Mazda took a sabbatical from the minivan wars during the 1999 model year but is back for 2000 with a new MPV. Though the name is the same as the companys previous minivan, everything else is different. The original MPV, sold from 1988 through 1998, had four conventional, swing-out side doors and came with rear-wheel or four-wheel drive. The new MPV has sliding rear doors on both sides and front-wheel drive.
The new MPV has conventional minivan styling and the now-fashionable dual sliding doors. Both sliding doors open and close manually, but they come with a unique feature in the minivan field: windows that roll down. The windows in the sliding doors operate manually in the base DX model and are power-operated in the LX and ES. They open to within a few inches of all the way.
With an overall length of 187 inches, the MPV is about the same size as the regular-length Dodge Caravan and nearly 8 inches shorter than the Mercury Villager.
With seats for seven on all models, the MPV fulfills the basic minivan requirement for passenger accommodations. Mazda throws in a couple of new wrinkles.
The base DX model has a two-place middle bench seat, but the LX and ES have two middle buckets. The one on the passenger side comes with a Side-by-Slide feature that allows it to move inboard a few inches to make it easier to get to the rear seat. The three-place rear bench folds flat into the cargo floor a feature copied from the Honda Odyssey and it can be turned around to face rearward for tailgate parties.
Having a tailgate party? The rear seat of the MPV can be turned rearward for dining comfort.
Mazda says there is 17 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat and 127 cubic feet with the middle seat removed and the rear seat folded.
Under the Hood
Ford owns a controlling interest in Mazda, so it is no surprise that a 2.5-liter Ford V-6 is under the hood of the MPV. The same 170-horsepower engine powers the Ford Contour sedan, but it struggles in the heavier MPV with just the driver aboard. Mazda says a larger, more powerful engine is coming in the next year or so. A four-speed automatic transmission is standard.
Antilock brakes are standard on the LX and ES models, and side-impact airbags for the front seats are standard on the ES and optional on the LX. Neither feature is available on the DX.
Mazda was overdue for a new minivan, and the 2000 MPV offers decent passenger and cargo space, flexible seating and a well-designed interior. The weak performance of the V-6 engine is its biggest shortcoming.