The Nissan Prairie was a five-door minivan compact multi-purpose vehicle produced from 1982 to 2004.
Nissan Prairie Design and Introduction
Nissan introduced the Prairie model in 1982 as a competitor to the similar Toyota Sprinter Carib and Honda Shuttle. The overall design mimicked a five-door station wagon, but it was elongated vertically for additional interior cargo space. The rear doors were sliding, allowing for easier access to the passenger compartment, especially in tight parking situations. There was no B-pillar, forcing the front and rear doors to latch with the floor and roof. The rear hatch's window draped below the shoulder of the rest of the vehicle, and opened vertically as one unit like most van or wagon designs. The original design took inspiration from the world-renowned designer's Giorgetto Giugiaro concept car, the Lancia Megagamma. It featured rigid square lines throughout, with a near vertical front facia, flanked by two rectangular headlights. The sides were also nearly vertical, allowing for maximum interior space, while the windows were large and provided excellent visibility. While the Nissan version was not the most impressive looking or stylish design, it did have many utilitarian qualities matched with the right price tag. It was mostly available in five-seat configurations, but certain markets received seven and eight passenger arrangements.
Model Name and Drivetrain
Like many Nissan models, the Prairie was sold under different names depending on the market. In the Japanese domestic market, you'd find the Nissan Prairie at Nissan Bluebird Store dealerships, but when it was the first-generation was introduced in Canada it was known as the Nissan Multi and in the United States as the Stanza Wagon. The Nissan Prairie was equipped with a lineup of inline-4 engine options ranging from 1.5L to 2.0L. At its launch in Japan, most featured a 1.5L or 1.8L engine, keeping under the government regulations for additional road tax on vehicles with engine displacement over 2.0L. A five-speed manual transmission was the base equipment, but three and four-speed automatic transmissions were eventually introduced. The Nissan Prairie was first available only in two-wheel drive, but a four-wheel drive variant was released in 1985. This allowed those living in areas that dealt with snowy, icy, or otherwise slick roads to have a capable vehicle that could transport many people or lots of cargo.
Available Features and Options
Unfortunately, the lack of a B-pillar combined with rear torsion suspension led to some complaints about body and handling characteristics. The Prairie had a reputation for strong understeering. Many different modifications and accessory options were available. One would transform the fairly large interior space into a campervan setup, while others were more geared toward stylistic or increased passenger comfort.
Second Generation Overhaul
In 1988, the second generation (M11) Nissan Prairie was released. It was sold under the model name Axxess in North America. It was heavily redesigned to fix the original body issues, and was now built on the larger Nissan Bluebird platform. This generation added back in the B-pillar and replaced the rear torsion suspension with a more conventional coil spring design. Engine sizes bumped up to 2.0L and 2.4L options, but remained inline-4 in design. Transmission options included a four-speed automatic and five-speed manual. The larger engine was fitted on the North American models, while the 2.0L versions were used in the Japanese domestic market. An extended version, known as the Nissan Prairie Joy, was available starting in 1995. It had a larger third-row seat and some conversions also increased the roof height, making it more attractive for campervan purposes.\
The End of the Line for the Nissan Prairie
In 1998, the third generation (M12) was released, but it changed its name to the Nissan Liberty. This was a more compact wagon design featuring 2.0L engine and four-speed automatic or continuously variable transmissions. When production of the Liberty ceased in 2004, it was replaced with the Nissan Lafesta.