This weekend, with the death of the Mazda CX-7 (to be replaced by the Mazda CX-5), I thought I would dredge up some classic Japanese Crossovers, before the term “Crossover” was ever used for multi-purpose, four-wheel drive, small Japanese wagons that were available within North America. So, let’s start this weekend out with some of the most unusual cars that were available, and see if the “Crossover” label can be applied to any of them. As per usual, I will be having a poll, so don’t forget to vote…
Arguably, the Toyota Tercel Wagon was one of the more unusual Japanese Wagons available with 4-Wheel Drive, and it has become somewhat of a quirky icon. The Tercel 4WD Wagon came to America in the spring of 1982, with a 1.5L 4-Cylinder that developed 63HP, with a 6-speed manual tansmission (1st gear was extra low, and could only be used when in 4WD) or a three speed automatic. The Transfer Case could be shifted from two- to four-wheel drive without coming to a stop. Instrumentation included with better equipped four-wheel-drive models was a inclinometer above the radio/air conditioner that measured the tilt of the car. The inclinometer was discontinued after the 1983 model year.
The Tercel 4WD was built from existing pieces in the Toyota inventory. The engine, transaxle and front-wheel-drive system was from the existing Tercel. The coil-sprung rear axle was taken from the Corolla. The only part specifically designed for the new Tercel 4WD was the transfer case, built into the transmission. This gave the driver greater versatility than was possible on a purely front-wheel-drive vehicle, as it provided three different power arrangements. Normally, the car would be operated with front-wheel drive. When the driver pulled the 4WD selector lever back into four-wheel drive, or pressed a button on the gear selector for the automatic transmission, the power was split 50/50 between the front and rear axles via a direct mechanical coupling. 1985 saw minor changes to gear ratios and to the grille design, and the interior was updated in 1986. The Tercel wagon continued with the same design until February 1988, when it was replaced with a variant of the Toyota Corolla.
The closest competitor to the Tercel was the Honda Civic Wagon, which was part of the revolutionary 3rd generation Civic. The Civic 5-Door Wagon was called either the “Shuttle” in various markets around the world, and the “Wagovan” here in the states. It received unique bodywork compared to the Sedan and Hatch versions, and it was termed a “Tall” wagon. while only in FWD initially, the Wagovan received a part-time 4WD during the 1985 model year. Just as in the Tercel, the Manual Transmission versions received am “Extra Low” 1st gear, which could only be operated in 4WD.
In 1987, the four-wheel drive system on the wagon was changed, Called Real-Time 4WD, the system featured an automatic viscous coupling that shifted power to the rear wheels automatically when needed. Real Time 4WD models are recognizable by the charcoal grey center covers, covering the lug nuts which were exposed on FWD models.
With the 4th generation of civica introduced into the American Market for the 1988 Model Year, a new version of the Civic Wagon with much less radical styling was available, as was the Real Time 4WD version. Still available with a 6-speed manual, or a new 4-speed automatic, powered by the D16A6 4-cylinder that packed 108HP. The last of these wagons were produced until February of 1996 for certain markets, but were not offered here in the US after the 1991 model year.
Less well known was the American version of the Nissan Prairie Wagon which was called the Stanza Wagon. This really tall wagon was introduced for the 1982 model year, and was rather novel in the fact that there wasn’t a “B” pillar between the front doors and the sliding passenger doors. This took the “Tall Wagon” concept to the extreme, and it wasn’t well received here in the states. In 1987, a 4X4 version was introduced to help perk up sales, but it really never helped. It featured a 2.0L Nissan CA20S in its final year of production, producing 102HP. This version of the Prarie/Stanza/Multi was discontinued after the 1990 model year.
The fourth competitor in this market was the Mitsubishi Chariot, sold in the US as the Dodge and Plymouth Colt Vista, and later on as the Mitsubishi Expo. These resembled a smaller version of the Chrysler then current Minivans, and were offered here in the US from 1984 until 1991. The Colt Vista was available with the 2.0-liter 4G63, producing 98 horsepower in US trim, and either front-wheel drive or permanent four-wheel drive. Top speed was 96 mph.
Due to the partnership that existed between Chrysler Motors and Mitsubishi Motors during this time period, this generation of Chariot shares a similar appearance with the sales leader Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager, and was sold in North America as the Mitsubishi Expo. This vehicle was also sold on a shorter wheelbase, in a version marketed as the Mitsubishi Expo LRV, and also sold as the Dodge/Plymouth Colt Wagon and Eagle Summit Wagon. These version were only equipped with a single sliding passenger door, which was rather odd. These versions were offered until the 1996 model year.
Mazda was a competitor to this market with the very unusual Mazda MPV Van. 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.
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.