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2003 Mazda MPV

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San Francisco: Styling on the Mazda MPV, especially its chiseled front end, reflects the company's desire to make a sporty, fun to drive minivan. While it’s not exactly at home on the racetrack, it does offer surprisingly good performance to go along with its family friendly cabin.

Mazda's MPV has everything you'd expect to find in a minivan, and more. One of its most innovative features, called Side-by-Slide, lets you slide the two middle row bucket seats together to form a two person bench like in a traditional minivan cabin. It makes getting to the back seat even easier.

So why buy it? It has the best combination of handling, acceleration, braking and steering among minivans, making it easy to park and fairly fun to drive.  It also has great safety ratings from the U.S. government. While the concept of a nimble minivan isn't so strange, you've got to admit it's funny to hear Mazda say its MPV "Boldly goes where no minivan has gone before - to the race track."

O.K. So the folks at Mazda are a little overly enthusiastic, but can you blame them? They're staking their reputation on a lineup of sporty, driver oriented vehicles in an attempt to become a sort of Japanese Sport Car supplier, which has worked well for cars like the Miata, Mazda 6, and the upcoming RX-8. But a minivan designed for crisp handling and driving fun, this we had to see, and drive to believe.

It turns out the MPV is no Ferrari beater, but it does have surprisingly good performance for a minivan. Acceleration, braking, handling, and steering are all superb, and we'll admit a slight, naughty temptation to do some handbrake turns just for thrills.

MPV is also among the narrowest and shortest minivans on the market, which is great for parking and handling. It's not so good for those of us who are, what's the politically correct term, horizontally challenged?

And in a weird way, Mazda is right when it says the MPV has "the body of a minivan and soul of a sports car," as odd as it may seem. While it feels about as much fun as a large sports sedan, it doesn't sacrifice any family friendly minivan attributes, like dual sliding doors and lots of room for kids.

At its heart is a stunning 200-horsepower, 3.0-liter engine. It's among one of the best engines you can buy in a minivan because it delivers such smooth, seamless power no matter when you step on the throttle, making it a far cry from the wheezy power plants stuffed under minivan hoods just a few years ago.

Working in concert with this terrific engine is a noteworthy five-speed automatic transmission. Engineers carefully selected each gear ratio to fit the MPV's sporty character, Mazda says, while also making sure each shift is super smooth. It seems to work perfectly, and sometimes the only way to tell when it shifts is to watch the gauges.

Mazda keeps up with the competition by offering a built-in DVD player this year to keep the kids happy. MPV also offers exclusive power windows on its sliding doors, though they only lower down about two thirds of the way.

Inside, the MPV doesn't disappoint. Fit and finish of interior materials is outstanding, with the exception of a tad too much hard plastic on the dash.   As in every Mazda, controls are well placed and logical.

Mazda has good reason to brag about the MPV's safety record, as it earned top ratings from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's frontal crash test. It also previously won a five-star rating for side-impact collisions.

All in all, Mazda goes a little too far in calling the MPV a racecar for the family. But it is easy to drive and can be fun on twisty roads, something you can't say about many family haulers. By Derek Price AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

Mazda Home Page

Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  Mazda adds some "zoom-zoom" to minivan formula
Topic:  2003 Mazda MPV
Word Count:   712
Photo Caption:  2003 Mazda MPV
Photo Credits:  Mazda Internet Media
Series #:   2003 - 32

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