Mazda MPV (2000)

 

Mazda did something interesting with the MPV minivan. While no one was looking, they jacked up the nameplate and rolled an entirely new vehicle underneath. While the old MPV was vaguely trucklike, with rear wheel drive and swing-out side rear doors, this newest incarnation is far more mainstream, with front wheel drive, a transverse engine, sliding doors and more space for people and their cargo.

Mazda is clearly trying to snag some of the new parents who are currently standing in line, waiting for a Honda Odyssey. And, we wouldnt fault you for abandoning ship, chucking your number in the Honda line, and scurrying over to the Mazda dealer. If you have to drop your dineros on a minivan, the MPV is a pretty good choice, in our humble opinion.

Driving Experience

Mazda MPVBehind the wheel, you wont have any illusions: Youre in Minivan Land. What do you expect from a vehicle that is trying to be nearly all things to nearly all people? But there are high points. For example, your tuchus will appreciate the improved suspension. Granted, its no Miata, no, but neither is it a Bluebird school bus.

The MPVs 2.5-liter V6 engine is on the noisy side of its more refined competitors (read: Honda) and is somewhat underpowered. Unfortunately, its the only engine available. What possessed Mazda to design such a small, six-cylinder engine? Beats us. Worse still, adding those two cylinders makes for a crowded engine compartment which means higher repair and maintenance bills. We would have preferred a more powerful, four-cylinder engine. Because of engine design, that would have meant a longer stroke and slightly less acceleration, but we think it would have been a worthwhile tradeoff. Finally, because this 2.5-liter engine is a brand new one for Mazda, theres no reliability data as of yet.Mazda MPV

Mazda powers the front wheels with a four-speed, electronically controlled transmission. The transmission is well suited to the engine, though it could use more refinement, and shifts are sometimes made with a jerk. (Particularly if one of us are driving. But we digress.) In all, we didnt think the powertrain quite hit Hondas benchmark for smoothness. The brakes, with the optional antilock braking system, held up their end of the bargain, with good stopping power.

Interior

Mazda MPVThe interior designers did a good job with the seats. The middle two slide apart, giving you a choice between a bench or buckets for when you really have to separate Junior and Sissy on those long Interstate trips. The seats are raised slightly, in what the industry PR flaks are calling "theater seating," so your passengers wont have to stare straight into your bald spot mile after mile. Although the Mazda is an inch or so smaller than its competitors in most interior dimensions, we thought legroom was good and headroom was adequate.

Perhaps best of all, your neighbors wont have to run under their sofa and pretend theyre not home, when you come over to ask for help removing the rearmost seat. It flips and disappears, creating a flat floor for cargo, meaning A) you dont have to find a place for it in your garage, and B) youll have it when you need it.

Ergonomics

Mazda engineers have tweaked and tinkered with the basic minivan design elsewhere. One place they found for improvement was in the windows of the rear doors, which roll down, giving your dog, or your mother-in-law, the chance to jump out after the road kill on the interstate. And, since its a minivan, everyone gets a great view.

Mazda MPVFit and finish of the interior are very good. Controls are housed in a pod on the dashboard, and there are cupholders galore. Someone goofed with the defroster control to make the air come out the top, you turn the arrow so its pointing down. But, otherwise, the knobs, buttons and switches are easy to find and do what theyre supposed to do.

Nowhere is the MPVs leap into the mainstream more obvious than in its styling. Just one glance, and youll say, "Oh, look, the new Honda. Or is it the Chrysler? The Toyota, perhaps?" But, again, what do you expect? When it comes to styling, its like Gertrude Stein said, "A minivan is a minivan is a minivan." Its pleasant and anonymous.

Reliability

Although this is a new design, Mazda has a well-earned reputation for putting together reliable vehicles, and this one feels well screwed-together.

Mazda is marketing the MPV as an alternative to the Odyssey,the ubiquitous Chrysler minivans, the Ford Windstar, the Toyota Sienna, the Chevrolet Venture and their ilk. From a safety point of view, side airbags and ABS arent standard, but you can order them.

Overall comments

If youre resigned to spending the next decade of your life ferrying around a pack of screaming offspring, the Mazda isnt such a bad choice. Look at it this way: unlike the Honda, its available right away. And, with a base price of $19,995, the MPV is nearly $2,500 less than the Sienna, and $3,400 less than the Odyssey. Cache that money in a mutual fund and, with a little luck, in 2020, you can show up to parents day at your kids college in a Miata.


[Test Drive Notes Index]