Keeping the mini in minivan.
The Mazda MPV doesn't quite measure up to its competitors, but for some buyers, this is a good thing. It's significantly shorter and narrower than the ruling elite among minivans, namely, the Honda Odyssey, the Chrysler Town & Country, and the Toyota Sienna. But it also weighs less, and it still seats as many as seven people, carries up to 127 cubic feet of cargo, and tows as much as 3000 pounds. Nimble handling and peppy acceleration reward the driver. Meanwhile, the MPV is easy to park on the street and slides into the garage without fuss.
Mazda introduced the MPV way back in 1988, becoming one of the first Japanese automakers to compete in the minivan category. The current generation MPV made its debut as a 2000 model; among its notable achievements was the offering of sliding side doors with retractable windows. Today's aluminum-alloy, 3.0-liter DOHC V-6 was slipped under the hood in 2002. This engine produces 200 hp at 6200 rpm and 200 lb-feet of torque at 3000 rpm. Other minivans may have more powerful engines, but their tonnage is far greater than the MPV's modest 3772 pounds. The MPV achieves an EPA fuel economy rating of 18/25 mpg.
Completing the MPV's refined powertrain is a five-speed automatic transmission with electronically controlled overdrive. (A button integrated into the end of the shift lever lets the driver change to fourth gear for better performance in highway passing maneuvers.) Mazda's "Slope Control" keeps the transmission in the choicest ratio during runs through the mountains. Four-wheel disc brakes with antilock are standard. The front-wheel-drive chassis was subject to a faint amount of torque steer when we hurried away from a dead stop while keeping the steering wheel turned. With an independent coil-over-strut front suspension and a torsion beam with coil springs at the rear-and stabilizer bars at both ends-the MPV can be driven quite briskly with confidence. Progressive understeer characterizes the handling, and even the deepest Michigan frost heaves couldn't throw the minivan off course or discommode the occupants.
In 2004, the MPV received styling changes that make it one of the better-looking minivans. The front end's mesh-type grille establishes a clear link to those performance-oriented cars from Mazda's showroom. Sculpted headlights and taillights are also attractive, and good-looking alloy wheels complete the statement. However, while these elements suggest sportiness, the MPV's boxy shape and relatively narrow stance say otherwise. Imagine, for the sake of comparison, a gentleman who's slipped into a dashing waistcoast but squeezes into too-tight knickers and then accessorizes with a ploughman's cap.