(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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
And that them continues on to the rear quarters too.
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.
You tell me: is this the first minivan, or the first CUV? Or both?
You make valid points, but with the sliding doors and that low flat floor sans center console I still see a minivan more than anything.
Agree, sliding door = minivan.
In rebuttal I present the Peugeot 1007…
Now that 2004-2009 Peugeot 1007 is just SUPER COOL! Perfect design for city driving and parking! Too bad they discontinued it, I would love to own one. Here’s one in Hot Pink! Isn’t it Fabulous?!
I think the first CUV honor goes to the car that predates the 1986 Stanza wagon… The 1985 Honda Civic 4wd wagon.
A CUV is basically a carlike body on an elevated AWD chassis. Which the Civic is, and NO sliding doors to put it into minivan territory.
The Mazda MPV in 1988, and Subaru Outback in 1996 owe some lineage to that little Honda. 🙂
Dodge Colt Vista in the US or the Mitsubishi Chariot/Nimbus/Space Wagon (love that name) was released for 1985 as an AWD tall wagon, too.
I couldn’t find a specific picture of the AWD one, so I found a nice generic pic of one.
Ah crap. Forgot about the Toyota Tercel SR5 wagon from 1983…
Geozinger, we must’ve posted our entries of the AWD Tercel at the same time. 😛
It seems we did! I had a work acquaintance from years ago who had one of these new. We often joked that the tailgate on these looked like an ATM machine. It was a rather handy car/wagon/thing, though.
I would put the Tercel SR5 into the same sort of category as the Outback. Not properly a “tall wagon” even though the roofline may have been fractionally higher than the sedan’s, and therefore doesn’t qualify.
They were *definitely* ancestors of the genre, but they weren’t CUVs themselves.
In Canada, the Dodge Colt Vista was sold as the Eagle Vista Wagon, from 1989-1991, by Chrysler’s “import fighter” brand. Here’s a pic. They are very rare.
This particular Stanza is an ’86, but it first came out in 1982.
You beat me to posting this!
And, I thank you for doing it.
…”Somebody”… always gets irritated when I correct him here.
I haven’t seen one of these for many years now here in the rusty Midwest, but every time I do, I’m reminded of the Fiat Panda 4×4. However, I don’t think they shared the same mission as the Stanza wagons.
My other favorite in this class of tall wagon is the Dodge Colt Vista/Mitsubishi Chariot series. I can remember looking these over back in the mid-80’s when I was hunting for the elusive Shelby GLHs or Chargers on dealers’ lots.
I don’t know if it was circumstance or industrial spying that these Japanese tall wagons started appearing right before the release of the Chrysler minivan. Maybe because the Caravans/Voyagers were about one size bigger is the reason why they really took off.
AWD wasn’t such a selling point back then, we just dealt with the seasonal ritual of installing or removing snow tires. Nowadays, I have some very good V speed rated Falkens on my minivan that do a pretty impressive imitation of snow tires. Life is good…
Back to the subject; this is the CUV that didn’t care if it looked like the box it came in. I was pondering a commercial for some variation of the Mercedes Benz SUV/CUV today, as I (still) don’t remember what model it is. Just like years ago, all of these things are starting to look the same…
1977 Matra Rancho? OK, never 4WD, but as said, not all these sort of vehicles are anyway.
The 1983 AWD Toyota Tercel wagon also could be the first CUV…
1) Taller bodystyle on AWD chassis(check)
2) Must be based on a production car body(check)
3) NO sliding doors, equipped with conventional car doors(check)
As noted above, the Nissan came out in 1982.
Ah so, they did. I don’t remember them (the AWD version) from back then, but they were soooo far off of my radar anyway.
Like I mentioned, I remember the Tercel SR5 as a guy I worked with back in the day had one. We often joked that the tailgate looked like an ATM.
I stumbled over the Colt Vistas when prowling the back lots of the Dodge dealerships. That was probably peak Mitsubishi, although we didn’t realize it then…
But no pretention of being a high powered suv though.
Seems to me, its just a 4wd wagon.
Pretty capable too, as I remmber it. Parrnts of my best childhood friend had one, and used it to bring us to ski slopes for many winters. Had reduction transfer case, with locking axles. It was the real deal, no poser.
