Imagine you're a product planner for Mazda. For years, you've been tryingto peddle the MPV and have met with limited success. Meanwhile, you don't havea sport utility to sell, even as that type of vehicle takes off in sales. What to do?
If you said rework the MPV and make it a sport utility van, a hybrid of thetwo, you might have a career as an automotive product planner. The MPV gets a restyled front end this year, and it's distinctively Mazdain flavor. The swing-out doors continue,
and this year a left-side passengerdoor is added. The rear-wheel drive MPV is about the length of a compact car. But it'sclose to 72 inches tall, almost an inch higher than last year, the result of areworked suspension and the availability of a
four-wheel drive option. Thatoption comes with a center differential activated at the touch of a button. Motivation is provided by the same engine as last year, a 3.0-liter V-6with 18 valves that produces 155 horsepower and 169 pound-feet of
torque.Hooked to a four-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission, thispower plant provides adequate acceleration. It roars with authority, butthere's little extra power on tap for when you overload the van with people,stuff or both --
something you're bound to do eventually. The suspension (independent up front, live axle in the rear) is a crossbetween a minivan and a sport utility. There's enough body lean throughcorners to prevent sport driving. It provides for a comfortably firm
ride, butthe driver seems to be far above the road, a feeling accentuated by thesuspension. The standard four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock provided goodstopping ability. Inside, there's a redesigned dash with dual airbags. Chair-height bucketseats
give decent support, although those with longer legs might wish for moreseat travel. Interior seating combinations can accommodate up to eightpassengers, although the third row is higher than the others. The center seatflips forward, creating a table with
cup holders for the third row. The climate control, audio system and necessary cup holders reside in thecenter of the dash and are easy to understand and operate. If you're having trouble deciding between a minivan and a sport utility,Mazda has
come up with a compromise. To lovers of one vehicle type or theother, it ultimately might be unsatisfying. The changes Mazda added for '96 dobring it up to date, offering a somewhat different flavor against the samenessof the minivan segment. But as a
future product planner, you knew that. Mazda MPV LXStandard: 3.0-liter V-6 engine, four-speed automatic transmission, dualairbags, four-wheel drive, four-wheel power disc brakes with anti-lock,power-assisted steering, power mirrors, power windows,
power door locks,cruise control, tilt wheel, AM/FM cassette stereo, variable intermittentwipers, rear window wiper-washer-defroster, remote fuel door release,P215/70R15 tire
s with alloy wheels, full-size spare tire, eight-passengerseating with velour upholstery, under-seat storage tray, dual vanity mirrors.Optional: Quad captains chairs, LX preferred equipment group(air-conditioning, keyless entry, floor mats, privacy
glass), automaticload-leveling, transmission oil cooler.Base price: $26,255.As tested: $27,425.EPA rating: 15 mpg city, 19 mpg highway.Warranty: 36-month/50,000-mile bumper-to-bumper with 24-hour roadsideassistance.