SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide
As there are a handful of all-wheel drive mini vans on the market, only Mazda's MPV 4WD offers selectable four-wheeling with locking center differential.
As with conventional all-wheel drive mini vans, the system is always activated and awaiting wheel slippage. With the MPV, 4WD is selected when needed otherwise it operates in 2WD mode.
The MPV with All-Sport package - and the one I tested - is being billed as a sport utility van. Mazda likes to think of it as a cross between a sport utility vehicle and a sport ute wagon.
Because the MPV is slightly smaller than minis offered by the Big Three, interior space is less as is cargo carrying capacity. But on the plus side, the MPV possesses more agile maneuvering ability due to its shorter wheelbase.
In addition to these attributes, the MPV offers conventional passenger side doors as opposed to sliding doors. The rear hatch door is a one piece design but it would be nifty if Mazda went with a flip-up rear window for carrying lengthy items like 2X4s.
While speaking of cargo carrying, the rear bench seat in the 2,2,4 configuration (there are several seating arrangements offered), folds and is removable. However, the second row of captains chairs cannot be removed. Considerable space would be available if they could be. As is, the cargo area with the bench removed (42.1 cu. ft.) is adequate but just not quite enough for a home-bound college student with loads of belongings, shelves, lights, computer, carpeting and other items normally used in student apartments and dorms.
The MPV is offered in 2WD under DX, LX and ES models, while the 4WD version comes in LX and ES. My tester was the top-line ES with 4-speed automatic transmission and a long list of standard options. As such, it carried a hefty sticker price of $32,320 after a base of $28,895. Extra charge options included a compact disc player ($350), power moonroof ($1200), ES Preferred Equipment Group consisting of dual A/C, keyless entry, privacy glass and carpeted floor mats ($2250).
This is a sizable sum for a down-sized mini-van, especially when considering there are several true 4WD sport utility vehicles being offered for that and less - and with similar cargo carrying capacities.
Power-wise, the 3.0-liter 155-hp V6 engine is peppy around town and on the open highway. But when called upon to climb a steep mountain passage, the vehicle lugged and required full throttle to maintain the speed limit. It also down-shifted quite frequently in the process.
Mazda claims the 4WD model carries a 4200 pound towing capacity (4500 for the 2WD), but as this is a relatively heavy vehicle (4105 lbs), trailering a camper or boat will only hamper its modest performance capabilities.
Ride quality is good and the vehicle is stable in crosswinds, this despite its somewhat high-profile design. Otherwise the cabin is quiet, tastefully styled and very comfortable to drive and ride in. EPA mileage ratings are 15 city, 19 highway mpg which is typical of most 4WD vehicles.
While there was an absence of ice and snow for testing the MPV's 4WD traction abilities, I did negotiate (from a standing stop) a 45 degree steep macadam hill during a rain shower. The ascent went without wheel spin or torque steer. &Aside from its family transportation use, the MPV with its superior traction would make a great tailgater. And it'd be especially valuable if slippery roads are encountered on the trip home after a game.
SPECIFICATIONS ENGINE: 3.0-liter V6 HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 155-hp & 169 lb/ft of torque TRANSMISSION: 4-speed automatic FUEL ECONOMY: 15 city, 19 highway mpg WHEELBASE: 110.4 in. OVERALL LENGTH: 183.5 in. OVERALL WIDTH: 71.9 in. OVERALL HEIGHT: 71.5 in. CURB WEIGHT: 4,105 lbs.FUEL CAPACITY: 19.8 gallons LUGGAGE CAPACITY: 42.1 cu. ft. w/3rd seat removed. TIRES: 225/70-15 INSTRUMENTATION: Large, easy to operate HVAC controls, large easy to read instruments EQUIPMENT: (Standard) PW/locks/mirrors, quad captains chairs, removable third seat, cruise control, tilt wheel, leather seating surfaces, 4W ABS, child safety door locks, rear wiper/defroster, dual vanity mirrors, roof rack, two-tone paint, AM/FM/ETR w/cassette/clock and 4 speakers, 4-speed automatic transmission, 3.0-liter V6 engine, 24-hour roadside emergency roadside assistance; (Optional) compact disc player ($350, power moonroof ($1,200), ES Preferred Equipment Group -includes, dual A/C, keyless entry, carpeted floor mats and privacy glass ($2,250) STICKER PRICE: $32,320.00 which includes a $480 inland freight charge