One of the best mini-vans on the market just got . . . more expensive.

Thought we were going to say ``better,`` didn`t you?

The Mazda MPV stands only a notch behind the Chrysler mini-vans as tops in the field. Where does it come up short? Well, ``short`` is just the right word. The Chrysler vans have the edge in being slightly longer than the Mazda.

A stretch wouldn`t hurt the MPV, but the question for 1991 is whether a higher-priced luxury model will help. For 1991, Mazda offers the limited edition Special Edition or SE MPV.

The SE supplies just about everything you can pack into a mini-van except the kids. For those, you`re on your own.

Base price is $20,748. That`s a lot of money.

Standard equipment includes a 150-horsepower, 3-liter V-6 engine teamed with four-speed automatic transmission, power brakes and steering, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, intermittent wipers, rear-window defroster, rear-window washer/wiper, tinted glass, tilt steering, AM/FM stereo with cassette and digital clock, cruise control, 15-inch tires mounted on alloy wheels, color-keyed body trim, leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel.

About the only option you need add is air conditioning for $859, or $1,497 for a dual front/back unit.

The SE also stands apart from other MPV`s by its exterior treatment- Whisper Green Mica on top over a Prestige Silver Metallic on the bottom. If you buy your duds at Penney`s, simply call it a dark green over silver two- tone. Black over silver would have seemed richer, but green is becoming an in color at Mazda.

As we`ve said since the MPV arrived in 1988 as a 1989 model, you won`t hurt for room and comfort, and ride and handling are above average and quite car-like in terms of road holding ability for a slab-sided van. It would be nice if there was added storage room behind the third seat, as in the Chrysler vans, but at least the MPV seats can be moved/folded to make the unit act like a U-Haul when called upon.

The 3-liter V-6 has ample power and is rated at 17 miles per gallon city/ 22 highway. On second thought, we`d like a six-inch stretch in MPV length and two additional miles per gallon in both city and highway mileage.

Rear-wheel antilock brakes are standard, a must for all vehicles and especially critical for a people hauler in which half the load often could be kids.

As for those kids, kudos again to Mazda for going with a swing open/shut side rear door rather than the slide open/shut doors found on most vans. No fussing with the door when parked on a hill, no waiting 20 minutes while one of the kids tries 50 times to slide the door shut and keeps missing. The door closes, and you know it`s secure. Great touch.

Another nifty feature is the dual cupholders that fold out from alongside the front passengers seat.

But there are some annoyances, too, namely the side-wind ow defoggers and the power door-lock buttons.

The temperature controls have settings for defroster and for defroster/ floor to thaw the feet. When in the defroster setting, the side windows are kept clear.

But when you try to keep your feet from turning to blocks of ice while defrosting the windows, the side window defoggers don`t work as efficiently. In the dual defroster/floor setting, only little patches of glass are cleared so you can see the side-view mirrors. In the dual setting there`s more moisture hitting the cold glass, and the window froze shut more than once.

Another gripe was the hair-trigger power door locks.

While wearing a bulky winter coat, more than once we brushed the button in the driver`s door while getting out, and that light touch locked all the doors. Not a bad feature-if the keys are removed first. We hope Mazda will reposition those buttons.

>> 1991 Mazda MPV SF
Wheelbase: 100.4 inches Length: 175.8 inches Engine: 3 liter, 150 h.p. V-6 Transmission: 4-speed automatic Fuel economy: 17 m.p.g. city/22 m.p.g. highway. Base price: $20,748 Strong point: Room, comfort, performance, ABS Weak point: Need to redesign side window defrosters in order to clean window and prevent icing. >>