EXPERT REVIEW

chicagotribune.com's view

The same outfit that brought us the 1990 Miata, which twice has touched offa roadster revolution, brought us the MPV mini-van a year earlier. Miatachartered a new course, MPV took a detour.

They laughed when Mazda brought out a mini-van. It wasn’t that the vehiclewas ugly, it was rather cute and offered a lot of room and pleasant carlikeride and handling.

What caused the snickers was that the MPV had a side door that swung openlike a sedan door.

Who’d want a mini-van with a swing-out door when everyone knows mini-vanswere meant to have two doors upfront and a side slider for the back? Mazdaobviously wasn’t with the program.

And rather than one carlike door or even one slider in back, consumerswould be caught up in the demand for dual sliders–one on the passenger’sside, one on the driver’s side. And why not offer a power slider on thepassenger side? General Motors did. Mazda started offering two rear swing-opendoors in 1996, but never a power slider.

Mazda’s doors ensure that it’s easy to get in and out, just like a slider,only swing outs on a van never have became real popular.

Mazda insists its mini-van is one of those best-of-both-worlds vehicles, avan with seven-passenger comfort, an SUV with swing-out rear doors.

We tested the ’97 Mazda MPV with four-wheel-drive and found that while thedoors were no problem, the vehicle hasn’t made too much progress in keeping upwith the rest of the van pack.

One of the drawbacks is the 3-liter, 155-h.p. V-6, which delivers a skimpy15 m.p.g. city/19 m.p.g. highway and is a study in what underpowered means.The 3-liter has very little muscle. You must disengage overdrive to have anyhope of keeping up with traffic. The 3-liter has been in the vehicle since Day1, way too long.

Probably our biggest gripe, however, was trying to keep the windows clean.You defog the side windows the old-fashioned way, you crack your window to letin outside air.

There’s another means of letting outside air in, the power moonroof. Thereare two problems with the moonroof: It’s considerably behind the front-seatoccupants and, at $1,250, it is not only out of reach physically, it’s alsopriced out of reach of most consumers.

Noteworthy features include standard dual air bags and four-wheel ABS and amost convenient stalk-mounted button to engage or disengage four-wheel-drive.

The 4WD MPV we tested started at $28,895 and the power moonroof alone putsthe sticker above $30,000.

The MPV is another rival for the front-running Chrysler mini-vans, adistant one.

Oops

Ford’s Lincoln-Mercury division was supposed to use the Chicago Auto Showto unveil a concept car that bears a striking resemblance to the redesign for1998 of the Mercury Cougar scheduled to be built at the Ford-Mazda plant inFlat Rock, Mich. However, Ford has pulled the plug on plans to bring the carto Chicago, saying it is still under development at its European designstudios.

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