The 1982 Nissan Prairie/Stanza Wagon (CC here) was a groundbreaking design, truly the first modern minivan even if it did lack a third row seat (in the US). Still, it brought a fresh new packaging idea to the market, and its pillar-less design made it unique, in terms of access. It sold reasonably well enough, but change was in the air, which negatively affected its successor, the Axxess. It turned out to be a one-year wonder, before it was axed from Nissan’s US line-up. Why?
Here’s why. Although the Prairie/Stanza Wagon may have pioneered the concept, the 1984 Chrysler minivans set the template for all subsequent minivans. That meant a bit more length, enough for three rows of seats. Although the short wheelbase Caravan was available in a two-row version, the third row quickly became a must-have, for maximum flexibility. The Stanza Wagon was relegated to tall-boy wagon status; a bigger version of the Honda Civic wagon.
Actually, the Axxess lost some of the Prairie’s exceptional access, as it grew a B-pillar where there had been none. Undoubtedly, that was a safety issue, as the first generation’s side impact resistance was rather iffy.
The minivan market was literally exploding in 1990 when the Axxess appeared. Chrysler had brought out its long-wheelbase versions to supplement the original Caravan and Voyager, and everybody else was piling into this hot segment. Of course SUVs and CUVs eventually became the preferred family haulers, but not yet in 1990.
1990 Axxess sales were dismal, and since Nissan had undoubtedly already began early planning for its 1993 Quest minivan joint venture with Mercury, the plug was pulled once all the ’90MY vanlets were sold.
Of course, the Axxess was similar in concept and size to the Mazda 5 minivan, minus the third seat. But by then, minivans were hardly mini anymore, and there was room for a truly compact van again, even in relatively modest numbers.
Somewhat curiously, Nissan built an extended-rear version of the Prairie for the Japanese market, called the Prairie Joy, no less. Perhaps there would have been more joy at Nissan’s US dealers if that had been available until the Quest came on line.
It wouldn’t be the first time Nissan struck out in the compact van market either. Their 1987-1988 van turned out to be so problematic, Nissan offered to buy every one of them back from their owners (full story here).
If the Axxess was anything like the Stanza Wagon, then it certainly wasn’t deficient in the reliability aspect. We had a fleet of Stanza Wagons at a tv station in LA as news crew vehicles, and they were superbly reliable under the daily grind, for a number of years. US versions of the Axxess used the rugged SOHC 12-valve 2.4 L KA24E engine, as also used in Nissan pickups and other vehicles.
I’d avoided shooting one of these for years, since there were always some around. But I decided not to take Axxess for granted, and my quest to find one was fortunately brief.