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Review : Mazda MPV

New Car/Review

Mazda MPV

by John Heilig

The Auto Page


ENGINE: 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve V6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 200 hp @ 6200 rpm/200 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Five-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 111.8 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 187.8 x 72.1 x 68.9 in.
STICKER PRICE:  $25,000 (est.)

    Mazda has added power and better handling to its popular MPV minivan, but 
it may be what is not added that makes the vehicle so appealing. You see, 
Mazda has decided to keep the MPV a minivan, and has not added inches to its 

    For many consumers, a minivan - a TRUE minivan - is an ideal vehicle. It 
offers convenience, good carrying capacity, and seating for as many as seven 
people of assorted sizes. But many minivan manufacturers have chosen to make 
their minivans larger, approaching full-size vans in length. This is not the 
purpose of minivans, to my mind. If you want a big van, get a big van. More 
than likely, you'll also get big van power, which is usually lacking in the 
large-size minis.

    Horsepower has been increased from last year's 160 ( a bit light) to 200 
with the installation of a 3.0-liter DOHC V6. Yes, the engine is the same one 
you can find in a Ford Taurus, which is one advantage of Ford's working 
agreement with Mazda. 

    The engine delivers the power to the front wheels through a five-speed 
automatic transmission, which is also new. This new gearbox has selected gear 
ratios that are designed to give the MPV a more sporting character. After 
all, it will be advertised as having "the body of a minivan and the soul of a 
sports car," so the transmission should be sportier.

    Mazda engineers also stiffened the suspension slightly. They did this 
through modifying the front MacPherson strut suspension and adding a stiffer 
stabilizer bar to the rear. While the MPV won't handle as well as a Miata 
(MPVs were about four seconds slower than Miatas over the same autocross 
course at the introduction), the ride is firm enough to be comfortable and 
still keep from shaking your false teeth out.

    We had the opportunity to drive the MPV over some of the nicest driving 
roads I've ever experienced, from Carmel to Big Sur, California. What a 
perfect piece of pavement for any vehicle. 

    Both the LX and ES trim models have four-wheel, four-sensor, 
three-channel anti-lock braking system. These control the front disc and rear 
drum brakes and stop the van well. The MPV also has an electronic brake 
distribution system (EBD) that automatically modifies the rear-wheel braking 
force to contribute to shorter braking distances. Again, this isn't an 
oversized mini. The LX comes with 15-inch wheels and tires, while the LX is 
shod with 17-inch wheels and tires, making for a nice looking van.

    Robert Davis, Mazda's Vice President of Product Development, said the MPV 
is a smaller package with more usable space. For example, the 
multi-functional rear seat can be used as a rear seat (duh) in the "normal" 
front-facing way. It may also be converted to face the rear when the tailgate 
is up so it can serve as an extra seat at tailgates or picnics. Or, if extra 
carrying capacity is needed, it can "tumble down" into a recess in the floor 
to create a flat cargo area floor. The seat is also removable, which gives 
you the added carrying capacity of that recess in the floor should you need 

    The two bucket seats in the second row use Mazda's "Side by Slide" 
system. This permits them to be used as individual bucket seats, or to be 
pushed together when those second-row passengers may actually want to sit 
together. These, too, are removable. Cargo volumes are 17.2 cubic feet with 
the third row seat up, 54.6 cubic feet with it folded, 124.5 cubic feet with 
the third row seat folded, and 127.0 cubic feet with the second row seat 
removed. These are decent numbers.

    The side doors are powered, and offer a feature you can't find on the 
competition - roll-down windows. On all other minis I've driven, the windows 
are fixed. There are times when fresh air is superior to air filtered through 
the air conditioning system.

    Fuel economy is estimated at 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.

    It would have been relatively easy for Mazda to pack on a couple of extra 
inches on the MPV wheelbase and body and advertise that it had an "all new" 
MPV. Instead, the engineers concentrated on what was important; a more 
powerful engine and a stiffer suspension. Styling changes are minimal. The 
result is a compact package with a host of unique features.

    As Vice President of Marketing Kristen Simmons said, "there's a little 
bit of sports car in everything we make." You can't say that if your vehicle 
is oversized.

© 2002 The Auto Page Syndicate