It’s a purely subjective matter, but I find the exterior styling of the new Mazda MPV rather disappointing. From a distance, only a 13-year-old kid could tell it from the rest of the herd, even though, on close study, it has some interesting styling quirks, like the bulging hood line.
Such was not the case with the preceding generation; like it or not, the big box was distinctive. I suppose Mazda would argue that it has enough attractive features so that the shell doesn’t really matter that much. That’s true, but it pays to advertise. Oh, well . . . The biggest brag about the MPV (multipurpose vehicle) is that it’s the least expensive import minivan available. (Take that, Honda, with your still-hard-to-get Odyssey.)
Offered in three series, the MPV begins at $19,995 for a DX. That machine has the same engine as the others, plus an automatic transmission, air conditioning, power steering and brakes, a four-speaker AM-FM-CD audio system, tilt wheel, roll-down windows in the dual sliding rear doors and even an air filtration system. On its face, that’s a great value for a nominally seven-passenger hauler.
At the LX level (starting at $22,040), you get all that plus antilock brakes, power front and rear windows and door locks, heated power outside mirrors, privacy glass, cruise control, second-row fore/aft seat adjustments and an adjustable driver’s seat cushion.
The ES (starting at $25,550) adds leather seating surfaces, leather-wrapped steering wheel, quasi-wood trim, rear air conditioning, side air bags for driver and co-pilot, nine-speaker sound system, remote keyless entry, 16-inch aluminum alloy wheels and an antitheft system.
That all sounds pretty swell, but there are a few options packages you might consider, too, like a power moonroof (relatively bargain-priced at $700) and a “4-seasons package,” which, for $400, gets you a heavy-duty battery, larger window washer reservoir, heavy-duty rear defogger, larger radiator and an auxiliary cooling fan, and an automatic transmission cooler. Considering how hard a van sometimes works, those are desirable add-ons.
I’d also be inclined to get one of the packages (available only on LX machines) that bring upsized alloy wheels to the party. The standard 15-inchers (steel) are a little less tire than I like to see on a vehicle that goes close to 3,700 pounds unladen.
Unlike its ancestor, the new MPV is front-wheel drive, and unfortunately, there’s no four-wheel-drive version – yet. There is no figure given for towing capacity, nor is there even a towing package listed among the options.
This is likely because the only power source for the several series is a diminutive new double-overhead-cam engine. A V-6 with 24 valves, it displaces just 2.5 liters, just like the similar ones Mazda and Ford use under the name Duratec in some of their mid-sized cars.
It makes 170 hp at a thrilling 6,250 rpm; torque max is 165 foot-pounds at 4,250 rpm. If you were taking notes when I mentioned curb weight, you will correctly deduce that performance is rather torporous and somewhat strained. Even with just little ole me on board, 0-60 times were barely inside 11 seconds. And unlike the silken Duratecs I’ve tried, this powerplant sounded thrashy and nasty, especially as the revs rose, as they often were called upon to do. They should at least provide better firewall acoustical insulation.
Actually, a few extra pounds of insulation would be well spent because both tire and suspension noise come through too obtrusively at freeway speeds, despite the rather high wind noise.
The four-speed automatic overdrive transmission shifted smoothly and quickly, and I was pleased to see Mazda has dumped the “hold” button on the end of the column-mounted shifter in favor of a more-common “overdrive off” switch.
The new platform feels much more rigid than its predecessor, as indeed it is The MPV seemed more e a casting than an assemblage of pieces, even as it was subjected to some rude roads by an unsympathetic driver.
Alas, the chassis rigidity just emphasizes the loose fit of some components like seats and doors – in the sample I had, showing just a few thousand miles on the odometer, thumping and rattling was unacceptably prevalent. This is a fairly common failing on first-year minivans, the effect aggravated no doubt by the large resonant cabin in which the noises gambol.
Overall ride quality was not harsh, but decidedly firm, which is probably a good thing considering that some buyers might actually try to cram in six passengers. Handling was predictable and reasonable for a minivan. The 215/60/16 tires helped, although they did snivel a bit when thrown hard into turns.
The MPV is set up as a three-row carrier, 2-2-3, and, given its tidy overall length (187 inches, 14 inches less than prime competitor the Honda Odyssey, and about the same as Chrysler’s standard-wheelbase boxes), you’d do well to restrict gangly adolescents and above to the first two classes.
The MPV is replete with clever, why-did-it-take-so-long innovations, one of which is the arrangement of the second row of seats. The starboard perch, configured as a captain’s chair, can slide left and right as well as fore and aft. Both seats can be removed for cargo hauling.
The third-row bench, taking a very popular page from the Odyssey book, can be folded down flat beneath the load floor, or flipped 180 degrees to provide rear-facing “tailgate” seating. I shudder to think that someone may not understand this is for static use only. With all seats in place, the MPV has room for 17 cubic feet of gear, about what you get in a large car. Tuck the third seat away, and that zooms to 54 cubic feet. Remove the second row and you have 127 cubic feet. The new MPV has dual sliding doors, nicely integrated into the body even when they’re sliding. They moved easily on level ground and wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for the frail even on a slope. Instead of the all-too-common fixed glass, these doors have windows that actually go down, power driven on the two upper series, manual on DX.
Interior styling is fresh and sensible, with controls easy to see and use, although by daylight, the liquid crystal displays used for the radio and gear selection indicator are next to useless. The main instruments are somewhat compact, but legible, with white lettering on a black background with red needles. Materials are pleasant to look at and touch, and appeared durable.
The dipsomaniacal will be glad to hear there are 10 cupholders in this conveyance, along with nine storage compartments, including a large glovebox and center console.
Being an ES, my tester had the premium 9-speaker sound system with AM-FM radio, cassette and CD player. It also had the pricey but handy six-CD changer built into the dash. Overall sound quality was exce llent, crisp and clear, powerful if somewhat lacking in ambience.
The MPV has ventilated discs brakes in front, drums in rear. LX and ES series get antilock, which is not even optionally available on DXs. They felt rather soft and vague, but stopped the machine in a reasonable distance.
EPA ratings for the MPV are 18 city, 23 highway. I measured 19.5 on regular unleaded, with an equal mix of freeway cruising and about-town motoring. I had the engine working rather hard, trying to eke the last quantum of energy out of it. I would hope that next season Mazda will perhaps make available a 3.0- or 3.8-liter from its owner Ford’s parts bin.
Base price on the MPV ES is $25,550. With the CD changer ($600), power moonroof ($700) and four-seasons package, plus freight, the tester stickered at $27,730.
“The Gannett News Service”