Mazda has reworked its front-wheel-drive MPV, which went on sale in February 2002. The revised version comes with engine and performance enhancements. The automaker says its right-size minivan is reinvigorated with the soul of a sports car. Thats Mazdas defining statement these days for every vehicle in its lineup.
The new 3.0-liter V-6 engine generates 200 horsepower, vs. the 170-hp V-6 in the previous MPV. A new five-speed-automatic transmission incorporates slope control, which stays in fourth gear to avoid unnecessary shifts during hill climbs. A recalibrated performance-oriented suspension is supposed to reduce body lean without negatively affecting ride comfort. Power sliding doors may be installed, and 17-inch alloy wheels are newly available. Mazda claims the MPV is lighter in weight than its competitors, with a trimmer exterior to yield more responsive handling and easier parking.
Two trim levels are available: the base LX and the ES. Front cupholders are said to be larger than before. A newly available foldaway side table between the front seats provides storage for cell phones and other items. The roll-down windows on the side doors are a bonus feature that was carried over from the previous model.
MPV sales in 2001 were respectable, with 32,181 units sold, according to Automotive News. That figure was lower than the 2000 total, but most minivans lost sales during 2001.
In external appearance, the MPV hasnt changed significantly. It rides a 111.8-inch wheelbase, stretches to 187.8 inches long overall (slightly shorter than the Dodge Caravan) and stands 69 inches tall. The MPV LX rides 15-inch alloy wheels, and 16-inch tires are included in a luxury package. Moving up to the ES model brings 17-inch alloy wheels and power-sliding side doors. A power glass moonroof is optional.
Seating is provided for seven occupants, with bucket seats in the front and middle rows. Second-row Side-by-Slide buckets not only slide fore and aft but also together, to create the equivalent of a bench seat. The MPVs Tumble-Under third-row seat folds completely into the floor or can be flipped rearward when the liftgate is open for use at picnics or tailgate parties. With the second-row seats removed and the third-row seat folded into the floor, cargo capacity amounts to 127 cubic feet, or 124.5 cubic feet if the minivan is fitted with a moonroof.
Dual-sliding side doors are standard, and power operation for those doors is optional. Windows in the sliding doors can be lowered a feature found in the previous MPV but not available in competitive minivans. Assist grips on the backs of the front seats include hooks for purses or grocery bags. Larger hooks and a 12-volt power outlet are installed in the cargo area.
Standard equipment includes air conditioning, power windows and door locks, a remote entry system, cruise control and rear privacy glass. The LX is equipped with a CD player and cloth interior. The ES adds leather-trimmed seats, rear air conditioning, side-impact airbags and a cassette/CD audio system. Fingertip controls on the steering wheel can operate the audio and climate systems. An eight-way power drivers seat, an in-dash six-CD changer and a rear-seat video entertainment system are optional.
Under the Hood
The MPVs lone powertrain is a 200-hp, 3.0-liter, dual-overhead-cam V-6 engine, which mates with a five-speed-automatic transmission. The V-6 produces 200 pounds-feet of torque and earns an EPA-estimated gas mileage of 18 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are standard. Side-impact airbags and traction control are optional in the LX but standard in the ES. Front seat belts include pretensioners, and child safety-seat tethers are installed.
The new MPV definitely exhibits more strength than the old model. This minivan still slows down quite a bit on steep upgrades, but engine noise is modest. The new automatic transmission tries hard and reacts promptly, considering numerous downshifts are necessary in mountain driving. Significantly more oomph is evident on more gradual inclines or level ground, but the MPV doesnt feel power-packed.
Handling is superb and is the MPVs foremost virtue. This minivan whips through curves like a capable sedan, and it remains impressively flat. Top-notch steering response is precise and confident. But after driving around several tight curves, you realize that this vehicle lacks the handling prowess of a sports car. The MPV has great agility and outhandles nearly every rival. The appealing roll-down windows in the second row are about the only feature that makes this minivan excel over others in the market.
Ride comfort is especially good and exceptionally well controlled. Its easy to feel the results of a taut suspension, but passengers wont experience much roughness or harshness.
The MPV is quiet but not silent, and you can hear road noise and some engine growl when the gas pedal is pushed hard. Its far quieter than the previous generation, but wind noise can get bothersome.
The seats are appealing and feature comfortable cushioning and very good thigh and back support, as well as a good amount of side bolstering. The controls are adequate. The glove box is large but sits low, and the handy center storage tray is a bit shallow.