The MPV, Mazda's first venture into the van market, has been a tremendous success since its 1988 debut. The reason for its success is simple: It is a terrific vehicle. The test vehicle came with a smooth, powerful V-6 engine and conservative but classy styling. Like most other vehicles in Mazda's lineup, the MPV is built with a nearly religious dedication to quality. Couple that with reasonable pricing and you have a winner. ENGINE, PERFORMANCE The MPV's 150-horsepower V-6 may be a little short of torque when pulling away from a stop light, but it is no slouch once the vehicle is in motion. It has ample passing power and easily muscles its way onto interstates. Fuel economy is respectable for a van. On a cruise to Miami, the MPV, loaded with people and cargo, returned about 20miles per gallon at 65 mph with the air conditioner on. The V-6 MPV is EPA-rated at 17 mpg city and 22 highway. The MPV has a 19.6-gallon tank, so the cruising range of nearly 400 miles means you won't have to stop often for gasoline. The transmission is shifted by a lever mounted on the steering column. That lever contains the switch that controls the overdrive. It would be easier and less confusing if that switch were eliminated. Sometimes the switch is accidently engaged or disengaged when moving your hand across the shift lever. In any case, the transmission shifts smoothly and at exactly the right time. STEERING, HANDLING The MPV is almost like a car in its ride and handling. Only Chrysler's minivans offer better performance in this area. The MPV has a soft suspension system that not only absorbs most road irregularities but also provides excellent stability during cornering and excellent traction in wet weather. The power-assisted rack and pinion steering is quick and light, and the turning radius enables the MPV to easily maneuver out of tight spots and make U-turns. The steering has just a touch of added resistance to it that provides a good feel for the road. Anti-lock brakes are standard on MPVs and consist of discs up front and drums in the rear. The brakes could stand some improvement. They are adequate, but minivans, which are basically family vehicles, should have extra-powerful brakes. FIT, FINISH, CONTROLS This is the MPV's strong point. The interior of the test vehicle was comfortable and inviting. The smoothly shaped dash and door panels blend together well. The white-on-black analog gauges are easy to read but at certain angles are affected by glare. Most of the switches and buttons are easy to use. However, there are a few lights on the dash obscured by the turn signal lever and steering wheel. The seats are positioned to allow passengers to move around fairly easily. The rear seat folds forward, allowing 37.5 cubic feet of cargo. With the rear seat removed, cargo space increases to 110 cubic feet. The test vehicle featured a r ear air conditioner. In Florida or in other hot climates, this is a must-have option. It is superb. After being parked in broiling Miami sun in late August, the MPV's interior was red-hot. But with both air conditioners running, the interior was cooled in just a few minutes. The MPV is the smallest of all the minivans on the market. Mazda should consider adding a stretched version for those who like the MPV but want a little more space. The price may seem high but consider the equipment you get: power windows, door locks, mirrors, sunroof and seats, cruise control, automatic transmission, rear defroster and wiper/washer etc. If you don't want to spend $19,000 and change, don't write off the MPV. Mazda makes several less-equipped MPVs. There's a four-cylinder version available for about $14,000. But if you want to spend a little more, Mazda makes a British Racing Green, special-edition MPV that comes with a leather interior and a V-6. In any guise the MPV i a winner.