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Mazda says its MPV is the minivan with the soul of a sports car. Its commercials show the MPV turning into a Miata and back into an MPV as it winds around curvy mountain roads.
There is something to that. Lighter and more compact, the MPV is more agile, lighter on its feet, than most vans. 2002 brings a new 3.0-liter V6 that delivers substantially more power than last year's engine. Just as important, it's paired with a responsive five-speed automatic transmission. The suspension has been revised suspension with big, sporty 17-inch alloy wheels.
As a result, the 2002 Mazda MPV is smooth, quiet and powerful. Its compact dimensions make it much easier to park than, say, a Honda Odyssey.
It's a very pleasant vehicle to live with. The MPV features a beautifully designed interior with high-quality materials, excellent ergonomics, and great seats. Power sliding doors on both sides with windows that go up and down are convenient and nice for back-seat riders. Flexible seating and cargo configurations make it easy to handle a variety of tasks on a busy day. The third row disappears into the floor and the middle seats are a marvel of interior design.
The 2002 Mazda MPV goes zoom, zoom, zoom with a new 3.0-liter V6. This new engine delivers greatly increased power over last year's engine and transforms the 2002 MPV. It's smooth an quiet, but very responsive around town. Hit the on-ramp, nail the gas, and it takes off, quickly accelerating into and ahead of the traffic.
Even though the 2002 MPV boasts a more powerful engine, it also has better gas mileage ratings than the 2001 version. One reason for its responsiveness is the increased torque, that force that propels a car away from a stoplight. Fully 90 percent of this engine's maximum torque is available from 1800 to 5500 rpm; torque peaks at only 3000 revs. To put it another way, this is the same engine that powers Mazda Tribute sport-utility vehicle, and it has been acclaimed as the strongest engine in its class.
Just as important is the new five-speed automatic transmission. It's smooth and responsive, always in the right gear. And with five gears it does a much better job of keeping the V6 revving in the power zone than the four-speed automatic that's found in most minivans. The MPV's five-speed automatic includes a Slope Control feature that holds fourth gear when climbing hills instead of hunting up and down through the gears as do most automatics.
Mazda's MPV drives more like a tall car than a minivan, though it is still a minivan experience. Compared with other minivans, it handles better on winding roads and maneuvers better in tight situations. Its suspension is revised for 2002 to for offer improved handling. Body and suspension mounts have been made more rigid, the rear stabilizer bar is larger, and the front springs have a 3-degree offset axis, all of which improves handling and creates a more direct feeling to the MPV's steering.
The brakes work very well and are easy to modulate for accurate stops. Ventilated discs are used in front with drums in the rear with ABS and electronic brake force distribution as standard equipment. ABS allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time for better control in a panic-braking situation, while electronic brake force distribution reduces stopping distances by transferring braking forces to the tires with the best grip.
It's hard to beat a minivan for convenience and interior space, whether moving people or cargo. And it's impossible to beat one for the price. The Mazda MPV is more agile and easier to park than other vans. The 2002 MPV offers good handing, strong power, and a brilliantly designed interior.
The MPV is second-rate to no minivan in interior finishing. The power roll-down windows in the side doors are what an adult rear-seat passenger expects. The tumbledown rear seat is really convenient, both for increasing cargo space and as a rear-facing bench for a tailgate party.
Compared with other minivans, Mazda's MPV handles better on the road, and maneuvers better in tight confines. It offers a unique alternative for buyers who like the versatility of a minivan but who do not need the ultimate passenger or cargo capacity of the larger minivans. If it's big enough for you, then the MPV is a great choice.
Mitch McCullough contributed to this report.