Oh, what a difference a door makes. Mazda has added a fourth door to the MPV this year. The new rear door on the driver's side means back seat passengers can get in and out from either side. It means the driver no longer has to run all the way around to unbuckle the baby from the back seat. It means the MPV is even more carlike than before. The Mazda MPV is certainly not the newest design on the minivan market. Until this year, little had changed on the MPV since its 1988 introduction. And while the 1996 model offers some refinements and styling changes, it does not represent a major redesign. Fortunately, the MPV's styling has aged well. The design does not look dated and the performance, handling and features help the MPV hold its own against the competition. This minivan is actually fun to drive. One of the things that sets the MPV apart from most of the minivan market is its rear-wheel-drive layout. The Toyota Previa, Ford Aerostar and Chevrolet Astro/GMC Safari twins are the only other minivans that employ rear-wheel drive, and the Ford and GM products are essentially trucks. This setup makes the MPV a good choice for those who tow trailers. Drivers who want improved traction and handling in slippery conditions should opt for the four-wheel-drive model. Mazda offers three trim levels--the DX, the well-equipped LX and the leather-lined ES. The 4-wheel-drive model is only available in LX and ES trim. We evaluated the MPV LX 4WD, which comes with a cloth interior and was equipped with optional captain's chairs for back seat passengers. A new All-Sport package introduced at mid-year is designed to bridge the gap between minivans and sport-utilities through the use of off-road styling cues.
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