The minivan boom of the 1980s caught the Japanese car makers by surprise. Each maker had its own response: Toyota was first with an adaptation of their mid-engined Van, based on the Japanese Town-Ace in 1984. Nissan and Mitsubishi quickly followed suit with conversions of cargo vans in 1987. All were small and only offered 4-cylinder engines.
The 1989 MPV was designed from the ground-up as a minivan for the American market. It was based on the large rear wheel drive 929's HC. It would be called the LV platform, and equipped the MPV with a V6 engine and optional four wheel drive. Its 4WD system is not to be confused with "all wheel drive"; the MPV can be switched into 4WD with a switch mounted on the column gear selector. A dash mounted switch also allowed the driver to lock the center differential, splitting power equally between the front and rear axles. The 4WD can be engaged and disengaged while moving.
Like the later Honda Odyssey, it featured traditional hinged doors instead of sliding rear doors, though the original MPV only had a single rear door. Because of the 4WD option, the Mazda Navajo (sold from 1991-1994) version of the Ford Explorer was only offered as a 2 door. The middle row was available as a bench, allowing seating for 8 when most minivans seated 7.