New Car/Review

1997 Mazda MPV All-Sport

by John Heilig

Mazda

SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide

SPECIFICATIONS

ENGINE:            3.0-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 155 hp @ 5,000 rpm/169 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:      Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:      15 mpg city, 19 mpg highway, 11.3 mpg test
WHEELBASE:         110.4 in.
OVERALL LENGTH:    183.5  in.
OVERALL HEIGHT:    70.8 in.
OVERALL WIDTH:     71.9 in.
CURB WEIGHT:       4,105 lbs 
FUEL CAPACITY:     19.8 gal.
LUGGAGE CAPACITY:  11.1/37.5 cu. ft. (rear seat up/down)
TIRES:             P225/70R15
INSTRUMENTS:       Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, 
                   water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:         Power windows, power door locks, 
                   power mirrors, cruise control, 
                   air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio 
                   with cassette, anti-lock braking, 
                   dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE:     $32,320

Long before Chrysler and General Motors began building minivans with a fourth door behind the driver, Mazda had the MPV (for Multi-Purpose Vehicle). The MPV is more of a micro-van than a minivan, and the door on the driver's side is hinged and opens like a "normal" door, as does the door on the passenger side, but there's no denying the fact that Mazda had four doors before anyone.

The hinged side door doesn't offer any less convenience than the sliding door does, although a minor complaint could be made about having to walk all the way around the door to gain access to the rear, but that's nit-picking. In reality, the door is wide enough and sensible enough to provide full access.

In addition, there is a pass-through between the front seats that makes the MPV a true minivan, unlike some of the other Japanese entries. With the pass through, Mommy (or Daddy) can have access to the back while you're stopped to get to the children in the back. It was one of the features we loved about our full-size.

What sets the MPV apart, though is its versatility. MPV truly means multi-purpose. The MPV has all-wheel drive, which means it has four-wheel drive but the driver doesn't have to worry about it. You can use your MPV as a sport utility (a case can be made that the MPV was early in the sport utility market as well) if you want to, although I'm not sure what level of off-road you'd want to tackle with it. In any event, you can handle these nasty northeast winters, mud and rain, or off-road, and still feel confident that your MPV is going to get you home.

With rugged exterior styling, the MPV almost looks like part of the Subaru "Outback" line. MPV presents a rugged face to oncoming traffic that resembles a truck. It looks as if it'll take on any kind of road you throw at it. For added carrying capacity, there's a roof-mounted luggage race that would be good for bikes or skis or other outdoor equipment.

The MPV is powered by a 3.0-liter V-6 that's rated at 155 horsepower. This is just about right for this car. I'm always looking for more power, but too much power is just as bad as too little. I did feel that our test mileage of 11.8 mpg was too low, though.

MPV offers seating for seven with two in the first bank, two in the second and three on a bench in the rear. All four bucket seats have arm rests in the center to provide added comfort. The middle seats tilt forward to provide access to the rear bench. That rear bench seat folds to provide additional carrying capacity, and can be removed, along with the middle bucket seats to turn the MPV into a truck. But with just the rear seat folded we took six full garbage bags of grass to the town compost heap.

For entertainment, the MPV has an AM/FM with cassette and in-dash CD players. And we had full power accessories.

Under the hood, the 3.0-liter V-6 offers excellent access. You can even reach all the spark plugs on the north-south mounted engine. The dipsticks are clearly marked and easy to reach. One feature that's important in a vehicle that might go far off road is a high-mounted battery with terminals that are easy to reach in case you have to jump-start the car.

While I liked the MPV for its versatility, I though the price was out of line. The bottom line is $32,000, but the base price is $28,895, which is about $7,000 too high for this vehicle. It has a lot to offer, but it's also smaller than the competition. Mazda could have a best-seller here if the company would just put a killer price on it.

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