Versus the competiton:
When it comes to describing the MPV, Mazda spares no hyperbole in boasting that it “has the body of a minivan, the soul of a sports car.”
Sure, and after dropping the rugrats off at the field, soccer moms bond by spending the day autocrossing in their MPVs.
While it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say the MPV has been blessed with the soul of a sports car, have to admit it isn’t your ho-hum minivan.
We tested the ’03 MPV ES. The thing has some guts, thanks to replacing the 2.5-liter, 170-horsepower V-6 that had been in it with the 3-liter, 200-h.p. V-6 from Ford Motor Co., which owns 33 percent of the Japanese automaker.
Kick the pedal and the V-6 responds with energy. No hesitation, no dawdling at the light. And it’s quiet. Often minivan cabins serve as tunnels that allow noise to filter fore and aft. The MPV isn’t a victim of that racket. You don’t spend your travel time with the folks in back asking the folks in front, “what did you say?”
In addition to lively performance, the V-6 delivers 18 m.p.g. city/25 m.p.g. highway mileage.
Unlike most minivans, the suspension has been engineered to resist body roll in cornering and lean during sharp turns, like those sport coupes with souls. Solid little machine.
And a switch from 15-inch to 16-inch all-season radials as standard on the base LX and from 16 to 17 inches on the top-of-the-line ES has had the desired effect of offering car-like handling in a tall, slab-sided family hauler.
Hmm. Maybe soccer moms do autocross in their spare time?
But despite its quickness, quiet and above-average road manners, the MPV is a van, and as such, attention must be paid to getting the family and their junk into and out of it.
MPV does that well with seating for seven (two-two-three) with a choice of two different ways to reach the third row seat thanks to what Mazda calls its side-by-slide second row seating system. The second row has two bucket seats. You can slide the passenger side bucket against the driver side bucket to form a single bench seat that allows access to the third row via an aisle at the passenger side door. Or you can slide the passenger side bucket toward the door to create an aisle between the two bucket seats to access the third row seat. However, the second-row bucket seats come with armrests that, when down, hinder passage to that third row.
Once you reach the third-row bench seat, you’re treated to surprisingly ample head, leg and arm room. MPV’s third row will carry adults and isn’t limited, like many rivals, to holding small kids.
If you don’t need the seat for people but could use more cargo space, the third-row bench folds flat into the floor. And you thought only the Honda Odyssey’s third seat did that.
One other benefit for third-row occupants for ’03: You can opt for a DVD entertainment system with a 7-inch-wide fold-down viewing screen. You also get h eadphones so the kids won’t disturb Dad or autocrossing Mom upfront.
MPV offers manual slide-open doors on driver and passenger side, but for $800 you can relax and push the button on the key fob and enjoy power slide-open doors on each side. Dual power doors, by the way, are a new option on the LX.
Another nice feature of the ES is the flip-up table top between driver/passenger seats with cup and coin holders.
A gripe, however, is that there’s no all-wheel-drive model for all-season security in the family hauler. The front-wheel-drive MPV, however, does offer anti-lock brakes as standard and traction control as a $400 option in the LX or ES.
However, to get the $400 traction control in the LX, you also have to purchase rear-seat air conditioning at $595.
What air conditioning has to do with traction control, we don’t know, other than it brings $595 into the till that might not have got there without it. For shame!
Base price of the ES is $26,090. Standard equipment includes power windows, power door locks and power mirrors, cruise control, remote keyless entry, carpeted mats, rear-window wiper/washer and tinted glass.
The test vehicle came with the DVD system as well as a dash-mounted six-disc CD player at $450; power moonroof at $700; Four Season package with rear heater, heavy-duty battery, power heated mirrors and larger windshield washer tank and radiator at $425; security package with alarm, fog lamps, auto dimming mirror with temp/compass readings at $730; and front and rear spoilers and side door sill extensions at $345.
Oddly, Mazda insists one reason for MPV’s success has been its size and the fact it is offered in one version, not regular and extended length.
“The MPV is smaller than either a Toyota Sienna or the most popular version of the Dodge, the Grand Caravan,” said Mazda spokesman Jeremy Barnes.
The MPV is built on a 111.8-inch wheelbase and is 187.8 inches long overall. By comparison, Sienna is built on a 114.2-inch wheelbase and is 194.1 inches long, and the Dodge Grand Caravan is built on a 119.3-inch wheelbase and is 200.5 inches long.
Ample room in an economy-size package that’s not only easy to maneuver, but in ES form, a pleasure to maneuver.
“Consumers tell us they appreciate the smaller size because it makes it easier to drive as well as garage,” Barnes said, failing to note that the smaller size also would make it easier to autocross.
An oversight, don’t you think?