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Mazda had an early rugged Fortuner SUV rival in the 1990s: Meet the mighty Marvie 4x4

2020-05-26 05:30

Lance Branquinho

1991 mazda marvie suv

Image: Mazda

This turbodiesel SUV could have been the perfect alternative to Nissan's Sani. 

When double-cab bakkies become station wagons, South Africans can't help themselves. The country's most popular large family vehicle is Toyota's Fortuner, which is an SUV version of the Hilux double-cab. Combining the ruggedness and loadability of a ladder-frame platform, with the benefit of third-row seating and a secure, weatherproof luggage area, Fortuner has undeniable appeal. 

This history of double-cab bakkies evolving into five-door SUVs is not a recent phenomenon for South Africans. In the late 1990s, Isuzu marketed the Frontier and a few years before it, Nissan did a notable local conversion of its Hardbody platform, with the Sani. 

But there was a Japanese ladder-frame SUV that South Africa did not receive. Although Mazda's B-Series bakkies have always been popular in South Africa, especially the double-cab variants, the company never bothered with its Marvie. 

The full model designation was actually 'Proceed Marvie', but most knew it simply as the Marvie. Built on the fourth-generation B-Series platform, the Marvie was Mazda's idea of an early rugged SUV. 


Have you owned an early SUV or 4x4 like a Nissan Sani or anything else? Please email us your photos and stories.

A strong turbodiesel for the time

In appearance, it was not the most graceful double-cab to station-wagon conversion. Nissan's locally-engineered Sani has superior panel integration and a smoother overall silhouette. 

Marvie owners had engine and drivetrain choices which mirrored the B-Series double-cab. That meant either a 2.5-litre turbo diesel or 2.6-litre petrol. The diesel engine was notably potent for a mid-1990s unit, boosting 92kW and 294Nm. In comparison the 2.6-litre petrol, although slightly torque deficient at only 197Nm, was cleverly matched to the five-speed manual gearbox's ratios. 

Off-road ability was adequate for the time with a low-range transfer case and 210mm of ground clearance. Traction was aided by small 15-inch wheels, rolling large-volume 265/70 tyres. 

Unfortunately, Mazda never considered the South African market a viable destination for its Marvie. The B-Series SUV launched in 1991 and had an upgrade in parallel with Mazda's bakkie range, before being discontinued in 1997. 

Could it have worked in South Africa?

If we considered the potency of Mazda's 2.5-litre turbodiesel, in comparison to what Isuzu offered with its 2.8-litre Frontier, in the late 1990s, the Marvie could have been popular with South Africans. It would even have competed successfully, against the 3-litre V6 petrol Sani. 

Mazda managed to refine the overall shape over time and added a four-speed automatic transmission, to ease the burden of traffic driving, for Marvie owners. The company also foresaw the demand for seven-seats, which Fortuner would eventually prove South Africans really wanted, nearly a decade later. 

Comparing the Marvie to a 2020 model year Fortuner, you'd expect the Toyota to be much larger, as vehicles have grown in size over the last two decades. Interestingly, the 1990s Marvie is actually 195mm longer than a brand new Fortuner, while the Toyota SUV is 45mm wider and 35mm taller. 

Why didn't Mazda bother with the Marvie in South Africa? The market for ladder-frame bakkie-converted SUVs was very narrow and dominated by Nissan in the early- to mid-1990s. Mazda would also have encountered a similar issue to what Isuzu eventually did with the Frontier, by not having a second-generation vehicle to retain customers. 

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