Mazda Navajo

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Mazda Navajo
Mazda Navajo
ManufacturerFord Motor Company
Parent companyMazda
AssemblyLouisville, Kentucky
SuccessorMazda Tribute
ClassCompact SUV
Body style(s)2-door SUV
LayoutFront engine, rear-wheel drive / Four-wheel drive
Engine(s)4.0L 160 hp (119 kW) V6
Transmission(s)4-speed automatic
5-speed manual
Wheelbase102.1 in (2593 mm)
Length175.3 in (4453 mm)
Width70.2 in (1783 mm)
Height68.1 in (1730 mm)
RelatedFord Explorer
Ford Ranger
Mazda B-Series
Ford Aerostar
ManualsService Manual

The Mazda Navajo was a 2-door SUV introduced in 1991, and Mazda's very first off-roader. Also, the Navajo was Mazda's only truck-based SUV. Available only as a four-wheel drive, two-door vehicle, the Navajo was essentially a rebadged Ford Explorer Sport. It was marketed in the United States only as Mazda Canada did not want to market an SUV. All Navajos were built in Louisville, Kentucky, where the Explorer was built.

To set the two apart, the Navajo had a different grille, taillights and wheels. Inside, it was even harder to tell one from the other, as seat fabrics, type face on the instrument cluster (but the same design) and the steering wheel hub were the only apparent differences. Two trim levels for the Navajo were offered, base and LX. The base version offered power windows, power locks and power mirrors as standard. The LX added features such as extra interior illumination and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. An optional premium package loaded up the Navajo with luxuries including air conditioning, a stereo system with cassette deck, cruise control, sport seats with power lumbar adjustment and a pop-up/removable moonroof.

A rear-wheel drive Navajo was available for 1992, geared towards people who liked the sporty image of an SUV, but did not need four-wheel drive. Base models were now called the DX, more in keeping with the Japanese manufacturer's way of referring to their base versions (such as Mazda's own 626 DX). Otherwise, the Navajo changed so little that most of the photography used in the 1991 brochure was reused for the 1992 brochure. As expected, the 1993 Navajo picked up the same mechanical upgrades as the Explorer, such as increased power for the V6 engine and four-wheel anti-lock brakes. Unlike the Explorer, however, the only other change was an optional CD player. New five-spoke alloy wheels for the Navajo LX were the only change for 1994, which was the Navajo's last year. Sales were poor, and the Navajo was eventually replaced with the Mazda Tribute (based on the Ford Escape) in 2001, seven years after the Navajo was discontinued. The Navajo was Motor Trend magazine's Truck of the Year for 1991.

Firestone Tire Controversy

In May 2000, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) contacted Ford and Firestone about the high incidence of tire failure on Mazda Navajos, Mercury Mountaineers, and Ford Explorers fitted with Firestone tires. Ford investigated and found that several models of 15 in (381 mm) Firestone tires (ATX, ATX II, and Wilderness AT) had very high failure rates, especially those made at Firestone's Decatur, Illinois plant.

The failures all involved tread separation—the tread peeling off followed often by tire disintegration. If that happened, and the vehicle was running at speed, there was a high likelihood of the vehicle leaving the road and rolling over. Many rollovers cause serious injury and even death; it has been estimated that over 250 deaths and more than 3,000 serious injuries resulted from these failures.

Ford and Firestone have both blamed the other for the failures, which has led to the severing of relations between the two companies. Firestone has claimed that they have found no faults in design nor manufacture, and that failures have been caused by Ford's recommended tire pressure being too low and the SUV's design. Ford, meanwhile, pointed out that tires manufactured by the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company to the same specification had a spotless safety record when installed on the SUVs. Ford's conclusions were confirmed by NHTSA in their report into the tire failures, published in October 2001.

Many outside observers tend towards blaming both parties; Firestone's tires being prone to tread separation and failure, and the vehicles being especially prone to rolling over if a tire fails at speed compared to other vehicles. However, a subsequent NHTSA investigation of real world accident data showed that the SUVs were no more likely to roll over than any other SUV.

A product recall was issued, allowing Mazda Navajo, Ford Explorer, Ford F-150, Ford Ranger, Mazda B-Series, and Mercury Mountaineer owners whose vehicles came with the Firestone tires in question to exchange them for other tires.

A large number of lawsuits have been filed against both Ford and Firestone, some unsuccessful, some settled out of court, and a few successfully. Lawyers for the plaintiffs have argued that both Ford and Firestone knew of the dangers but did nothing, and that specifically Ford knew that the SUVs were highly prone to rollovers. Ford denied these allegations.

Car and Driver magazine tested a first generation Explorer with a built-in rollcage and a special device that would flatten the tire at the push of a button. The Explorer did not flip in any of the numerous tests, and that was mostly because the driver managed to stay calm. Everyday Explorer drivers taken by surprise by a tread separation or loss of tire pressure in high speed traffic situations may have panicked and swerved violently, resulting in a significant portion of reported rollovers.