CC Outtake: 1986 Nissan Stanza Wagon 4WD – The World’s First CUV, Not Minivan

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(first posted 3/19/2016)     All too often, my stupidity amazes me. When I wrote up the Stanza Wagon (Prairie) back in 2011, I called it “The First Modern Minivan”. And went on at length to make my case. Well, it there were some good points to my argument, but seeing this 4WD version a couple of blocks from my house, it struck me: this isn’t the world’s first minivan; it’s the first CUV. Doh!

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Admittedly, the one I shot and wrote up back then was a regular FWD version, but then most CUVs are available in FWD too. So just what is the difference between a two-row tall minivan and a CUV? Hmm…semantics, actually. Just what is the definition of a CUV anyway? Like the the definition of a coupe, it’s a subject of perpetual debate.

But the one that I long adopted is this: it has to have a unique, taller body (which is why the AMC Eagle and Subaru wagons aren’t CUVs); it has to be based on a passenger car platform; and it has to be at least available with AWD.

The term CUV generally refers to something of a cross between a passenger car minivan and an SUV. But I’ve also heard it used to describe it as a cross between a minivan and SUV. And the Stanza Wagon fits that one better than any other.

By the way, the first documented use of the term “crossover” was in the 1989 (at least in print) in this book “The Auto Industry Ahead: Tough Times Demand Change”, and is from a quote from a Chrysler spokesperson discussing the acquisition of AMC/Jeep. And in it, it specifically refers to minivans and Jeeps as part of AMC’s positioning:

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The origins of the Stanza Wagon/Prairie may not exactly have been thinking about AWD, given its Italian roots. From my other article:  The quest for innovative and efficient packaging of humans was a recurring quest of star-designer Giorgetto Giugiaro. His first stab at a modern “people mover” came in 1976, when his New York Taxi Concept won a competition by the Museum of Modern Art.  That led to the definitive 1978 Lancia Megagamma (above), the first true modern MPV. Look familiar?

With a 140hp Subaru-like 2.5-liter boxer four, the Megagamma for the first time offered near-luxury performance, comfort and space in a compact package. Lancia didn’t have the balls or resources to put it into production. But Nissan did, in 1981.

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Nissan went two big steps beyond the Megagamma: it eliminated the B-pillar entirely, which pioneered a concept of access that has been replicated in some recent European vehicles, like the current Ford B Max. It certainly made crossing over from one row of seats to the other easy, with the door open, anyways.

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When thing is for certain: the visibility out of this Stanza Wagon beats any current CUV. The seating is very tall, and the windows are even taller, and the belt line is low.

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And that them continues on to the rear quarters too.

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The Stanza Wagon/Prairie didn’t come with 4WD to start with, but undoubtedly the fact that Subaru, Toyota, and Honda all were jumping into the 4WD wagon market, Nissan wanted in too. And out of all four of them, the Stanza wagon was the biggest and roomiest.

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You tell me: is this the first minivan, or the first CUV? Or both?