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SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyer's Guide

by Annabelle Frankl

Joining the market of people carriers, Mazdaís MPV is a nice-looking, if under-powered, addition to the pack. Seating 7 in leather-cosseted comfort, it certainly provides enough space to transport extended families, although they might have to travel light (as in toothbrush and jammies) given the lack of luggage space provided. I have to admit to never understanding the point of numerous seats and no space for any belongings. Explanation, anyone?

The commanding seating position offers excellent visibility for both front and rear passengers, and the sliding side doors meant for easy access to the cabin. A profusion of storage compartments and cup holders popped up all over the place, meaning at least games/books/drinks could be well-accommodated.

The MPV comes equipped with a 2.5 liter, DOHC MPFI 24-valve V6 engine, which all sounds impressive enough but which emits a tinny din, and a rather lackluster 170 horses and 160 ft-lbs of torque. This translates to a gutless performance, and slow progress where 7 people and as-much-luggage-as-thereís-room-for fitted inside. Again, explanation anyone? Whatís the point of a seating capacity of this size if the engine capacity is only big enough to pull everyone up the hill at a pace at which a snail would be embarrassed? I know the need to keep price down is restrictive, but a little more under the hood would improve this vehicle no end.

That said, if you add to this a spongy suspension, the rear passengers are no doubt glad of the slow pace, given that cornering at speed would inevitably lead to illness all round. Unfortunately the independent strut suspension, with coil springs and stabilizer bar (in front), and rear-torsion beam do not add up to a firm ride whatsoever. Perhaps when itís loaded up with 7 people the MPV is anchored enough to supply a firmer journey but, as said, it wouldnít be going anywhere fast.

This lack of oomph and proper road handling is a shame considering that the vehicle has some nice design points. The 2nd row seatbacks have 2 fold-down tables, and the seats have armrests and recline. The 6-CD/AM/FM is in-dash and has 8-speaker, surround sound. There are also 10 cup holders, so never a shortage of places to put your soda. Add to this A/C, cruise control and privacy glass for rear passengers (ie, tinted windows, which keep out both prying eyes and the sunís glare, thus helping to keep the rear of the vehicle cool), dual air bags and great vanity mirrors and youíve got a nice, not-too-little, interior.

Safety features include 4-wheel ABS, dual front airbags and also front-side airbags, plus 3-point belts for all outer passengers, and lap belts for all center-seating ones.

Itís got potential. If Mazda have a re-think of whatís really needed to carry 7 people in style and at some speed, and if they can accomplish this without raising the price too much, then they might just have a winner. As it stands, well, better set off early if youíve got a full load.

Base Price        $19,995
Model Tested      $25,555
Engine            2.5 liter, DOHC MPFI 24-valve V6
HP                170 @ 6250
Torque            160 @ 4250
Drive Train       Front wheel drive
Transmission      4-speed electronically controlled automatic w/ OD
Brakes            4-wheel ABS
Steering          Speed-sensitive power rack and pinion
Suspension        Independent strut w/ coil springs & stabilizer bar (f)
                  Torsion beam (r)