Every now and then, a vehicle comes along that simply defies categorization. This is one. It is station wagon, minivan and CUV, yet also none of them, if this makes sense. Funny how the hinged doors on the original Odyssey and the sliders on this mess so heavily with how people want to classify them.
I’m going to make a case that the 1983 Mitsubishi Chariot (Dodge or Plymouth Colt Vista in the U.S., with several other names in other markets) is the first crossover:
– Like the Stanza Wagon, it had a distinctive body not based on a sedan or wagon
– It offered full-time AWD starting in 1984 (which I *think* preceded AWD availability in the Nissan)
– It used crossover-style hinged doors, not minivan-style sliding doors (minus the B-pillar)
– and this is the clincher: it was available with a 3rd-row seat, with split-folding seatbacks
These also could be nicely equipped for the era, with items like power windows and locks and very plush interior trimmings.
Arguments against this being the first crossover include being body-on-frame rather than unibody (which I just learned, to my surprise) and that the FWD version of the Nissan arrived a year earlier.
The successor to these was the Mitsubishi Expo and the related Expo LRV (also sold under other names), which is another forgotten early crossover-like thing.
As for the Stanza Wagon, it could be perceived as either a microvan (like the more recent Mazda 5) or a crossover. But it’s not the first minivan, because VW microbus, Corvair Greenbriar, etc. If you insist minivans must be FWD, there’s the Lloyd LT 500 or its long-wheelbase LT 600 variant from the late ’50s.
I was very close to nominating the Colt Vista as the first minivan, knowing it to have been on dealer lots as early as August ’83 as an’84 model. I recall a family test drive in one before our local C/P&D dealer had any Caravans or Voyagers in stock, which makes me want to think it beat the Chrysler minivans to market by a narrow margin.
Reading the above anaylsis though, maybe crossover makes more sense, as the Vista, with front hinged rear doors and tilt-forward second row seats for access to the 3rd, was really more of a tallish traditional wagon with front facing 3rd row. I too am surprised to learn it was a body-on-frame vehicle. I remember being impressed with it in general. My mother, who was to be the intended operator, found it underpowered and “tipsy”, so it was given the thumbs-down.
Also, regarding nomenclature, does anyone else recall the press sometimes referring to the early car/truck in-betweeners as “hybrids” rather than “crossovers”, before the former term was reappropriated for gasoline/electric propulsion vehicles?
I don’t recall the term “hybrid” in that context, but I do remember the late Jack Teahen of Automotive News scorning the term “crossover,” saying it’s a place in the median of a divided highway where you make a U-turn. Automotive News tried to classify CUVs as “sport wagons,” but the name didn’t stick.
Wasn’t this car called the “Multi”? I don’t ever remember it being called a Stanza.
Here’s the image of a Nissan Multi.
Multi in Canada, Stanza Wagon in U.S., Prairie everywhere else.
Gotta wonder why Nissan chose to pretend this vehicle was just a Stanza station wagon rather than a unique vehicle in the US
I may be mistaken but I believe it had something to do with type approval from the government at the time, i.e. it was easier to expand an existing lineup. The original Altima (the jelly-bean one) was called the “Stanza Altima” for its first year as well.
“Type approval” – Wow, that sounds like an FAA term! The human penchant for pigeonholing everything creates endless debate, whether in biology or engineering.
The Stanza name could’ve also served as a psychological prop so buyers would be more comfortable with something otherwise new. I wonder how many hrs. are spent hand-wringing over new model names?
Probably right – I remember that “Stanza Altima” – there’s a tiny “Stanza” decal just to the left of the much larger Altima chrome letters.
Still, the Stanza Wagon was built on a Sunny (Sentra) platform so calling it a Stanza Wagon is misleading. Plus it probably sullied its image.
My take on what defines a cuv, is to evaluate if its designed, or has the looks of a crossdresser. The no.1 criteria to me, is; if it mimics the looks or a real suv, whith a strong emphasis on the “S” as in “sport”, but without any meaningful level of power to back up its looks, its a cuv.
