The Mazda MPV (Multi-Purpose Vehicle) is a minivan manufactured by Mazda. Introduced in 1989 as a rear-wheel-drive model with optional selectable four-wheel drive, it was replaced in 2000 with a front-wheel-drive-only version. Over one million MPV models had been produced since its introduction.
The minivan boom of the 1980s caught the Japanese car makers by surprise. Each maker had its own response: Toyota was first with an adaptation of their mid-engined Van, based on the Japanese TownAce in 1984. Nissan and Mitsubishi quickly followed suit with conversions of cargo vans in 1987, but all of them were small and only offered four-cylinder engines, which limited their popularity in North America.
The 1989 MPV was designed from the ground-up as a minivan specifically for the American market. It was based on the large rear-wheel-drive 929's HC. It would be called the LV platform, and equipped the MPV with a V6 engine and optional four-wheel drive. Its selectable 4WD system is not to be confused with permanent "all-wheel-drive" systems; the MPV can be switched into 4WD with a switch mounted on the column gear selector. A dash mounted switch also allowed the driver to lock the center differential, splitting power equally between the front and rear axles. The 4WD can be engaged and disengaged while moving.
Unlike other minivans, the MPV's parking brake was directly on the floor beside the driver's seat and operated by the hand, when most other minivans had the parking brake in the driver footwell area and operated by the left foot. Like the later Honda Odyssey introduced in North America starting in 1995, it featured traditional hinged doors instead of sliding rear doors, though the original MPV only had a single rear door. This was also the only Mazda MPV generation with a manual transmission. The middle row was available as a bench, allowing seating for eight, when most minivans only seated seven. Because of the MPV's optional 4WD, the Mazda Navajo version of the Ford Explorer (sold from 1991 to 1994) was only offered as a two-door, so as to minimize internal competition.
The van was named to Car and Driver magazine's Ten Best list for 1990 and 1991 and featured as one of their "vehicles for the coming (fuel) crisis". Initial sales were strong as well, but rapidly fell off once other makers introduced all-wheel drive and V6 engines. In the years to come, Toyota's 1991 Previa, Nissan's 1993 Quest, and Honda's 1995 Odyssey had entered the market and began diluting Mazda's market share. Sales weren't helped when the MPV received one star out of four in the Australian Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) crash tests and a "Marginal" rating in the American Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) crash tests for damage to the occupant compartment and tire intrusion into the driver footwell area.
The van was refreshed in 1996, adding drivers' side rear door, airbag, and moving the parking brake to the footwell. While the four-cylinder engine was retired for the United States market, it was replaced with a similar but somewhat smaller 2.5 L unit for the rest of the world. The '97 and '98 models received a mild refreshing with "all-sport" body cladding and wheel arches, and polished alloy wheels. Mazda discontinued the original MPV after the 1999 model year.