- The Washington Times - Friday, January 21, 2000


VEHICLE TYPE: Five-door minivan

PRICE-AS-TESTED: Under $20,000

MILEAGE: 18 city, 23 highway

Can anyone recall why the original minivan had only one sliding door?
I think it had to do with safety, making sure the children could only exit curbside, or something like that.
Obviously, it was a colossal mistake. Now, any mini with fewer than four doors is a dinosaur.
Take the new Mazda MPV. It has five doors, six if you count the moon roof.
Children can flee through any exit they like.
What distinguishes the MPV from every other mini on the market is that the Mazda "introduces the first dual sliding doors with power windows in its class."
When you are in a minivan from Mazda, one-upmanship is a matter of survival. With all the minivans available today, why would anyone consider the MPV? Well, how about these apples?
* Starting at less than $20,000, the Mazda MPV is the lowest-priced import minivan on the market. Sold in three trim levels DX, LX and ES the MPV comes well equipped. The ES is "the lowest-priced import minivan with leather."
* A 2.5-liter, double-overhead cam, 24-valve V-6 engine is standard in all versions, pumping out 170 horsepower. The variable intake system is designed to boost low and midrange power. In California, the MPV is an LEV (low emissions vehicle).
* Removable "side-by-slide" second-row seats in the LX and ES models allow you to have captain's chairs or a bench seat on the second row. Seats slide forward and sideways, a first for minivans.
* A deep-dish cargo container in the back allows you to load groceries without fear that a can of peas will roll under the seats or to the front of the vehicle when you hit the brakes.
Mazda has been a minor player in the minivan league. But the 2000 model emerging from Hiroshima deserves the consideration of anyone in the market for a mother ship.
Based on a new platform, the 2000 model has front-wheel drive, front and side air bags and the flexibility to fit your cargo/passenger parameters with minimal stress.
In its maiden voyage as a 1989 model, the MPV rode a rear-drivetrain and featured a hinged door for the back passengers. Four-wheel drive was offered as an option. The original 2.6-liter, four-cylinder power plant was dropped in 1992, leaving the 3-liter V-6 as the only motivator.
A 1996 update added a rear door on the driver's side, power windows on all four doors, a removable third-row seat and optional second-row captain's seats. The new model is surprisingly well chiseled. Apparently designed by committee with input from Frankfurt, Germany, Irvine, Calif., as well as Yokohama and Hiroshima, Japan, the body of the mini is supposed to harmonize sharp edges and soft curves. A crease across the hood caught my eye and made me wonder why they would bother styling a minivan to that degree. The wheel wells look well machined.
They say a camel is a horse designed by committee. But this is one time that the committee designed a horse that came out looking like a Thoroughbred.
The interior is created with useful space in mind. Front-seat passengers enjoy nine built-in storage compartments. Among them are an overhead console, glove box, storage tray under the front passenger's seat, door pockets, a coin box and a 12-CD storage box. Cup holders in the center console accommodate anything from juice boxes to Big Gulps.
The ergonomic design is fairly efficient from a driver's point of view, except for the placement of the ignition switch. Placed close to an opening for the transmission shifter, the switch is hard to find and requires a bit of twisting and reaching to insert the key.
Passengers in the second row have their own sets of cup holders, and those on the diminutive third row have four anchors for their beverages. An armrest on the left side quarter-panel trim conceals another storage compartment. Mazda cleverly placed a 12-volt auxiliary outlet in the back for outside accessories.
The back cargo well has room for 17.2 cubic feet of storage. Fold the third-row seat into the floor, and the cargo space grows to 54.6 cubic feet. With the third row folded flat and the second row removed, you have room for 127 cubic feet of cargo.
I must praise Mazda for its sound system. The review car came with a six-disc compact disc changer, a $600 option and a nine-speaker sound system that was almost too good. The sound quality was so pure that I thought I was chauffeuring a string quartet.
The V-6 engine is well suited to the 3,677 pounds and strong enough for a decent payload as well. With 170 horses, the engine matches up well with domestic competition. I have no complaints about the electronic four-speed transmission, which glides through the gears without a lot of hesitation or hunting. Fuel economy is a respectable 18 city and 23 highway miles per gallon, making a year's worth of refills cost about $900.
But like most minivans, the MPV wallows a bit in corners, more so than the benchmark Dodge Caravan.
Topped off with all the options, the MPV makes a nice luxury car. The press vehicle was an ES version that included leather upholstery, an ignition immobilizer system to deter thieves, remote keyless entry, wood trim, 16-inch alloy wheels and the aforementioned nine-speaker stereo system.
The power moonroof (a k a, the sixth door) is a $700 stand-alone option.

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