If it in addition has no or very little offroad capability, regardless of wheel/tire choice, its a cuv.
To me, the Prairie, as it was called in the part of the world I grew up in, is neither. Its simply a bigger body on a smaller foundation, with little other changes to make up for the added heft.
I remember riding in one of these, and it was slow, with a 1.8 no less, not refined, noisy and somewhat uncomfortable compared to other asian sedans of the time.
What bugged me the most though, was the insane level of feeling exposed, being on visual display, which I belive made people shun away from these vehicles quickly as they became used and a few years older. It was simply a huge embarrassment to be inside one of these.
These were not hip/cool, not rugged, not sporty, nor luxurious. And on top of that they didnt drive particularly well, nor comfortably. I vividly remember the exhaust note to sound like poop. Like a 70hp piece of cheap, low revving ohv I4 garbage.
Even a Mazda 323 drove like a sportscar compared to this.
A little less glass surface could have made it somewhat more private atleast, and the utility aspects of it could have been more appreciatiated.
To me, this vehicle always seemed like a failure, a vehicle type that wasn’t continued. I dont know about production numbers though.
Minivans comparatively always had a slight infusion of lux to it, and kind of comfy atleast.
Cuv’s has the pretention of sportyness.
Pontiac montana is perhaps the ultimate internediate atep from minivan to cuv.
Would you say a Jeep Renegade is a CUV, then? It has more offroad-ability than just about any other CUV, and even some SUVs.
It might be better, then, to say that a CUV exists along a sliding scale of offroad-ability, anywhere from “none at all” to “competent.”
Yes, a Renegade is clearly a cuv. Im most guises, its a poser, hence a cuv. Specced to the hilt, its perhaps a good off-road vehicle, but still derived from a much more modest car platform, and without any real power, never a suv.
This may be the first comment I’ve seen on here saying a vehicle has too much glass. Isn’t more visibility a good thing, especially given the narrow windows of the current styling/safety trends?
I guess if you are limiting it to the US these arguments all apply. I spent the majority of my young adulthood (starting in 1962) in Asia and saw vehicles like this in daily use. I wouldn’t be surprised if something pre-dates WW2. I remember a volvo post war wagon that you might consider including but I have no trouble being confused on what fits. So, I guess I will just lurk here in the background and listen to this discussion play out.
How do we call this ? Well, a 4×4 wagon, I guess.
Fan that I am of the 504 in general (and I quite like the Dangel 4WD conversions), the 505 Dangel has always just edged it out for me. I’ll take a late one with the 5-speed and 2.5-litre intercooled turbodiesel.
Honourable mention goes to the Citroën BX 4×4, though that was arguably lighter-duty than the Dangel cars.
Dangel must be the french word for Outback. Learn something new every day…
Automobiles Dangel, founded in 1980, is still alive and kicking.
Here’s a Peugeot Boxer 4×4 by Dangel. I’m sure you recognize it, it’s the same van as the Ram Promaster.
Paul, are you sure the Stanza wagon came out for the 1982 model year, in the US, and not later?I test drove a Stanza 5 door hatch in late 1981 (MY 1982) and a Civic Wagovan in 1985 or ’86. If the Stanza wagon had been available when I drove the sedan, I’m sure I would have checked it out, but I have no recollection of these until later … though perhaps that was still before the Mopar minivans. In any case, the driving experience of the Stanza was so dull I bought an ’82 Civic, hence my interest in the tall Civic wagon a few years later.
Had a blue front drive version bought used for $1,800 and used it as a daily driver and trips from Texas to Iowa. My wife and I loved it. Great interior space, good vision from the tall greenhouse and comfortable ride. Wish I had it back. Nothing on the market comes close.
Had the Nissan Multi back in Alberta and have mixed memories. My parents bought it in 1986 as the 87 model. Well built for mid eighties although no comparison with the quality of today’s cars. It lasted right up until 2005. When my dad traded it in, it was still going at 350,000 km. It was starting to lose power and burn more fuel, not sure if that meant the engine was finally dying. Great driving position, awesome capacity, easy access, not bad on fuel, chronically underpowered with 97 hp 2 L four. The automatic transmission was buzzing when changing gears and the dealer did not want to fix it saying it was normal. It barely had any rust at the end of its 19 year life.
