Street-Spotted: Nissan Axxess

One aspect of past minivans that has faded a bit from collective memory over time, especially in the age of mega-crossovers, is that they really lived up to the “mini” part of the name. Come across an Eagle Summit Wagon or a 1980s Plymouth Voyager, and you begin to wonder how your parents or your friends’ parents actually fit stuff into that thing. They’re comfortable enough, and of course we were all smaller when we would have been passengers in these minivans. But today something like a Dodge Caravan from the early 1990s seems like a 4/5th-scale model shrunk in the dryer.

Just how small minivans could get away with being was explored by a number of the era’s players, including the aforementioned Eagle Summit Wagon/Mitsubishi Expo duo we mentioned earlier. But an even rarer bird was the Nissan Axxess, offered for just one model year in the U.S.

Don’t remember this minivan?

The Axxess was an evolution of the earlier and much boxier Nissan Stanza wagon, as it was known in the U.S. market, which at its core was really just a tall station wagon with sliding doors. That earlier model was sold as the Nissan Prairie in its home market for all three generations and as the Nissan Multi in Canada. The Axxess was essentially a second-generation Prairie and was offered in the U.S. just for the 1990 model year, being a benchwarmer of sorts for the larger Nissan Quest arriving immediately after the Axxess was pulled. But Canada had access to the Axxess far longer, from 1990 till 1995, helping explain how we spotted the example above in Montreal.

The Axxess was offered at a time when compact minivans were still a segment; interior accommodations for the second row were good, but the whole vehicle ended soon after the second row seats. There was some modest room for cargo, like a couple of grocery bags, but interior room was not a major selling point—let’s put it that way. Nissan had to make the second-row seats fold down to buy it some versatility.

But one novelty of the Axxess, taken for granted shortly thereafter, was it had sliding doors on both sides. That was a new feature at the time and one of just a couple trump cards the Axxess had to play.

An even more surprising feature, at least viewed through the eyes of today’s car buyers, was the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (borrowed from the 240SX) paired with a five-speed manual transmission and offered to send power to all four wheels. That’s right: If you wanted a small minivan with a five-speed manual and all-wheel drive in 1990, Nissan had you covered.

Of course, a four-speed auto was also an option for the U.S. market, and front-wheel drive was standard if you were not the adventurous type. But with 138 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque to play with, the manual likely offered a slightly more thrilling (but not too thrilling) experience. A roughly 10-second 0-60 time could be achieved if you were in a hurry, once the motorized seat belts slowly traveled into place with that sweet grinding sound.

At the end of the day the Axxess was a little too JDM for North America, and it was quickly replaced by the larger Quest, which was also offered by Ford as the Mercury Villager. Needless to say, many have perished since due to rust and the typically rough lives minivans led at the time, so spotting one is a tall order. Would any Nissan dealerships even have service technicians on staff today with experience working on these?

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