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New Car Review: 2004 Mazda MPV

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

By Bob Gordon C0-Publisher, The Auto Channel

My question has always been; “why get a mini-van if cargo space with all the seats in place is really mini?”

This is a good question and one that you big family types out there should be asking before you buy what seems like a very practical way to transport your herd around town and once a year or so around the country.

I have never been a fan of mini-vans that are so cramped for cargo space that not only must every nook and cranny be stuffed like a thanksgiving turkey with luggage and vacation supplies, but an upstairs storage room has to be added to the mini-van in order to carry what even a lightly packed family needs for that pilgrimage to the mecca of family vacations…Orlando. So how do you make a wise cargo capacity decision before you commit the next 5 6 or 7 years to paying for the new family sled?

My recommendation is before you buy…test pack …yes that’s right, test pack your potential new family van. Tell the dealer’s sales person that before you will even consider purchasing their car, they must agree to allow this test pack.

In preparation, before you start test driving the many mini-vans that are available, prepare a vacation’s worth of luggage, boogie boards, grocery bags, coolers, beach toys, pillows, blankys and the other “must-take paraphernalia” that is considered absolutely necessary to take on your next road trip…have it ready at home for a quick stuff.

Now instead of just driving the mini-van under consideration, at the end of a satisfactory test drive…pull up to your house get the kids and dogs and pack the van with the waiting luggage etc, the same way that you will when its time to pack for the real thing. If you have lots of stuff left outside of the mini-van, unload and go back to the dealership and then on to the next candidate on your short list of mini-vans being considered for purchase.

Ok so what does this all have to do with our 2004 MPV review? Everything!

The truth is most mini-vans feel great to drive …most have cup holders everywhere, most have flexible seating, most have all the bells and whistles and trappings of a modern vehicle so there has got to be more leading to a final buy decision.

The MPV I tested for a week had superior seat flexibility and had room for lots of luggage plus 5 passengers plus the driver. How do I know this...well you don’t think that I would suggest a “test packing” to you and not do one myself.

My younger son and his wife and two boys were visiting in Louisville the week that I was testing the 2004 Mazda MPV, the timing couldn’t have been better. They arrived at our airport loaded with all the luggage it takes to sustain a 4 person family traveling from the semi-tropical Okinawa, Japan where my son works as a high tech guru for our U.S. Marines to the scheduled visits and multi-climate conditions found in the lower 48 in March…from the snow and cold of Vail to the warmth of south and central Florida and on to the unpredictability of Kentucky in the early spring…snow one day 68 degrees the next.

The challenge was to fit the luggage into the MPV without leaving a child for later pickup or breaking the law by holding a child instead of belting him into his own seat.

Through superior jig-saw puzzle visualizations and genetically provided packing acumen the MPV took the load nicely and we were off and on our way…one big happy to see each other family.

Besides having room in the right places the MPV provided electronically controlled doors on both sides of the van to ease egress and exiting. The front and middle captain’s chairs were substantial and very comfortable, while the rear bench seat provided more than enough headroom and hip room for tall full sized adults.

The rear controls, the rear heating and air conditioning and speaker system made riding in the back a comfortable proposition…and when you add in the view of the drop-down DVD screen it was more than pleasant.

The handling was what I expected from a modern mini-van…very car like and comfortable Although the 200 horsepower provided was adequate for most driving situations, I would have liked to have more…the MPV’s rack and pinion steering was sure and tame and kept the van in good control at all times…the 4 wheel disc brakes did what they were supposed to do surely and smoothly…the transmission was smooth and not at all overly busy…and the suspension delivered a sure footed comfortable car-like ride…and the view of the road ahead from the high seats was commanding and added to the “big” feel of the MPV.

The 2004 Mazda MPV is well worth considering as your new family mini-van...but don’t forget to “test-pack for yourself first!