- The Washington Times - Friday, February 28, 2003

Excuse the pun but the 2003 Mazda MPV is a smashing success. What's more, the folks at Mazda are excited about the way their minivan crumbles.
Both the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation have awarded top safety ratings to the MPV after putting it through crash tests. These ratings take into consideration the occupant's injury in a frontal or side-impact collision.
I'm told that this vehicle is built with an interlocking structure that consists of interlocking floor, side sill and roof members to reduce the force of impact in an offset or side collision. All four doors also are reinforced with beams to protect passengers in a side impact.
However, during my test-drive week, I managed to avoid the crash features and zeroed in on the MPV's improved power performance. This MPV has a 3.0-liter, 24-valve, six-cylinder engine that produces 200 horsepower. Although my tester was never loaded to its full capacity of seven passengers, the acceleration was more than sufficient.
Linked to the engine of the ES model is a five-speed automatic transmission with "slope control" that prevents the annoying up-and-down transmission shifting when on hills. Another advantage of this powertrain is the ability to tow up to 3,000 pounds to a favorite recreational site.
Although the engine and transmission are a delightful combination, I spent most of my week wondering how I would redesign the location of the shifter.
Every time I changed a radio station or the climate-control settings, the shifter lever was in the way. I was unable to figure a way to relocate the shifter location and obviously the Mazda design engineers couldn't figure it out either.
My ES model has a total price of $29,087.
It is loaded with many options such as a rear heater, large windshield-washer tank, heavy-duty battery, wiper and window defroster, heated outside mirrors and the towing package.
It also has a roof rack, rear bumper step plates, and a six-disc CD changer. In spite of the load of bells and whistles on my tester, Mazda offers more.
For example, families who want to provide entertainment during a long journey for those seated in the rear, a DVD entertainment center is another option.
The 17-inch alloy wheels with all-season tires are standard on my tester along with traction control, cruise control and anti-lock brakes.
Other features that set this minivan apart from the competition are the privacy glass, leather-trimmed upholstery and leather steering wheel.
The driver's seat has eight-way controls and is very comfortable.
For a family with youngsters that occasionally squabble when sitting next to each other, the two center seats can slide apart with a pull-down armrest to allow each to have his or her own space.
The three seats in the rear are easy to fold down if hauling cargo is the main task on hand.
Under the rear seat is a deep cargo well, which provides additional storage when it comes to hauling cargo.
The remote-control key fob has buttons to lock and unlock the vehicle and open either or both sliding doors.
In addition, there are buttons near the driver's seat for opening and closing the side doors. A 180-watt sound system offers quality sound from nine speakers including a subwoofer.
This is a comfortable-riding vehicle that has a quiet interior and is easy to manage. Yet, in spite of all the amenities of the MPV, what really sets this minivan apart is the best feature of all: high crash-test ratings.


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