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Expert Reviews 1 of 2
By Jim Flammang
March 3, 2004
Vehicle Overview Mazda reworked its front-wheel-drive MPV midway through the 2002 model year, claiming that its “right-size minivan is reinvigorated with the soul of a sports car.” That’s been Mazda’s defining statement recently for every vehicle in its lineup.
Two trim levels are available: the base LX and upscale ES. Changes in 2003 included a newly available backseat DVD entertainment system and optional power sliding side doors for both models.
The MPV’s interior and exterior styling has been revised for 2004. The headlights, grille, hood, bumpers and side skirts are new. All four captain’s chairs have new headrests, the driver’s seat gains lumbar support, sun-visor extensions are installed, and the ES minivan now has a standard six-CD changer. All models can be set up for Sirius Satellite Radio.
A five-speed-automatic transmission incorporates Slope Control, which stays in fourth gear to avoid unnecessary shifts while climbing. Mazda claims that the MPV is lighter in weight than its competitors and says it has a “trimmer exterior” to yield more responsive handling and easier parking.
Exterior Mazda’s minivan is a little smaller than most competitors. Riding a 111.8-inch wheelbase, it stretches to 189.5 inches long overall, which is about the same length as the Dodge Caravan. A power glass moonroof is optional. New 17-inch alloy wheels go on the ES model, while the LX gets revised 16-inch wheels. The performance-oriented suspension is supposed to reduce body lean without negatively affecting ride comfort.
Interior The MPV provides seating for seven occupants with captain’s chairs in the front and middle rows. The second row’s Side-by-Slide bucket seats not only slide fore and aft but also together, to create the equivalent of a bench. The Tumble Under third-row seat folds completely into the floor. Maximum cargo volume is 127 cubic feet.
Dual sliding side doors are standard, and power operation is optional. The windows in both sliding doors can be lowered — a feature not available in many competing minivans.
Standard LX equipment includes air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control and a CD player. The ES adds leather-trimmed seats and an eight-way power driver’s seat.
Under the Hood Mazda’s 200-horsepower, 3.0-liter dual-overhead-cam V-6 engine mates with a five-speed-automatic transmission.
Safety Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are standard. Side-impact airbags and traction control are optional in the LX and standard in the ES. The front seat belts include pretensioners.
Driving Impressions Agile handling is the MPV’s foremost virtue. This minivan whips through curves like a capable sedan, and it remains impressively flat. Top-notch steering response is precise and confident. Ride comfort is especially good and exceptionally well controlled. It’s easy to feel the taut suspension, but passengers won’t experience much harshness.
Mazda’s minivan slows down significantly on steep upgrades, but engine noise is modest. The automatic transmission tries hard and reacts promptly. More oomph is evident on gradual inclines, but the MPV doesn’t feel power packed.
Though the MPV is quiet overall, you can hear road noise and some engine growl when the gas pedal is pushed hard. Wind noise can also get bothersome. The seats feature comfortable cushioning and very good support.