(first posted 3/30/2014) 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.
CC Nissan Stanza Wagon (Prairie/Multi): The First Modern Minivan? PN
Great to see these! They were only sold in the US until 1990, but were sold in Canada all the way through the 1995 model year and were fairly commonly seen.
They were available in 5-seater and “midget-amputee” 7-seater models, and could be had with AWD. I was once told the engine was shared with taxi cab models in Japan and was very reliable. Unfortunately, a very short wheelbase and nose-heavy weight disribution means they had a nasty tendancy to lock up the rear wheels under heavy braking – Consumer Reports mentioned this, and I experienced it first hand.
Ultimately cheap Caravans and small cross-overs like the CR-V and RAV4 made these redundant, but the concept soldiers on in the Mazda5, Kia Rondo and Chevrolet Orlando.
They look particularly nice in black.
I spotted these vintage Axxess commercials on Youtube http://youtu.be/E1GX39wnY6Q
The Kia Rondo was also Canada-only after the first couple years, and Chevy made no attempt to sell the Orlando in the US, purportedly so it won’t take sales from the Equinox.
A weird reverse Curbside Classic effect – I saw an Orlando with Ontario plates in Rhode Island today. I had no idea what it was at first.
Definitely more common in Canada. There is someone here who has three. One to drive and two for spare parts?
I guess he has lots of Access to Axxess!!!
(I’m here all week, tips in the jar…)
I have two and Im on my fourth one on Vancouver ISLand
Hot Wheels also made a version too. I’ve got the same green one.
Matchbox, my good man.
Ah, rats, you are so correct. I prefer Matchbox to Hot Wheels, so I should have known.
I had a gray matchbox one just like that! Big “Nissan” decals on the sides too. As a kid I was always curious to this mysterious “Nissan minivan” I had never seen in person.
I have the same one in a box somewhere! When I was a kid my mom drove a 91 240sx and dad drove an 89 Maxima so I was particularly fond of this matchbox car.
I like the Nissan Axxess more than the Stanza wagon. I find it more attractive than the Stanza wagon. I also liked the Nissan Van. It’s too bad it only lasted for only two yrs. before being discontinued. Was it safe? Maybe, maybe not. I would think it’d depend on how one drove the vehicle. If you drove the vehicle recklessly, and deliberately tried to hit other motorists and pedestrians, then yeah, it can be a dangerous machine. But if you drive as carefully as possible, don’t do anything stupid, then it’s as safe a vehicle as anything made.
There’s a first-gen Stanza wagon in our neighborhood that I see (and hear – it’s mechanically pretty loud, almost diesel-like) regularly, but I had forgotten about the Gen2. Very clean styling, where Gen1 was a little awkward. I think there are actually more of the earlier ones still around in the US due to their greater sales offsetting age.
Lots of Prairie Joys here ex JDM they seem quite popular but there are myriad JDM people mover vans sorting them all out into categories is quite a challenge.
Do you recognize that radio in the Axxess you posted pics of? You should as it is probably the same as in your XB. Necessity seems to be the mother of all invention in those Axxess where parts are not found and the owner of that one used a Scion radio in it to listen to his/her tunes.
It seems to be the second time I have seen a Toyota radio in a non toyota. My Volvo 240 had one wired into it(I suspect it was a Corolla or Camry one)
Oh and in your post regarding Nissan being the only company to recall and buy back all of the sold examples in that product line, Chevy was the first company to buy back all of the sold examples of the product line in 1923 with its Series M Copper Cooled vehicles. It was designed by Charles Kettering who was a genius inventor(though that Copper Cooled was not one of his best moments) There are two examples still around. One in the Henry Ford Museum and the other in Reno at the National Automobile Museum.
It’s too bad the Prairie Joy was never sold here in North America. With its extended body, I’ll bet it would’ve sold better than the Axxess that was sold.
That Prairie Joy didn’t actually launch in Japan until 1995, as it seemingly replaced the short-body Prairie that had gone to the US as the Axxess. It arrived far too late to have done anything about the 1990 US issue.
I don’t know if it’s heresy, but I quite like the Nissan KA engine. It’s gutsy and quick revving and, in twin cam -DE form, has a nice top-end swell. It’s gruff and a bit quakey-shakey, but it more powerful than a lot of its contemporaries.
@ BartBrandy…the Matchbox Nissan pic you posted was taken by a friend of mine. (He’s an amazing photographer.) The green version is rare, while the silver mainline was fairly common.
It’s a great photo – nice backdrop. He’s a talented photographer.
(I didn’t mean to steal credit for his picture, I don’t know how to do linked images here).
Gen 2 and 3 Prairies are both pretty common here. The Lafesta (which is basically a rebodied Renault Scenic) is effectively gen 4 and there are plenty of those here too. We did get gen 1 new, but they were never terribly common, and I haven’t seen one in years. Gen 3 is a bit meh, but I find the Lafesta quite attractive – particularly the rear end which has a kind of larger-Cube vibe going on.
I’ve only seen one of these ever, and when I saw it I was convinced it was some European market car that had been illegally imported into the US. I’d never even heard of a Nissan Axxess before that. Does anyone know how many Nissan sold for that one model year? I’d imagine it must have been a very small number in order for it to be killed so quickly. Kinda surprising, since Mitsubishi was still (seemingly) finding buyers for their vanlet sold under various brands in the early 90s. I still see Eagle Summit Wagons occasionally, which always seemed like the most common version of the Expo/Chariot – and the original Stanza Wagon was fairly popular once upon a time. I’d think there would have been more than a few homes willing to take in an Axxess in those years before the Quest appeared.
