a concept car launched in 1967 at the New York Auto Show. The concept car is called the Chevrolet Astro 1.
1985-1995: The first generation Chevrolet Astro
The first generation Chevrolet Astro could seat up to eight passengers. Available engine options include 145 to 190 hp kW 4.3L V6 engine and 200 hp "W" engine. The Astro was designed as a rear-wheel drive vehicle.
In 1990, an all-wheel drive system became an option. AWD models were known for their fuel efficiency, rated at 17 miles per gallon highway. Fuel economy for AWD was better than rear-wheel drive vans, which had a rated fuel economy of 20 to 21 miles per gallon. In the same year, the van was also designed with a new dashboard and hydroboost braking system. Plus, the extended body option was made available.
A year after, more optional features and upgrades were introduced in Astro vans. Dutch Doors became optional. The many Astro features also included an optional 4.3L (RPO L35) with central port injection and a balance shaft. An electronically controlled 4-speed automatic transmission with overdrive became a standard feature for Astro in 1993, along with Scotchgard fabric protection for Astro vans with cloth seats. New exterior paint colors--Indigo Blue Metallic (#39), Light Quasar Blue Metallic (#20), and Medium Quasar Blue Metallic (#80)--were added into the selection in 1994, giving car owners more colors and styles to choose from. The 1994 model was equipped with CFC-free air-conditioning systems just like other GM vehicles. This air-conditioning system uses R134a refrigerant instead of R-12 Freon.
The earlier advertising campaign of the Chevy Astro is actually quite interesting. In the ad, it said that the vehicle will "make people realize that life is too big for a minivan," which was a jab at Chrysler minivans during that time.
1995-2005: The second generation Chevrolet Astro
The second generation Chevy Astro had a much better design when it comes to appearance and performance. In 1995, the Astro was given a face lift. The cosmetic upgrade made it look more like the full-size Express vans of that time. During this time, the model was also given an extended nose and the manufacturer dropped the shorter length body. The following year, the Astro came with a redesigned dash and a passenger side airbag.
In 2003, the Astro van's chassis got an upgrade. The chassis was equipped with larger brakes and 16-inch wheels. The six-lug, large set of wheels was the same as those used in full-size Chevrolet and GMC half-ton pickups. The Astro was also modified with certain suspension parts. The changes made during this time enhanced vehicle handling and braking performance. Unfortunately, the Astro, along with the Safari, was discontinued on May 13, 2005.