1989 Mazda MPV

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chicagotribune.com
Rather than fool with success, Mazda fine-tuned its MPV mini-van with the addition of a four-wheel-drive version that provides an insurance policy for motorists on wet, slippery or snow-caked roadways.

And the beauty of the four-wheel drive system is that there`s no transfer case to fiddle with, no hubs to lock and no levers to grab, then grunt. When you want to switch from normal rear-wheel-drive to four-wheel-drive traction, you simply press a button on the gear shift lever to engage all the wheels. You can engage four-wheel drive any time as long as speed is under 65 m.p.h.

If you`re in soft sand or snow up to your waist, you can push another button on the dash to lock the center differential for greater traction.

The `89 four wheel drive Mazda MPV is arriving at dealerships this month to complement the rear-wheel drive version that bowed last fall. Mazda will ship 40,000 MPVs to the U.S. in 1989, about 4,000 of them four-wheel drives.

The four-wheel drive is built on a 110.4-inch wheelbase and is 175.8 inches long. It seats seven in three rows of seats, though at least one of the occupants in the third seat should be a child.

The four-wheel drive is powered by a three-liter, 18-valve, 150- horsepower fuel-injected V-6 teamed with a 4-speed automatic. A 5-speed manual will be added in 1990.

The EPA mileage rating for the four-wheel drive MPV with automatic is 16 m.p.g. city/20 m.p.g. highway. Should Mazda consider a bigger V-6 in the MPV in order to provide even peppier performance than the 3-liter? Not until it gets the mileage rating on that engine up to at least 18 to 20 m.p.g. city and 25 to 28 highway.

The 3-liter V-6 has ample power and the automatic is quiet. With that engine/trans combination the van can tow up to 4,000 pounds, just about the weight of the van itself. The addition of four-wheel drive adds 304 pounds over the rear drive only edition. You don`t feel any bulkiness in the wheel or when merging or parking.

Adding four-wheel drive meant raising the vehicle 2.7 inches to handle the hardware. Despite the higher center of gravity, you don`t feel any loss in stability. On one occasion we took a sharp corner while passing a semi on a four lane highway. A glance at the speedometer showed 70 m.p.h., yet there was no body lean or sway.

As with the real-wheel-drive-only version, the four-wheel has a car-style swing-open side rear door, rather than the sliding side door in many vans. With the swing-out you know when the door is shut and you don`t have to slide it back and forth until it catches (especially on hills) as you do with other vans.

Inside, the front buckets are roomy and comfortable. Arm rests adjust up and down. The bench seat behind the front seats has a folding back that converts to a bed. However, you first must pull a handle to slide the seat bottom forward to get clearance to lower the seat back. Gett ing the seat bottom to move forward and latch is nearly impossible. Mazda needs to fix that.

The third seat back also converts into a bed. No trouble with that seat, which also can be folded up to rest against the middle seat to increase rear cargo capacity.

The one thing the seats don`t do is provide space underneath to store a suitcase. That storage capability is needed to optimize interior room.

Other nifty MPV features include dual cup holders that fold out from the front passenger seat, a storage bin in the dash, plastic wraparound bumpers front and rear and a plastisol coating on the lower rocker panels for rust prevention.

Standard equipment includes power brakes and steering, AM/FM stereo with cassette, rear window wiper/washer/defroster, all-season 15-inch radials on alloy wheels and cup holders. Air conditioning is an $849 option.

Base price of the four-wheel drive MPV is $18,379.




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