I can’t imagine that Stanza wagon would do very well in a serious side-impact crash with no B-pillar!
Lots of good arguments here about the first CUVs in the US to rebut the conventional wisdom that the original Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V of the late 90s were the first, and the Lexus RX300 of the same timeframe was the first luxury CUV.
Another once common car seen off by the UK rust monster. A long time since I saw one
Could we safely say that Nissan Stanza Wagon 4WD was probably first “van” in the United States with sliding doors on both sides as a standard feature? I know of other vans with both sliding doors, but they were either optional for extra cost or available in certain market or for certain buyers.
This van was very popular with people who use the wheelchairs or mobility assistance devices due to lack of B-pillar. There was a student with wheelchair at the university. He would open both doors on the driver’s side, grab the A-pillar to transfer himself to the driver’s seat, fold up the wheelchair and put it on floor between front and rear seats, then use the long rod with hook at end to pull the sliding door close.
A fellow who works at the same location as me still uses one of these as his daily driver, though I think it’s the 2wd version. It’s close to immaculate, especially for a 30 year old daily driven vehicle. A quarter-sized spot of rust ahead of the front wheelarch, but otherwise it looks fantastic. I’ve never run into the owner, or I’d ask its history, as well as how he keeps it looking so great!
At least one other is still on the road in town, or at least was as of sometime last year. I’ve seen it maybe 4 times in 3.5 years, so it’s entirely probable that it still exists.
The Prairie was launched in 1981!! It is a a minivan, and a 4wd minivan. Also a Crossover. Yet, what about Mira Van? Or the more common Kei vans? Fiat 600 Multipla?? One thing that is 100% sure is that it is not VW T2, as the definition had yet to be made, and it is a typical european van size of the periode. As a Combi vehicle it started a new trend, and defined the vehicles we today call vans. It ia also 100% sure it is not the Chrysler Voyager/Caravan. Chrysler was the first “luxury minivan”, if we look away from the Stout Scarab. The Scarab had only two doors, but with the engine in the rear, and unibody, I would credit as a van, and it was forshure luxurious. Yet, the Scarab was only made as people carrier, not a commercial vehicle, which I prefere is needed to be a real van. The Voyager, and Prairie was both available as front seats only, and spacious loading space behinde, the Renault Espace I have never seen with front seats only. The old Fiat 600 Multipla came with several different bodies, and was both vans, and people carriers, but then the bodies differed. The Fiat 850 is another story. Same body, as Famila, and van.
I know “first” is a bit tongue in cheek here because nobody really agrees what the parameters should be, but if all wheel drive is a must, this Stanza/Prairie/Multi isn’t it. Yes, it predates the other obvious contenders mentioned; the Toyota Tercel wagon/Sprinter Carib, Mitsubishi Chariot/Colt Vista, and Honda Civic shuttle, but not with all wheel drive. Those all could be had with all wheel drive before the Nissan (Sept.1985). The first of that batch with it was the Toyota, which it had upon debut in August 1982. As much as I feel it’s awfully close to “just a wagon”, it is a unique to itself tall roof design that counts as different enough to me if we are humoring the “not a van” Nissan with sliding doors. If we give the all wheel drive a pass, then the FWD Matra Rancho is pretty darn hard to just ignore. Could even be had with a limited slip differential…
The parents of Calvin and Hobbes definitely drove this.
They had a 3-door hatchback.
All these vehicles are natural extensions of the design towards optimal space utilization that swept the auto world a decade earlier. The acceptance of smaller, FWD vehicles during the 1970s with the VW Rabbit, Omnirizon and other brands found favor with the markets and were very successful.
Taking this design towards larger family vehicles was the next step and these were the results. The US Minivan was chosen over these designs. Chrysler essentially captured the family mover market with a robust design that was seen as a better value by buyers.
I thought these were terrific designs. Not equally excellent in quality, but equally similar in spirit. Bauhaus on wheels, and like Bauhaus design, the first ones were cutting edge and tasteful, then the acceptance of cheap boxes ended up creating – cheap boxes.