The Chevrolet Astro was a rear-wheel drive mid-sized van introduced by Chevrolet in 1985 to rival domestic (American) competitors the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager twins and the Japanese Toyota Van. Also sharing the Astro's platform was its sibling, the GMC Safari. In addition to standard passenger uses, the vans were also available as cargo vans, and converters used them as the basis for small conversion vans.
Both Pontiac and GMC have used the Safari nameplate (GMC was part of the Pontiac/GMC Division); Pontiac used the nameplate on several of its station wagon models from 1955 through 1989. The two Safaris, both Pontiac and GMC, were on the market together (often sold by the same dealerships) from 1985 through 1989.
The Astro model name had been used previously for the unrelated Chevrolet Astro 1 Concept car, first shown at the New York Auto Show of 1967.
While the Astro was referred to as a minivan, it was sized between the Chevrolet Venture/Lumina APV unibody minivan and the full-size Chevy Van/Express. Similar to the Ford Aerostar, it utilized powertrain components common to GM's other light trucks, yet unlike the trucks the chassis was unibody in structure with a front sub-frame to support the engine and front suspension.
Due to the truck-based powertrain, the Astro and Safari could pull 5,500 lb (2,500 kg) with proper equipment. AWD models could tow up to 5,000 lb (2,300 kg) when properly equipped. This is opposed to front-wheel drive minivans; most of which are limited to a 3,500 pound towing capacity.
First generation (1985-1994)
Initial advertising boasted that it was a vehicle that will "make you realize that life is too big for a minivan", referring to the Chrysler minivans.
Engines options ranged from 145 to 190 hp (108 to 142) kW 4.3L V6 engine, depending on options and/or model year.It was also fitted with the 'W' engine which produces 200 hp.
The van seated up to 8 passengers.
Much like the second-generation GM F-body 1970-1981 and X-body vehicles, the GM M-van (Astro/Safari) had a bolt-on subframe incorporating the front suspension from a GM B-body station wagon (Chevrolet Caprice, Cadillac Brougham) with a leaf-spring rear suspension. The lower ball joints were larger than their B-body counterparts (similar to 1977-96 Cadillac D platform vehicles e.g. Fleetwood limousines). These ball joints were later used in the final Chevrolet Caprice 9C1 (police package) cars manufactured in 1995 and 1996. They also shared many mechanical similarities to the GMT 325/330 midsize S/T Pickup/Utilities.
As mentioned above, the Astro and Safari were rear-wheel drive vehicles, but in 1990 a new all-wheel drive (AWD) system(the first U.S. built minivan to do so), designed and developed by FF Developments (FFD), was made optional. The AWD models had a lower fuel economy: 20-21 miles per gallon highway versus 17 for rear-drive vans.
In 1989, a new dash was introduced along with the availability of an extended body option, however actual wheelbase is identical for all Astros. The 1990 model year also introduced the hydroboost braking system, a system using the same accessory belt driven pump to supply the power steering and brakes.
In 1992, a new optional feature was introduced known as "Dutch Doors". these series featured to two half barn doors on the bottom row and a flip-up window on the top row, Prior to this, all Astro & Safari vans were exclusively equipped with barn doors.
This generation is popular in Japan, where many customized versions have been created. The original Scion xB was based on customized GMC Safaris.