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 5,500lb (2,500kg) with proper equipment. AWD models could tow up to 5,000lb (2,300kg) when properly equipped. This is opposed to front-wheel drive minivans; most of which are limited to a 3,500 pound towing capacity.
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.
The van seated up to 8 passengers.
In addition to being sold in North America, the Chevrolet Astro was exported to Japan, where the van enjoys a cult following. In 2005, to celebrate the last year of Astro production, Chevrolet of Japan offered a limited edition run of the final production models. The Astro's popularity in Japan comes even though it was only offered in left-hand drive.
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.