2012 Mazda5 GS
2012 Mazda5 GS; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

By Chris Chase

To the casual observer of automobiles, Mazda’s introduction of the Mazda5 to Canada in 2006 marked the beginning of a new trend in family-friendly vehicles. That was bolstered in 2007 with the arrival of the Kia Rondo, a vehicle whose only major difference was in its swing-out rear doors, where the Mazda uses sliders.

Earlier this year, Ford announced it would bring its Focus-based C-MAX to Canada for 2012, the same year Chevrolet will intro its Orlando north of the border. These four vehicles, all of which are sold in other markets, some under different names, are just the tip of the iceberg. In Europe, these multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs, not to be confused with the now-defunct Mazda minivan of the same name), as they’re classified, are everywhere, serving as that continent’s equivalent of the crossovers and minivans so popular here.

Alas, the multi-purpose vehicle, or MPV, is not new to Canada. We first saw vehicles like these nearly 30 years ago! There was the 1982 Nissan Multi, a boxy caricature of a hatchback that was related to the Nissan Stanza (a car that was eventually replaced by the Altima), and the 1983 Dodge/Plymouth Colt Vista, and Eagle Vista wagon, a trio of Mitsubishi-built vehicles sold by the Chrysler group, and positioned beneath the company’s famous minivans, which debuted the same year.

Nissan Multi - photo courtesy Wikipedia user Infrogmation
Dodge Colt Vista - photo courtesy OldParkedCars.com
Nissan Multi – photo courtesy Wikipedia user Infrogmation; Dodge Colt Vista – photo courtesy OldParkedCars.com. Click image to enlarge

If you wanted to stretch the definition even further, you could include cars like the Honda Civic Wagovan of the mid-1980s, and Toyota’s Tercel 4WD station wagon (Civic and Tercel photos courtesy of OldParkedCars.com) of the 1980s and Corolla All-Trac wagon (photo courtesy Svana.org), sold from 1988 through 1992. While seating was limited to five in these cars, they all sported tall rooflines that enhanced interior space beyond what was typical in a small wagon.

(As an aside, OldParkedCars.com has loads of photos of mostly clean examples of cars, both nifty and normal, from decades past, and is well worth checking out.)

The Vista was a true predecessor to the Mazda5 and Rondo in that it offered three-row, seven-passenger seating (in a vehicle whose engine 2.0-litre made 96 horsepower), while the Multi was strictly a five-seater. The Nissan also used a 2.0-litre engine, with 97 horsepower.

In 1988, the Multi was redesigned into the Axxess, a sleeker, more powerful (with a 138-hp, 2.4-litre motor) vehicle that foreshadowed the look of the 1993 Nissan Quest (also sold as the Mercury Villager). The Axxess would ultimately be dropped in favour of the Quest, whose subsequent generations grew in size, along with its competitors in the minivan segment.

Meanwhile, the Vista was redesigned into the Colt wagon (Dodge) and Summit wagon (Eagle) in 1992, and gained a pair of new engines: a 113-hp, 1.8-litre and a 2.4-litre.

Both the Axxess and Vista succumbed in 1995 to poor sales, no doubt thanks to the success of the larger, more powerful and more versatile minivan.

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