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The Mazda MPV Had No Idea What it Was

The MPV was the van that Mazda used to compete with the rest of the minivans that popped up at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s. Unlike other minivans that followed “general conventions,” however, Mazda wanted to go its own way.

And go its own way, it certainly did.

In 1988, the MPV was released as a 3-door van. Like the early Honda Odyssey, however, it had conventionally opening doors — but, as mentioned, just three of them. However, unlike other vans on the market, Mazda offered the MPV with a V6 and rear-wheel drive, as well as optional 4-wheel drive. Not all-wheel drive, but actual, selectable, locking 4-wheel drive, like you’d find on an SUV. It even went so far as to feature a lift for the 4-wheel drive versions. You weren’t even supposed to use it on the road when it was dry.

But by the early 1990s, competition was heating up with the introduction of other Japanese minivans like the Nissan Quest, Toyota Previa and eventually the Honda Odyssey. Mazda responded to this in 1996 by giving the MPV another rear door on the drivers side (so now it had four total), and by extending the nose for better crash safety. Lengthening the nose made the MPV look a bit less van-like than before.

Finally, in 1998, Mazda fully committed to making the MPV into an SUV. They gave it a 2-tone plastic body cladding to make it look tougher, they gave it a lift and they kept the 4-wheel drive. By this point, the Mazda MPV was a full-on SUV, with very little to give away the fact that it started life as a minivan ten years prior. After the 1998 model year, Mazda discontinued the first generation MPV.

Mazda introduced the second generation for the 2000 model year — and despite the increasing popularity of the SUV, they decided to be a lot more conventional. The second-generation MPV had front-wheel drive and two sliding rear doors, making it a pretty classic minivan. It still remained fairly sporty compared to other minivans, but that wasn’t enough to really set it apart. It was discontinued in 2006, to be replaced by the Mazda5. In just 15 years, it had cycled from “mostly van” to “sort of van” to “SUV” — and then back to “definitely van.”

With that unusual history, who knows? Maybe Mazda will read Doug’s advice about an off-road minivan and they’ll bring back their glorious MPV Sports Utility Van. Find a Mazda MPV for sale

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  1. I have a 1998 MPV, in 1996 they added the 4th door, and replaced the 2 speed low range on the transfer case with a single speed low range.  I have pictures of a 1994 rolling on 31’s with a 12ft pontoon boat on the roof, and a 9ft pontoon boat (pontoons inflated) inside the van. Coming this May 15th 2020 I will be taking my Unicorn (that is what I call her.. MazDirt Unicorn to a thing on Vancouver Island Canada called Jeepapalooza (a 4WD event held every year). My PV is a very capable 4×4..  I have a set of 16 wheels for it, and I need to get some Duratrac or KO2 in 225/75R16 for a little extra height and more grip.. Lift kits are not readily available for the PV.  Its too bad that in 2000 when Ford took over, that they turned the MPV into a generic Minivan POS, front wheel drive.. 

  2. We have a 2004 that my mechanic nicknamed  “The hot rod minivan”.  160K plus miles and other than a nasty emissions problem and an temperamental right side automatic door it still runs like a scared cat.  Not your typical grannyvan.  

    • the 2004 MPV is based upon the Ford Minivan, not the same van at all. After 2000 they were no longer rear wheel drive, and 4WD wasn’t an option at all.. Its really sad that Ford destroyed a beautiful SUV 

  3. I always liked that first generation MPV, but the second one was a lot more of what Ford wanted a small minivan to be like. Some friends of the family had a black and silver two tone 1998 one with 4 wheel drive and a manual. They also lived 20 miles down a dirt road, so it got used well. Still handled better than any true SUV in the early 2000’s. 

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