Astro versus Lumina.

Rear-wheel drive versus front drive.

Metal body versus plastic body.

Astro is the rear-wheel-drive mini-van that Chevrolet boasted would makeLee Iacocca eat crow.

Iacocca, of course, created the mini-van market with his front-wheel-drive Plymouth Voyager and Dodge Caravan. The only thing Iacocca has eatensince Astro started competing with Voyagerand Caravan is Chevrolet`s lunch.

This fall Chevrolet will add the Lumina mini-van, the front-wheel-driverival to the Voyager and Caravan. Thus Chevrolet will offer both rear- andfront-wheel-drive mini-vans to compete with Chrysler.

Many see the new Lumina APV (all purpose vehicle) more as the front-wheel-drive competitor to the rear-wheel-drive Astro than the rival to theChryslerfront-wheel-drive mini-vans. Some consider that the metal body Astro will fade once the plastic-body Lumina appears.

Astro hasn`t done too shabbily. When considering whether Lumina will killAstro or whether the two can live in harmony, we would bet on glasnost.

Lumina will focus on hauling people, Astro on cargo. Lumina will take the family to the beach, but Astro will allow them to haul the boat. Astro can towa 6,000-pound boat and/or trailer. The front-wheel-drive Lumina can`t. AndAstro should survive because not everyone is enamored with front-wheel drive. Astro isbuilt on a long, 111-inch wheelbase but is only 176.8 incheslong overall. Lumina will be built on a shorter, 109.8-inch wheelbase, butwill be much longer at 193.9 inches. Astro also is taller (74.1inches to 65.5for Lumina) and wider (77 inches to 74.2 inches).

Astro is powered by Chevy`s 4.3-liter, 150-horsepower V-6 engine teamedwith 5-speed manual as standard, 4-speed automatic withoverdrive as anoption. Lumina will be powered by a 3.1-liter, 120-h.p. V-6 teamed with 3-speed automatic as standard.

The EPA rating for Astro is 17 miles per gallon city/23 m.p.g. highwaywith manual, 17/22 with automatic. Lumina will be rated at 18 m.p.g. city/22m.p.g. highway. Astro has a 27-gallon fuel tank, Lumina 20 gallons.

We`ll hold off on more Lumina specifics until this fall. For now, let`sfocus on the 1989 Astro we drove.

The good news: The 4.3-liter V-6 has ample power. The wide cloth seatshave plenty of comfort. Three sets of seats can hold seven people. Or you can pop out the rear seat for ample cargo capacity. A dual cupholder folds out of the dash to serve the family.

Though slab sided, Astro had good road-holding manners and wasn`t tossedall over when semis passed on the interstate. There`s expansive glass forgreat visibility, but all that glass means you`d better have air conditioning.Front- and rear-seat air controls are available.

Finally, antilock brakes are a welcome addition as standard. It meansquick, true stops regardless of road surface and conditions, especiallyimportant in a multipeople vehicle that typically wi ll be loaded with kids.

But Astro is not without hangups. The two rear seats have such hugeheadrests that rear vision is all but blocked. Rather than a liftup hatch lid in back, there are a pair of swing open doors that meet in the center with awide pillar. What vision the seat headrests don`t block, the door pillar does.A hatchlid is under consideration, but hasn`t been approved.

Also, the Astro has a chopped off front end. With Caravan and Voyager,the engine compartment is ahead of you. You can see sheet metal from thewindshield. You see nothing but pavement in theAstro. It doesn`t make for asense of safety and security. We`d prefer a visible nose. (And if Luminapromises anything, it`s a long nose.)

The Astro LT we drove had a base price of $14,144, but just abouteverything was an extra-cost option. Tinted glass ran $300, power seats $240, color keyed floor mats $69, front/rear air conditioning $1,320, illuminatedvisor vanity mirror $43, sportssuspensi n $417, 4-speed automatic $610, cast aluminum wheels $224, heavy-duty battery $56, halogen headlamps $24, AMstereo/FM stereo with cassette $624, luggage carrier $126 and seven-personseating $878 to name a few.

The sticker ran $20,994 with a $500 freight charge added.

The Lumina APV will, no doubt, carry a higher base price than the Astro,if for no other reason than it`llbe the new kid on the block. Based on Astro pricing where everything is extra cost, we can expect the APV to require anequally stiff mortgage.

>> 1989 Chevrolet Astro Wheelbase: 111 inches.Length: 176.8 inches.Engine: 4.3 liter, 150 h.p., V-6.Transmission: 5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic optional.Fuel economy: 17/23 manual; 17/22 automatic.Base price: $14,144.Strong points: room, comfort, ABS.Weak points: blind spots, no visible nose, option $$$.