1991 Mazda Navajo

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$1,010–$6,826

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chicagotribune.com
Thanks to Mazda, Ford has a Probe and an Escort.

Mazda, Ford`s Japanese partner, helped design and develop both, and even built Probe at its Flat Rock, Mich., assembly plant.

Ford has reciprocated, though in some respects the automaker acted like the jealous cook and ``forgot`` to list an ingredient when passing along a favorite recipe.

Compliments of Ford, Mazda offers a four-wheel-drive utility vehicle for 1991, the Navajo-an Indian name for a Japanese vehicle built in the U.S.

Navajo is the Ford Explorer utility vehicle with a Mazda nameplate. Ford builds a two- and a four-door Explorer, formerly called Bronco II.

The problem, though it seems to be more of an issue to the media than to Mazda or Ford, is that Navajo is offered only in two-door version.

The official position is that 60 percent of all utility vehicles purchased are two-door models and because Mazda didn`t have an offering it asked Ford for one.

To remain a good partner and because Ford stands to make money on every vehicle it sells to Mazda, it will build 20,000 Navajos annually.

The unofficial position is that 60 percent of all utility vehicles purchased are two-door models because it was only in the last few months that Ford and Chevrolet began building four-door versions, Explorer and Blazer S- 10, respectively.

Ford seems to have sent the message for Mazda to stick it in its collective ear if it thought it was going to get any of the hot-selling four- doors. Take 20,000 two-doors or make it yourself.

Didn`t Mazda want and ask for four-doors?

Sure, says Executive Vice President Clark Vitulli, but he wouldn`t elaborate on Ford`s response. He would, however, say diplomatically that Mazda will be happy having 20,000 copies of a vehicle it never had the chance to sell before.

Vitulli says 686,000 compact sport-utility vehicles, or 17.2 percent of the light-truck segment, were sold in 1989. In 1990, sales should reach 734,000, or 18.7 percent. For 1991, the numbers should rise to 842,000 and 19.5 percent of the market.

So to go from nothing to 20,000 isn`t that bad whether the vehicles have two, four or no doors.

Mazda should be happy to be selling a version of the Ford Explorer rather than a true Japanese vehicle such as the dirt ugly Mitsubishi Montero or Isuzu Trooper, vehicles that bring back memories of the Willys Jeep.

We drove the two-door Navajo and thanks to the Ford heritage it`s an excellent four-wheel-drive utility vehicle. Explorer, after all, is one of the best.

You`ll enjoy Navajo even more if you pass on the optional sport seat, with pneumatic adjustment for lumbar support and side bolsters and a manually adjusted pullout thigh support.

If you wear a size 3 dress or if your belt size is half your age, you can use the thigh support to keep from falling out of that chair. If not, it`s an unnecessarily confining waste of money.

And the lever for the pullout thigh support is directly above the lever for moving the seat fore or aft, which means it`s in the way.

Navajo is powered by the same 4-liter, 155-horsepower, V-6 engine as Explorer, teamed with a 5-speed manual transmission as standard, a 4-speed automatic with overdrive as an $860 option. Our vehicle had automatic.

There`s good power, but if you take a steep hill in overdrive, engine anemia sets in until you floor the pedal or shift back to regular drive.

It would be nice to have a larger V-6, such as the 4.3-liter in the Chevy S-10 Blazer, but with a fuel-economy rating of 15 miles per gallon city/20 m.p.g. highway with automatic (16/20 with manual), a larger engine would only reduce those numbers.

There are few qualms with ride and handling. With a 102.1-inch wheelbase (up from 94 inches on Bronco II, which Explorer replaced) and an overall length of 175.3 inches, Navajo has g ood stability and provides a comfortable ride without jostling occupants, as in a short-wheelbase model. Gas-charged shocks and front and rear stabilizer bars help.

P225/70R15 all-season tires are standard. Our vehicle had the optional and larger P235/75R15 all-terrain tires, which did an admirable job of gripping the pavement, but are just big enough to make you feel a bit uncomfortable in a sharp turn or corner at speed.

The center of gravity isn`t so high that you feel wobbly in those sharp bends, but you do back off the pedal at speed, in large part because of the tires.

Navajo has a push-button four-wheel-drive system that the Mazda folks refer to as a no-brainer because it doesn`t require locking hubs or using a transfer case. You engage normal four-wheel drive when the snow starts to fall or four-wheel drive low to pull through an accumulation by touching one of two dash-mounted buttons.

Navajo has rear-wheel antilock brakes to ensure you stop in a straight line on wet or dry roads.

Nice touches are easy to see and use instrumentation, side vent windows for rear seat passengers and power door locks that even lock the rear hatch by just touching the driver`s button. A cup/coin holder in the console is appreciated, too.

Those who need to haul will find rear seatbacks fold forward individually to ease the loading of bulky cargo. The seat bottom cushions also fold forward to provide a flat floor for added carrying capacity.

Navajo with automatic is available with a package providing up to 5,000 pound towing capacity.

You can reach the cargo area by opening the window or the hatch lid.

On the negative side, other than the optional seat, the manual moonroof has a cover that must be removed and stored before the moonroof can be used, and the rear hatch is heavy to use when hands and arms are full of packages.

Standard equipment includes AM/FM stereo, power brakes and steering, power windows/mirrors/door locks, intermittent wipers, tinted glass and underbody skid plates. You can add an LX package at no cost that includes leather-wrapped steering wheel, retractable cargo cover, tie down net and auxiliary interior lighting.

Navajo offers two option packages at reduced rates. The best is the premium package that offers air conditioning, moonroof, cruise control, power seats, rear window washer/wiper/defroster, protective body side moldings, AM/ FM stereo with cassette, tilt steering and aluminum alloy wheels. The regular price is $3,550, but Mazda sells it for only $975, a $2,575 savings.

Navajo`s base price is $17,560.

>> 1991 Mazda Navajo
Wheelbase: 102.1 inches Length: 175.3 inches Engine: 4.0 liter, 155 h.p. V-6 Transmission: 5-speed manual; 4-speed automatic $860 opt. Fuel economy: 16/20 m. p.g. 5-speed; 15/20 automatic Base price: $17,560 Strong point: Another reason to visit a Mazda showroom. Weak point: Dump the seat. >>

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