(There is a battle-royale going on in the auto industry between the
sport utility vehicle (SUV) and the minivan - and the minivan forces are
pulling out all the stops. Mazda re-enters the fray by putting a second
rear door on its latest version of the MPV minivan. The Hagins are both
van owners and find that as the genre evolves, the more blurred the line
becomes between the minivan, the SUV and the traditional family sedan.)
TOM - The Mazda MPV comes in three trim levels in two-wheel-drive
form, and dressed two ways with four-wheel-drive mechanicals. Mazda is
trying to re-market its MPV not as a minivan, but as an SUV, especially
in its 4WD form. But either way, it's still a van.
BOB - That's true, but by adding a fourth door just behind the
driver, it's close to becoming a station wagon. Although unless its a
big domestic, rarely do you see a wagon that's rated to tow up to 4,300
pounds. But in the case of the MPV, that's true only if it's equipped
with the special Load Leveling Package that adds a full-sized spare
tire, transmission cooler and a larger engine cooling fan.
TOM - The 1996 MPV has been stretched a bit. It's now almost eight
inches longer, but that's due to an extension to the front bumper and
hood, and a restyled tail. That fourth door is the best idea the company
has had since the Miata. The windows roll all the way down, too, not
like other cars where the glass only lowers halfway.
BOB - But those doors are long, Tom, and they open outward almost 90
degrees. So while that makes getting in and out easier, it's hard to
open them wide inside those tight parking spaces. I really like the rear
doors of a minivan to be sliders but I still think the extra door is a
great idea. Why didn't they think about that before?
TOM - Probably because it was more expensive, and since the other
van makers didn't have one until recently, Mazda felt it didn't need one
either, until the pressure of competition made it necessary. Even now,
some of the other makers haven't offered an extra door and it's hurting
BOB - The MPV certainly is loaded with convenience features -
they're everywhere! All MPV models have power windows and ventilation
ports to the rear seats, and all but the bottom-line DX 2WD have
standard cruise control, an AM/FM cassette stereo, power door locks and
outside mirrors, and a tilt steering column. And air conditioning,
keyless entry and variable speed intermittent wipers are available. You
can even get an extra A/C unit and heater for the rear passengers.
TOM - Mazda has snugged up the instrument panel somewhat, and where
last year's version protruded outward, the new van's pod-like panel has
been blended nicely into the rest of the dash. And since it's a van,
there are three different seating arrangements to choose from. The best
setup has to be the ES model's four bucket seats for the front and
middle, plus a three-across bench seat in the "way back." And they're
easy to remove, too, so I can fit my mountain bike inside without
dismantling the whole thing.
BOB - MPV power comes from a 3.0 liter V6 that still gives the same
155 horsepower it did when it arrived in 1989. It's just adequate for a
van this size and when the inside is full of people, it's downright
slow. It now has a redesigned intake system which improves mid-range
throttle response, but I think it needs a horsepower injection. It could
come from an enlargement of the engine but I've been told that three
liters is just about the limit of expansion that the engine can take.
TOM - If it's weak in the power department, it's strong on safety.
Dual airbags are now standard on all MPV models, as are four-wheel
anti-lock brakes. Those brakes are discs all the way around, too, and I
think that stopping power can't be compromised with a family vehicle.
BOB - I wish these modern minivans had been around when all you kids
were growing up. They would have been handy going on camping trips.
DAD - Dad, there were so many of us that we would have had to use a
small trailer to cart all our gear.
BOB - And I guess we'd have never found room for the dog.