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New Car Review: 2003 Mazda MPV ES

Mazda MPV - 2003

SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide


    Remember minivans? Wait, let me rephrase that question slightly. 
Remember when minivans really were mini? Some seem to want to 
be full-size vans these days, which is fine if you need a large vehicle, 
but then they can be as awkwardly unmaneuverable as any other 
outsized vehicle. Fortunately the second-generation Mazda MPV is 
still reasonably-sized outside, and, because of its efficient design, it 
has more interior space than you might think without a closer 

    The second-generation MPV made its debut for model year 2000, 
powered by a 2.5-liter V6 engine. While it was far more mainstream 
in design than Mazda's original MPV, it was also sportier than the 
average minivan in styling, ride, and handling. Its 2.5-liter, 170-
horsepower V6 engine was its only weak point. The problem wasn't 
that it was underpowered - the 170 horses were plenty, if the engine 
could be revved high enough to find them. Peak torque, 165 lb-ft, 
was developed at a relatively high 4250 rpm. It could have worked 
with a manual gearbox, but, despite Mazda's ``body of a minivan and 
soul of a sports car'' slogan for the MPV, a sport minivan with a 
five-speed manual transmission would inhabit a vanishingly small 
niche market in the real world. Fortunately, there was a better 
solution at hand. The 2.5-liter engine has a close relative of 3.0-liter 
displacement that easily fits into the MPV's engine compartment. 
With more horsepower and more torque, developed at lower engine 
speeds, and matched to a new five-speed automatic transmission 
instead of the original four-speed, the MPV's power situation 
improved significantly.

    The 3.0-liter engine debuted in the 2002 models, introduced mid-
way through 2002, and so there are no major changes for 2003. A 
DVD rear-seat entertainment system is now available, and power 
sliding rear doors are offered on both the LX and ES trim levels. I've 
been spending time in an ES, and have found it to be a versatile and 
comfortable vehicle. Despite its easy-to-park exterior size, there is 
plenty of room inside. And because of its dimensions and well 
thought out suspension, the MPV is much more fun to drive than the 
average minivan. 

APPEARANCE: The MPV exhibits plenty of Mazda DNA in its 
styling. While its two-box shape is standard minivan, sharply-creased 
character lines on the sides and the front styling, with the fenders 
higher than the hood center, and the hood line flowing into the 
chrome-trimmed five-point grille would mark the MPV as a Mazda 
even without the ``winged M'' logo prominently displayed in the 
center of the grille.  

COMFORT: The MPV may be smaller than some competitors 
outside, but it doesn't show much inside. Good design and careful 
attention to detail results in an interior that makes the best use of 
available space. It will hold six easily, or seven if third-row 
passengers are kid-sized. Access is easy thanks to the dual sliding 
doors, which may be ordered with power operation, controlled from 
the key fob or interior buttons. In contrast to the bench or captain's 
chairs in other minivans, the second row "Side-by-Slide" seats 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. 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, storage spaces, and power outlets 
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.

SAFETY: The MPV received a five-star rating in government safety 
tests. Its ``Triple-H'' construction results in a rigid, impact-resistant 
structure around the passenger cabin, with front and rear crumple 
zones. standard antilock brakes and available front side airbags 
further enhance safety.

ROADABILITY: OK, it's not a Miata, but the MPV's smaller-than-
typical-minivan size, rigid structure, and detail modifications to its 
suspension make it more maneuverable than other minivans. The ride 
is family-sedan comfortable, and good damping also keeps body 
motion to a minimum in corners. Some minivans can feel 
cumbersome on twisting, poorly-paved secondary roads. Not the 
Mazda MPV.

PERFORMANCE: While the MPV's original engine looked good in 
theory, there really is no replacement for displacement when it 
comes to torque production. And the old 2.5-liter V6 was a little 
deficient in low-rpm torque. There is no such problem with the new 
3.0-liter engine. Its 200 horsepower and 200 lb-ft of torque are 
developed at lower engine speeds than the 2.5-liter engine. That 
output is more than merely adequate for the MPV's size and weight, 
and the new five-speed automatic transmission allows the engine to 
work more efficiently. Acceleration for merging and passing at 
common real-world traffic speeds is noticeably better, and the 
transmission shifts less on steep grades. Electronic ``slope control'' 
shift logic also helps keep it in a lower gear on hills.

CONCLUSIONS: The Mazda MPV is right-sized and versatile.

2003 Mazda MPV ES

Base Price			$ 26,000
Price As Tested		        $ 29,345
Engine Type			dual overhead cam 24-valve V6
Engine Size			3.0 liters / 181 cu. in.
Horsepower			200 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			200 @ 3000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed electronically-controlled 
Wheelbase / Length		111.8 in. / 187.8 in.
Curb Weight			3812 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower	        19.0
Fuel Capacity			19.8 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P215/60 HR17 Dunlop SP Sport 4000 A/S
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / drum, antilock standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent strut / torsion beam axle
Drivetrain			front engine, front-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 24 / 20
0 to 60 mph				est 8.8  sec

Fog lights							$ 250
Roof rack							$ 200
In-dash 6-disc CD changer					$ 450
Power moonroof						        $ 700
Power dual sliding doors					$ 800
4-seasons package: includes: rear heater, larger washer tank,
 heavy-duty battery, heavy-duty rear defogger, transmission
 oil cooler, additional cooling fan, heated mirrors, heavy-duty
 wiper motor, 3000-lb towing capacity			        $ 425
Destination charge						$ 520