SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide
The original Mazda MPV minivan was an unusual entry in a class that celebrates conformity. Minivans, almost by definition, are medium-sized front-wheel drive vehicles. The MPV was a slightly larger rear-wheel drive machine that was more like a smaller version of a full-sized van than a typical minivan. Other minivans had second- row sliding doors; all of the MPV's doors were hinged. All-wheel drive versions of the MPV, culminating in the SUV-look "All-Sport", gave it some niche-market success, but only in a small niche.
As has happened with other makers of once-unusual minivans, the design philosophy behind the second generation of the MPV is "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em -- and do it better." It's a contemporary front-wheel drive design with dual sliding doors and just about every other feature of mainstream minivandom -- and some unique twists of its own. Three trim levels -- value-leader DX, mid-level LX, and premium ES -- are offered. Equipment levels are high, even on the DX. All share a 2.5-liter V6 engine and four-speed automatic transmission.
I had a change to sample all varieties at the press introduction in Southern California last summer, and recently spent a week with a 2000 MPV LX at home. The new MPV has many useful features, and is a very convenient size. As some minivans become less mini, they become more annoying to park and maneuver in tight spaces. No problem there with the new "right-sized" MPV, it has plenty of room inside. Mazda would like to expand its presence in the minivan field, and the new MPV should do well.
APPEARANCE: The old MPV was a utilitarian vehicle with strictly form-follows-function styling until the body-cladding of the faux-SUV All-Sport debuted. The new MPV has contemporary style. Although it is a two-box minivan at heart, careful sculpting and creasing gives it a dynamic character. "Contrast in Harmony" is Mazda's term, and there is even a "ground effects" styling package with a more-aggressive front air dam and side skirts. The chrome-trimmed, five-sided grille is Mazda's new look for the new century. Mazda's stylists have done a great job of hiding the door tracks. Obvious styling blemishes on the flanks of some competitors, they are neatly hidden below the quarter windows.
COMFORT: If the new MPV is smaller than some competitors outside, it doesn't show much inside. Application of Mazda's "OptiSpace" design philosophy, and careful attention to details, has resulted in an interior that makes the best use of available space. It will hold six or seven in comfort, and access is easy thanks to the dual sliding doors. In contrast to the bench or captain's chairs in other minivans, the second row "Side-by-Slide" seats in LX and ES levels can be moved fore-and-aft and the right seat moves side-to-side to give either configuration when needed, and make access to the third-row seat easy. They, and the DX's standard bench, are easily removable. And the third row seat not only folds flat into the floor, it can be reversed to make the MPV a very comfy vehicle for a picnic or tailgate party. Cupholders and storage spaces abound, as expected in a minivan. Unusually, the sliding-door windows can be lowered. Why, in an air-conditioned vehicle? Every try to get all of the hot air inside of a minivan out quickly? No problem in the MPV. Back up front, comfortable bucket seats and a well-designed instrument panel with plenty of convenient storage spaces can be found. Rear air conditioning is optional on the LX and standard in the ES. My test MPV was so equipped and it worked well and very quickly. The new MPV is comfortable and convenient.
SAFETY: All new MPV models have dual front airbags and use the latest safety belt technology. Front seat side airbags are standard on ES models and available on LXes. Antilock brakes are standard on the LX and ES.
ROADABILITY: ROADABILITY: The new MPV's smaller size helps give it good maneuverability on the road and in parking lots. Large minivans can feel cumbersome on narrow, twisting roads. But the MPV feels solid and well-controlled on any sort of road. It is a relatively tall vehicle, with a soft, comfortable suspension tuning, so it's no Miata. But a Miata doesn't hold seven people!
PERFORMANCE: Although the Mazda 626 has a 2.5-liter V6, that is not the 2.5-liter V6 in the MPV. The MPV has the "Duratec" engine also found in the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique and Cougar. Mazda is now part of the Ford empire, and so has access to the Ford parts bin. The MPV is lighter than most other minivans, and so the 170 horsepower (160 in low-emissions trim) Duratec works well. Its extreme low-rpm power could be better -- its small size shows there -- but its midrange and top-end power are especially good. The four- speed automatic transmission works well in most situations, only hunting for gears on very steep grades. Acceleration into fast highway traffic is not a problem.
CONCLUSIONS: The 2000 Mazda MPV is an interesting new entry in the minivan class.
SPECIFICATIONS Base Price $ 22,050 Price As Tested $ 25,250 Engine Type dual overhead cam, 24-valve V6 Engine Size 2.5 liters / 150 cu. in. Horsepower 160 @ 6250 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 165 @ 4250 Transmission 4-speed electronically-controlled automatic Wheelbase / Length 111.8 in. / 187 in. Curb Weight 3,682 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 23 Fuel Capacity 18.5 gal. Fuel Requirement unleaded regular, 87 octane Tires P215/60 HR16 Dunlop SP Sport Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum, antilock standard Suspension, front/rear independent strut / torsion beam axle Drivetrain front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 18 / 23 / 20 0 to 60 mphest. 10 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Dual air conditioning $ 595 NLEV emissions equipment $ 150 LX Touring Package - includes: front side air bags, remote keyless entry, wood-tone interior trim, carpeted floor mats, 9-speaker sound system, alarm and immobilizer, 16" alloy wheels w/locks, P215 / 60 R16 all-season radial tires $ 1,975 Destination charge $ 480