Despite the MPV's relatively dainty external dimensions, there remains plenty of space inside. The first thing we noticed was an enormous shelf, which is in fact the upper dashboard. It's reminiscent of General Motors's notorious "Dustbuster" minivans of the late-1980s. (This substantial acreage could be put to good use as greenhouse space for sprouting flats of seeds!) Once we quit marveling at this aspect of the interior's design, we found the ambience to be generally all right, if a little gray. We tested the nicely tailored LX model, which met our expectations for high-quality fit and finish and was rattle-free. The fabrics were plush enough, and plastic surfaces managed not to be too egregious. Cupholders are plentiful (although some competitors have more), and the center stack offers a nice assortment of cubbies and bins for such items as wallet, cell phone, and CDs. An overhead console provides storage for sunglasses and the garage opener. Some minivans now offer twin glove boxes, but the MPV makes do with one (and that's always been enough for us).
Ergonomically, the MPV is handicapped by one big flaw: the steering-column-mounted gear selector that extends to a point where it interferes with controls for the radio and the climate system. Otherwise, the layout makes perfect sense, and all of the buttons, readouts, and gauges are first-rate. Seat cushions are a little on the skinny side, but the overall comfort level is quite high, with good legroom in the second row, where the captain's chairs slide fore and aft. Unfortunately, the seatbacks lack the molded plastic hooks that are perfect keepers for plastic grocery bags. Mazda's "Side-by-Slide" feature allows these second-row chairs to easily join together, creating a second-row bench. Both second-row chairs lift out when the MPV is called upon for cargo or limousine duties. By pulling on its release straps, the third row bench seat easily folds and drops backward into the cargo well for a flat load surface, but it doesn't split 60/40, as many of the competitors' seats do. The cargo area is outfitted with a 12-volt power plug. Although electrically operated sliding side doors are available, a power liftgate is not yet found in the MPV's portfolio.
As a new feature for 2005, the retractable ignition key jackknifes into its fob for more convenient storage. As before, the model range starts with the LX-SV, priced at $22,665 (including destination). Rear air-conditioning is a stand-alone option for the base model. We rate the mid-level LX as a good value at $23,500, especially because it has the excellent powertrain, with traction control and front-seat side air bags available as options. And it's impressively well-built. Unfortunately, the MPV lacks available head curtain air bags and stability control, two safety features we look for first.
The All-Sport package adds larger, seventeen-inch wheels and tires, a power driver's seat, a nine-speaker sound system with six-disc changer, and the automatically dimming rear-view mirror that includes a directional and ambient temperature displays. These features are included in the ES, which rings in at $29,065. That price bumps up to $32,000 when the box is checked for such options as a sunroof, rear DVD system, Sirius satellite radio, and Mazda's 4-Seasons and Towing Package.
The story of the MPV really is what it hasn't. Size, feature content, and price are all slightly less than the leading competition's. But the MPV asserts its own sporty personality. (It is even equipped with a handbrake, which is unusual for this category.) Meanwhile the basic performance is quite satisfying; we'd say the LX, in particular, aptly fills the bill for certain buyers-those who say, "Enough, already!"