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."