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By Jim Flammang
September 6, 2005
Vehicle Overview One of the smallest minivans on the market, the front-wheel-drive Mazda MPV features roll-down windows in its sliding doors. Minor revisions, including a newly standard retractable key, took place for 2005. Rear air conditioning became optional in the LX and standard in the ES.
Except for body color choices, nothing has changed for the 2006 model year. Interior and exterior styling was revised for the 2004 model year. The headlights, grille, hood, bumpers and side skirts were new. All four captain's chairs got new ergonomically shaped headrests, the driver's seat gained lumbar support, sun-visor extensions were installed, "smart" front airbags were added, and the ES got a six-CD changer.
The MPV's five-speed-automatic transmission incorporates Slope Control, which stays in fourth gear to avoid unnecessary shifts while climbing. Mazda claims the MPV weighs less than its competitors and that its "trimmer exterior" yields more responsive handling and easier parking. Analysts have noted that the MPV's smaller-than-normal dimensions may account for its modest popularity.
Exterior Mazda's minivan is significantly shorter than most minivan competitors. Riding a 111.8-inch wheelbase, it stretches to 189.5 inches long overall, which is roughly the same length as a regular-size Dodge Caravan. A power moonroof is optional.
Seventeen-inch alloy wheels go on the ES model, while the LX gets standard 16-inch wheels. The performance-oriented suspension is supposed to reduce body lean without negatively affecting ride comfort.
Interior The MPV provides seating for up to 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 17.2 cubic feet behind the third-row seat or 54.6 cubic feet with the third-row seat folded down.
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 minivans.
Standard equipment includes front air conditioning, remote keyless entry, cruise control and a CD player. The ES adds rear air conditioning, leather-trimmed seats and an eight-way power driver's seat. Backseat DVD video entertainment is optional.
Under the Hood The MPV's 200-horsepower, 3.0-liter V-6 teams with a five-speed-automatic transmission.
Safety Antilock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are standard. Side-impact airbags and traction control are standard in the ES. The front seat belts include pretensioners.
Driving Impressions Compactness isn't necessarily a drawback on the road; agile handling is the MPV's foremost virtue. In fact, this minivan whips through curves almost 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. Mazda's minivan does slow down appreciably 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 it's pushed hard. Wind noise can also get bothersome. The seats feature comfortable cushioning and good support.