2003 Mazda MPV

July 10, 2003
Since their inception, minivans have been given a bad rap.

Touted as kid-hauling vehicles, their clientele has largely been women with a brood of children. The Mazda MPV is much more than just a kid-moving machine. Its exterior belies the utilitarian minivan look with sporty touches like a rear spoiler (a $190 option), a racy front spoiler with fog lights, and a chrome-tipped exhaust. The inside of our test vehicle was laden with leather, a huge moonroof, and chrome touches on the door handles.

The MPV is not all about looks, however. A 3.0-liter V6 provides 200 hp and 200 lb-ft of torque, giving it enough get-up-and-go to enter busy highways without too much concern. But the five-speed automatic linked to the powerplant had some trouble keeping up. While accelerating, it hunted for the appropriate gear, hesitating until it slid into the right one. This was quite noticeable during a nearly 7-hr jaunt on the Pennsylvania turnpike, especially when climbing hills.

The front-wheel-drive MPV features standard traction control and ABS with electronic-brakeforce distribution (EBD). Unfortunately, the roads were clear of snow and rain, so keeping the MPV on the road didn't require any assistance from the traction control. Braking power was adequate, giving the MPV a relatively short stopping distance.

Power sliding doors, an $800 option, were an annoyance until I discovered a switch that lets the doors operate manually. I understand power doors can be useful when burdened with groceries and kids. A simple push on the key fob, which is clearly marked for the left and right doors, and the door slides open. But, it seemed a bit ridiculous for me to stand and wait for them to open when I had only a briefcase to load, so I left it in manual mode.

Our test vehicle also carried an optional rear DVD and MP3 entertainment system complete with wireless headphones, remote control, and a 7-in.-wide screen for a whopping $1,200. However, understanding that the days of simply talking, sightseeing, and reading books are quickly being replaced by DVDs and video games, I suppose this is for those who prefer not to hear their children during long trips. For the adults up front, there's an in-dash six-disc CD player (a $450 option). However, there was a small glitch with the CD player. It refused to eject a CD that had been previously loaded or even play it. It wasn't until after a rest-area stop that the CD player began working properly. Perhaps it needed to reset itself or there was an error in the electrical system. At any rate, it performed flawlessly for the rest of the week.

The MPV has plenty of cargo-hauling capability with a third-row seat that folds flush with the floor. For stowing small items, there are deep pockets on both driver and passenger doors and a pull-out drawer that sits beneath the audio and climate controls. "Slide-by-slide" seating lets second-row bucket seats move back and forth as well as together, for those who cannot stand to be apart.

Mileage estimates are 25-mpg highway/18 city, which seem accurate. And, for those concerned with safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's New Car Assessment Program ranks the MPV as one of the safest passenger vans on the road. It's also listed as one of the top-rated vans for crash-test durability and comes standard with dual front air bags and side air bags. So what's the price for all this luxury and safety? Base price is a reasonable $26,090, but adding on the $520 destination charge and numerous options brings the bottom line to $31,450. Cutting out such luxury items as the DVD entertainment system and the six-disc CD changer (it comes standard with a single CD) would shave $2,000 from the bottom line. All in all, the Mazda MPV is a fine vehicle for a family on the move.

- Sherri Koucky

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