I’m not at all surprised that the one place these still exist is Oregon (and Canada). Too bad the wealth wasn’t spread to the far corners of the North American continent. The Nissan Quest/Mercury Villager is still absurdly popular, however – at least where I live. It seems like I see just as many of them now as I did in 1997. Had the Axxess not been Axxed, I bet there would still be a few running around here as well.
The Axxess was really popular in Canada and sold very well up until 1995. I believe it was killed by side impact regs. I have had a couple to drive over the years and they were a really nice unit. Lots of power, a great shifting transmission, good road holding and a real “beat me, whip me” demeanour. With the high seating position and lots of cargo room (I had one for a Rocky Mountain hiking trip) it was a really nice package. They were also popular as light delivery vehicle. Not many around anymore, Nissans don’t last like Toyotas or Hondas.
Wow, I don’t even remember this one.
We had one of these from 2006-2008. We bought a 1990 Axxess 5 speed manual all wheel drive as a beater vehicle and to maybe do the Rally BC Thunderbird Rally. Had the 138 hp 12 valve engine from the 240SX/Stanza and it had some decent get up and go. Centre and Rear Differentials were of the limited slip type. Parts were expensive for the AWD as it had some unique parts, specifically the rear struts. With the rear seat folded down one can carry a stove in the back, and with the rear seat removed, one can fit a fridge in the back.
We bought it for $2000 and sold it for $2000 but we put that amount into it over the 2 years we had it, but it was still fun and unique.
Here’s a video of my husband ice racing it. When we drove it onto the frozen lake, the WRX boys thought we were from Mars. It was fun to beat their times in an Axxess!
I can second that on the surprising accommations – the first time I was ever in one was when a neighbor helped transport a living room set in one. A full length sofa fit fine, although some of it hanging out the back.
I remember the strut towers being very large and taking up a fair bit of cargo space.
When I was in the market for one of these as a used car, I ultimately decided to get the larger 1st generation Honda Odyssey. It was larger and more secure handling and had roughly the same fuel efficiency as the Axxess. Still, the Axxess would have been great for urban environments.
I has two of the Axxess, one manual and an auto. I loved the design and utility. Too bad Nissan had so many design flaws, like door locks, some of the anti pollution plumbing under the hood, a completely inaccessible diagnostic computer and…rust.
The number of options and features were great. If you had one completely loaded, it was a very nice vehicle.
These could have been far more popular if Nissan had put the effort into reliability and maintainability. I think the design was great. Too bad.
My dad bought a new Axxess in 1990, kept it for 12 years and over 300,000 km, and had no problems other than normal maintenance and a new clutch. I drove it a few times and it was great to drive, with the same engine as my ’92 Nissan pickup. A great vehicle and precursor to the Mazda 5 I rented for a week last summer…another car I really enjoyed driving.
I just picked up a 1990 Axxess from a old lady here in Los Angeles, CA. It has only 84 miles on it! Still has the window stickers on the window. It sat in her garage for the last 25 years. Still has the original tank of gas in it. I replaced the fuel pump and it fired right up.
you lie!!!! really, only 85 miles?
now 87 miles!
vin has been removed by previous owner.
I may loose it if it turns up stolen?
I called DMV and no record of it.
I’ll post a photo when i return to california.
I loved my axxess so much and I miss it every day. Because it. Had sliding doors on both sides, I could easily put my Australian shepheRD dog in barely lifting a finger. The very best part of this car was the visibility out the back windows. I hate the hatchback design of all contemporary cars because I have to rely on side mirrors. Yuck! The 2nd beat feature was the excellent turning base, I parked with one turn. The third best feature was how it could fit in all the narrow parking spaces. The 4th best feature was how much legroom there was for passengers in the back seat, and, oh yes, this car could carry a lot of stuff even though it was small. There has never been a car with these features since then and I do not understand why. From a woman’s perspective it was the best!
Karen, I feel the same way! I just picked up a 93 with 110k km on it. I’m having a hell of a time finding sway bar linkages for it. Do you or anyone else know of anything compatible? Or are we going to need to adapt a similar part?
There is pretty much nothing wrong with this vehicle; it’s not even rusty (though we’re on the west coast, so not terribly surprising).
my go to is maxima 89-94 or rockauto.com good luck tho. one of mine is missing the rear sway bar altogether!
I was just thinking of this article last month, when at IKEA with my partner there was a grey Axxess parked in the lot near us; of course I used it as a marker for our parking spot while returning and specifically mentioned the “rare Nissan minivan sold for one year only”, which of course elicited the same bemusement many of us encounter from our significant others at pointing out the majority of CCs; which are more often than not exceedingly-rare-but-not-valuable cars.
You’re not kidding when you say parts are hard to find. Rockauto is pretty much it now. Nissan just laughs at you if you want anything. Another reason why I’ll never buy a newer Nissan. They just hate old customers. I’ve had to make parts to keep our 1993 Axxess running. Some days I don’t know why I just want to keep it running. I guess it’s just the challenge. 296,000 Kms plus, and the fuel pump needs replacing. So, I’ll be taking a chance at some Amazon Chinese pumps (that’s plural, because I doubt that either pump will last). We will see. Engine is still running well. Rubber intake and hoses are another story.