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Compared with most minivans, the Mazda MPV is a sports car. It's lighter and more compact than, say, a Honda Odyssey, making it more agile and easier to park.
Last year, the MPV was significantly upgraded, with a new 3.0-liter V6 that delivered substantially more power and torque. Mazda paired this new engine with a new and responsive five-speed automatic transmission and a revised suspension. Big, sporty 17-inch alloy wheels are standard on the ES version.
The MPV's small size hasn't hurt its performance in crash testing. In fact, the MPV is one of just a few passenger vans to receive a top five-star rating in all four of the Federal government's collision categories: front and side impact, for both front-seat and rear-seat passengers.
The MPV is smooth, quiet and powerful. It's pleasant to live with. MPV features a beautifully designed interior with high-quality materials, excellent ergonomics, and great seats. Sliding doors on both sides are convenient, and they have real windows that go up and down, which is nice for back-seat riders. Flexible seating and cargo configurations make it easy for the MPV 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 clever design.
If you want a big van this isn't it. MPV is a good size if you typically have four or fewer passengers; if five or six regularly ride with you, then one of the bigger minivans would likely be more suitable. But if you want a family vehicle that's smooth, quiet, comfort, agile and quick, yet can carry up to six passengers, then the Mazda MPV is an excellent choice.
Mazda MPV goes zoom, zoom, zoom with its 3.0-liter V6. Introduced last year, this dual-overhead-cam engine delivers great power and response. Hit the on-ramp, nail the gas, and it takes off, quickly accelerating into and ahead of the traffic. It's also smooth and quiet.
One reason for the MPV's responsiveness is its flat torque curve. Fully 90 percent of this engine's maximum torque is available from 1800 to 5500 rpm; and its torque peaks at only 3000 revs. Torque is the force that actually accelerates a vehicle. Or, to put it another way, this is the same engine that powers the Mazda Tribute sport-utility vehicle, and it has been acclaimed as the strongest engine in that class.
Just as important is the five-speed automatic transmission that debuted last year along with the new engine. It's smooth and responsive, always in the right gear. And with five ratios 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. 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.
The 3.0-liter V6 gets better highway gas mileage than the 2.5-liter V6 Mazda used in pre-2002 MPVs.
MPV drives more like a tall car than a minivan, though driving it is still a minivan experience. Compared with other minivans, it handles better on winding roads and maneuvers better in tight situations. Its suspension was revised last year for improved handling. Body and suspension mounts were made more rigid, and the rear stabilizer bar was made larger. The front springs have a three degree offset axis. All of this improved handling and provided a more direct feel to the 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; ABS and electronic brake force distribution (EBD) are standard equipment. ABS allows the driver to brake and steer at the same time for better control in a panic-braking situation, while EBD reduces stopping distances by transferring braking forces to the tires with the most weight on them.
It's hard to beat a minivan for convenience and interior space; whether moving people or cargo, a minivan will carry more for your money. The trouble is, minivans haven't been much fun to drive. But the Mazda MPV is more agile and easier to park than other vans, with good handing, strong power, and a brilliantly designed interior.
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.