Vehicle Overview
Mazda reworked its front-wheel-drive MPV midway through the 2002 model year with engine and performance enhancements. The automaker said its “right-size minivan is reinvigorated with the soul of a sports car.” That’s Mazda’s defining statement for every vehicle in its lineup.

The 3.0-liter V-6 engine generates 200 horsepower vs. the previous MPV’s 170 hp. A five-speed-automatic transmission incorporates Slope Control, which stays in fourth gear to avoid unnecessary shifts while climbing. A recalibrated performance-oriented suspension is supposed to reduce body lean without negatively affecting ride comfort. Mazda claims that the MPV is lighter in weight than its competitors, and it has a “trimmer exterior” to yield more responsive handling and easier parking.

Two trim levels are available: the base LX and upscale ES. Changes for 2003 include a newly available DVD entertainment system, electric sliding side doors that are optional for both models, and standard 17-inch alloy wheels for the ES.

Appearance changes to the MPV in 2002 were minimal. Riding a 111.8-inch wheelbase, it stretches to 187.8 inches long overall and is slightly shorter in length than the Dodge Caravan. The LX rides 16-inch alloy wheels. A power glass moonroof is optional.

Seating for seven occupants is provided, 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 seat. The Tumble-Under third-row seat folds completely into the floor. Maximum cargo capacity totals up to 127 cubic feet.

Dual sliding side doors are standard, and power operation is optional. The windows in the sliding doors can be lowered — a feature found in the previous MPV but not available in competitive minivans.

Standard equipment includes air conditioning, a remote entry system, cruise control and rear privacy glass. The LX has a CD player and cloth interior. The ES adds leather-trimmed seats, rear air conditioning, side-impact airbags and an eight-way power driver’s seat. An in-dash six-CD changer and a rear-seat video entertainment system are optional.

Under the Hood
The MPV’s 200-hp, 3.0-liter dual-overhead-cam V-6 engine mates with a five-speed-automatic transmission.

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
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.

Handling is the agile 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.

Though it 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.

Reported by Jim Flammang  for
From the 2003 Buying Guide
Posted on 2/26/03