Mazda For 2000
By Carey Russ
Mazda has joined the ranks of mainstream minivan makers with the newest version of its MPV. The mid-size 626 sedan has also been given a major makeover. Other models, including the Miata sports roadster, the compact Protege sedan, and the Millenia luxury sedan, are little changed, although a special "Millennium Edition" Millenia is offered. A new sport-utility is on the way.
The original Mazda MPV minivan was an unusual entry in a class that celebrates conformity. It was more like a smaller version of a full- sized van than a typical minivan. Mazda is after a much larger slice of the minivan market with the all-new 2000 MPV. A conventional front- wheel drive design, it has all of the convenience features expected in a contemporary minivan, and then some. Dual sliding doors and an extremely versatile interior with some unique surprises can be found in all three trim levels. All share a 2.5-liter V6 engine that is more powerful than the old 3.0-liter engine. If it's slightly smaller than some other minivans, it holds seven people in comfort and can be parked easily. The old MPV had all of the style of a brick; the new one has a dynamic character. "Contrast in Harmony", as Mazda calls it, with a "ground effects" styling package adding a more-aggressive front air dam and side skirts. "Sport", not "sport-utility" is the word for the new MPV.
At first glance, the 2000 626 looks little different than last year's car. Don't be fooled. There are over 70 major changes to the 626 for 2000. Outside, the new Mazda grille and more well-defined styling are subtly noticeable. The interior has been restyled, fortunately without removing the unique oscillating air conditioning vents. But the best is unseen. Significant strengthening and stiffening of the unibody structure reduces noise and vibration and, with improvements to the suspension, improves the 626's road manners. The suspension is firmer and more comfortable -- a seeming contradiction that is not actually contradictory at all thanks to the chassis improvements. As before, both 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and 2.5-liter V6 engines are offered. The four has five more horsepower at 130, while the 170-hp V6 is unchanged. Both are available with 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmissions. The previous 626 was sportier than the average family sedan. The new one is even better.