SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide
SPECIFICATIONS Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 22,050 Price As Tested $ 25,250 Engine Type DOHC 24-valve 2.5 Liter V6 w/SPFI* Engine Size 180 cid/2498 cc Horsepower (160 hp Cal) 170 @ 6250 RPM Torque (lb-ft) 165 @ 4250 RPM Wheelbase/Width/Length 111.8"/72.1"/187.0" Transmission Four-speed automatic Curb Weight 3707 pounds Fuel Capacity 18.5 gallons Tires (F/R) P215/60R16 all-season Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/drum (ABS) Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive Vehicle Type Seven-passenger/five-door Domestic Content One percent Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) N/A PERFORMANCE EPA Economy, miles per gallon city/highway/average 18/23/21 0-60 MPH 10.5 seconds Maximum cargo capacity 127.0 (cu.ft.) * Sequential multi-port fuel injection
Mazda's second attempt at the minivan business has produced a much better people-mover than before. Minivan buyers are looking for practicality and a low price, which is exactly what Mazda has produced with its second generation MPV. It comes in base DX, top-line ES and as our tester for the week, the LX.
OUTSIDE - Depending on who you listen to, minivans are becoming more appealing to the eye. Where the old Mazda MPV design was chunky and rectangular, it now follows the modern trend toward a more svelte, streamlined design. Mazda stylists incorporated sharp creases and cut lines, fender flares and a chrome grille at the base of the steep hood. It grew over just three inches in length, and its wheelbase is almost an inch longer than the previous version. Dimensionally, it's smaller than the most popular minivans, but what it gives up in size, it makes up for with clever interior packaging and extra maneuverability. It fit quite easily into a parking space that other minivans would have trouble utilizing. Like others in its class, the MPV relies on a short front overhang and slanted rear roof pillars to give a sporty look, while a set of spoked, 16-inch aluminum wheels are optional on LX version.
INSIDE - Mazda has designed versatility into the MPV. Its low step-in height makes for an easy climb inside, while the driving position is tall and commanding. Its sliding side doors are light and simple to shut, and offer roll-down windows, a brilliant first for the minivan industry. Its instrument panel is easy to use, with the climate and stereo controls set high in the dash, with large buttons that quickly become intuitive to adjust. The middle-row seats can be transformed from a pair of captain's chairs to a two-person bench seat with what Mazda calls its Side-by-Slide feature. They can also be moved back and forth for extra legroom. The rearmost seat folds and tumbles into a well in the floor, so removing it completely and storing it in the garage is not required. It can also be flipped backwards to face the rear. When it's in its upright position, there is a sizable well in back that is perfect for storing groceries or for packing family excursion equipment.
ON THE ROAD - Parent company Ford has provided the latest MPV with a 2.5 liter V6 engine that produces 170 horsepower and 165 lb-ft of torque. In California and other states that require lower tailpipe emissions, it makes 10 horsepower less. The engine uses dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder, and is borrowed from Ford's Contour sedan. Fortunately, the MPV is no heavier than it is because the engine would be overwhelmed. According to reports, a larger, more powerful engine will be offered in a few years but for now, Mazda is a short step behind other minivan makers in the power category. Mated to the 2.5 liter V6 is a four-speed automatic transmission, also provided by Ford. Traction control is unavailable.
BEHIND THE WHEEL - The MPV is built on its own chassis, a unibody platform so far not shared with any other Ford or Mazda product. It uses MacPherson strut front suspension and a simple torsion-beam rear axle. Coil springs, tube shocks and an anti-roll bar are fitted front and rear, while larger, optional P215/60R16 tires gave our tester a good grip of the road. The rear suspension is designed to minimize alignment changes when the van is loaded. The MPV definitely handles like a minivan, with some body lean and tire scrub in heavy corners and its light steering, which works well in parking lots at low speeds, could use some extra highway feel. The ride is smooth and comfortable, however, with little wind noise and just a hint of engine hum on the highway. Braking duties are handled by front disc and rear drum brakes with an optional anti-lock braking system (ABS).
SAFETY - Dual airbags and side-impact door reinforcement beams are standard, ABS and side airbags are optional.
OPTIONS - Dual A/C: $595; LX touring package (side airbags, keyless entry, uplevel sound system, alarm, alloy wheels, floor mats and wood grain interior trim): $1,975. Freight charge: $480.