Rare Rides: The Mazda Navajo of 1992, O Brother of Explorer

Corey Lewis
by Corey Lewis

The rarely seen (any time post-1999) Mazda Navajo was the oft-forgot smaller sibling of Ford’s incredibly popular first-generation Explorer. An example has popped up for sale in Wisconsin, and it’s about as new as can be. We need to check it out.

Ford’s Explorer was introduced in 1991, and quickly became the new hotness for families across the nation. Eager members of the middle class traded in their tired minivans or even more tired large wagons, and bounced around the country in their new Explorer Eddie Bauer or perhaps an XLT (sad!). And across town at the Mazda dealer, there was a thoroughly Japanese Explorer for sale with a Native American name.

Born of the time when Ford owned Mazda, the Navajo was also introduced for the 1991 model year. It took the prize for first SUV sold under the Mazda name. Unlike the Explorer which was available in three- or five-door configurations, the Navajo was only available as the former.

The main difference between the American and Japanese brothers were the front and rear treatments, and some wheel designs. Two different trim levels were offered on the Navajo: a base DX or the “upmarket” LX we have here. Unlike the Explorer, the Navajo came with some standard equipment even in DX guise. Power windows, locks, and mirrors were always standard, and the LX trim included a leather steering wheel and some additional interior lighting.

The original buyer of today’s Rare Ride decided those things were not enough, and opted for the premium package to accompany his Navajo LX. Air conditioning, cassette stereo, power lumbar, and manual moonroof were all benefits of checking the premium box. All Navajo examples were powered by Ford’s 4.0-liter Cologne V6.

Though good value, the Navajo had some issues. The first of which was the name on the grille, as consumers didn’t look to Mazda for an SUV. Said stream of customers was limited further by Ford’s prerogative to offer the Navajo only in three-door configuration. Families demanded five doors, and Mazda didn’t even offer that many on their MPV minivan. The end result was lackluster sales figures, and the Navajo would be discontinued after the 1994 model year.

This extra clean Navajo we’ve been viewing was recently listed on Racine’s Craigslist. It has four-wheel drive, a five-speed manual, and only 60,000 miles on the clock. Asking price? Just $2,000.

[Images via seller]

Corey Lewis
Corey Lewis

Interested in lots of cars and their various historical contexts. Started writing articles for TTAC in late 2016, when my first posts were QOTDs. From there I started a few new series like Rare Rides, Buy/Drive/Burn, Abandoned History, and most recently Rare Rides Icons. Operating from a home base in Cincinnati, Ohio, a relative auto journalist dead zone. Many of my articles are prompted by something I'll see on social media that sparks my interest and causes me to research. Finding articles and information from the early days of the internet and beyond that covers the little details lost to time: trim packages, color and wheel choices, interior fabrics. Beyond those, I'm fascinated by automotive industry experiments, both failures and successes. Lately I've taken an interest in AI, and generating "what if" type images for car models long dead. Reincarnating a modern Toyota Paseo, Lincoln Mark IX, or Isuzu Trooper through a text prompt is fun. Fun to post them on Twitter too, and watch people overreact. To that end, the social media I use most is Twitter, @CoreyLewis86. I also contribute pieces for Forbes Wheels and Forbes Home.

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3 of 33 comments
  • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Apr 16, 2018

    Its smaller than the 5 door Explorer, but its exactly the same size as the Explorer Sport. Ford did not own a controlling interest in Mazda until 1995, and I highly doubt they mandated Mazda to only offering a 3 door. It's more likely that Mazda wanted to project a sporty image and was unprepared for the popularity of the 5 door version with families. All that said, I do like this one, but there are too many rust-free Explorers out there to choose from. I do want a first gen or earlier second gen at some point, but I've decided to put more money into fixing up my Taurus first. Which, by the way, has a ton of parts waiting to be installed once this job is over. I'm very excited to get to work on it! Lots of upgrades coming, including a set of 17" OEM Ford wheels I bought for it Sunday.

  • MoparRocker74 MoparRocker74 on Apr 16, 2018

    When a Ford Explorer derivative looks refreshing and desirable, you KNOW the current crop of CUVs/SUVs is total crap. I like the idea that an SUV doesn't have to cater to suburban soccer moms schlepping kids around...this is an entirely suitable rig for a younger single guy. And not much these days fits that bill.

    • PrincipalDan PrincipalDan on Apr 16, 2018

      Eh those guys are buying pickup trucks and (Toyota hopes) the 2019 RAV4!/s Seriously though I saw some XLT F150s with 5.0 Coyote, 4x4, bucket seats + console and extended cab at at a Ford dealer in Utah. Those are going to be blank canvases for some Ford loving Bro (the demographic 2 door SUVs served.)

  • VoGhost Key phrase: "The EV market has grown." Yup, EV sales are up yet again, contrary to what nearly every article on the topic has been claiming. It's almost as if the press gets 30% of ad revenues from oil companies and legacy ICE OEMs.
  • Leonard Ostrander Daniel J, you are making the assertion. It's up to you to produce the evidence.
  • VoGhost I remember all those years when the brilliant TTAC commenters told me over and over how easy it was for legacy automakers to switch to making EVs, and that Tesla was due to be crushed by them in just a few months.
  • D "smaller vehicles" - sorry, that's way too much common sense! Americans won't go along because clever marketing convinced us our egos need big@ss trucks, which give auto manufacturers the profit margin they want, and everybody feels vulnerable now unless they too have a huge vehicle. Lower speed limits could help, but no politician wants to push that losing policy. We'll just go on building more lanes and driving faster and faster behind our vehicle's tinted privacy glass. Visions of Slim Pickens riding a big black jacked up truck out of a B-52.
  • NotMyCircusNotMyMonkeys dudes off the rails on drugs and full of hate and retribution. so is musky.