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2002 Mazda MPV Road Test

By John Heilig  
Photos by Charles Ofria

Category: $22,000 to $26,000 Minivan
Who should buy this car: A family looking for a comfortable, but versatile minivan that's not too big and not too small.
Comparable models in this class: Chevrolet Venture, Chrysler Town and Country, Chrysler Voyager, Dodge Caravan, Ford Windstar, Honda Odyssey, Kia Sedona, Oldsmobile Silhouette, Pontiac Montana, Toyota Sienna
Mazda has added power and better handling to its popular MPV minivan, but it may be what is not added that makes the vehicle so appealing. You see, Mazda has decided to keep the MPV a minivan, and has not added inches to its length.

For many consumers, a minivan - a TRUE minivan - is an ideal vehicle. It offers convenience, good carrying capacity, and seating for as many as seven people of assorted sizes. But many minivan manufacturers have chosen to make their minivans larger, approaching full-size vans in length. This is not the purpose of minivans, to my mind. If you want a big van, get a big van. More than likely, you'll also get big van power, which is usually lacking in the large-size minis.

Horsepower has been increased from last year's 160 ( a bit light) to 200 with the installation of a 3.0-liter DOHC V6. Yes, the engine is the same one you can find in a Ford Taurus, which is one advantage of Ford's working agreement with Mazda.

The engine delivers the power to the front wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission, which is also new. This new gearbox has selected gear ratios that are designed to give the MPV a more sporting character. After all, it will be advertised as having "the body of a minivan and the soul of a sports car," so the transmission should be sportier.

Mazda engineers also stiffened the suspension slightly. They did this through modifying the front MacPherson strut suspension and adding a stiffer stabilizer bar to the rear. While the MPV won't handle as well as a Miata (MPVs were about four seconds slower than Miatas over the same autocross course at the introduction), the ride is firm enough for good handling, but not so firm as to shake your false teeth out.

We had the opportunity to drive the MPV over some of the nicest driving roads I've ever experienced, from Carmel to Big Sur, California. What a perfect piece of pavement for any vehicle.

Both the LX and ES trim models have a four-wheel, four-sensor, three-channel anti-lock braking system that controls the front disc and rear drum brakes and stop the van well. The MPV also has an electronic brake distribution system (EBD) that automatically modifies the rear-wheel braking force to contribute to shorter braking distances. Again, this isn't an oversized mini.

The LX comes with 15-inch wheels and tires, while the ES is shod with 17-inch shoes, making for a nice looking van.  Robert Davis, Mazda's Vice President of Product Development, said the MPV is a smaller package with more usable space. For example, the multi-functional rear seat can be used as a rear seat (duh) in the "normal" front-facing way or converted to face the rear when the tailgate is up so it can serve as an extra seat at tailgates or picnics. If extra carrying capacity is needed, it can "tumble down" into a recess in the floor to create a flat cargo area floor. The seat is also removable, which gives you the added carrying capacity of that recess in the floor should you need it.

The two bucket seats in the second row use Mazda's "Side by Slide" system. This permits them to be used as individual bucket seats, or to be pushed together when those second-row passengers may actually want to sit together. These, too, are removable. Cargo volumes are 17.2 cubic feet with the third row seat up, 54.6 cubic feet with it folded, 124.5 cubic feet with the second row seat removed, and 127.0 cubic feet with the third row seat also removed. These are decent numbers.

The side doors are powered, and offer a feature you can't find on the competition - roll-down windows. On all other minis I've driven, the windows are fixed. There are times when fresh air is superior to air filtered through the air conditioning system.

Fuel economy is estimated at 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway.  It would have been relatively easy for Mazda to pack on a couple of extra inches on the MPV wheelbase and body and advertise that it had an "all new" MPV. Instead, the engineers concentrated on what was important; a more powerful engine and a stiffer suspension. Styling changes are minimal. The result is a compact package with a host of unique features.

As Vice President of Marketing Kristen Simmons said, "there's a little bit of sports car in everything we make." You can't say that if your vehicle is oversized.

2002 The Auto Page Syndicate

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Specifications 

Engine Type 3.0L DOHC 24 Valve V6
Horsepower 200 @ 6200 RPM
Torque 200 @ 3000 RPM
Fuel Recommended Regular 87 Octane Unleaded.
Transmission 5-speed electronically controlled automatic
Tires - Standard (LX)
Tires - Standard (ES)
P205/65R15 All-Season  (P215/60R16 All Season - Optional))
P215/60R17 All-Season
Overall Length 187.8"
Wheelbase 111.8
Width 72.1"
Turning Diameter 37.4 ft Curb to Curb
Curb Weight 3,794 lbs. (LX)    3,812 lbs. (ES)
Fuel Tank 19.8 Gals.
Miles Per Gallon EPA city 18 , hwy 24. 
Towing Capacity 2,000 lbs.  (3,000 lbs. w. four-seasons package)
Base Price (LX)
Base Price (ES)
$22,250    plus $520 destination charge
$27,192    plus $520 destination charge

2002 Mazda MPV

Standard Equipment

All Models

  • 4-wheel ABS with brake-assist
  • Air conditioning
  • Power windows & locks
  • Side-by-slide second-row seating
  • Tumble-under third row seat
  • Rear privacy glass
  • Cruise control
  • Tilt steering wheel with audio controls
  • Overhead console with storage
  • AM/FM in-dash single CD sound system with 4 speakers
  • Illuminated visor vanity mirrors

ES Special features include:

  • 17-inch alloy wheels
  • Power sliding rear doors
  • Leather-trimmed seats, steering wheel & parking brake handle
  • Rear air conditioning
  • Front side air bags
  • AM/FM / cassette / CD sound system with 9 speakers
  • 8-way power driver's seat

Major Available Options

  • 4-Seasons Package Includes: Rear Heater, Larger Washer Tank, Heavy-Duty Battery,  Transmission Oil Cooler, Larger Radiator, Additional Cooling Fan, Heated Mirrors, Heavy-Duty Wiper Motor, 3000 pound towing capability.
  • Auto. Dimming Mirror w/Compass & Outside Temperature
  • In-Dash 6-Disc CD Changer
  • 8 Way Power Driver's Seat
  • Rear Spoiler
  • Roof Rack
  • Rear Air-Conditioning
  • Rear Bumper Step Plate

For more information on the MPV, visit Mazdausa.com

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