2003 Mazda MPV ES Auto Review

2 Nov 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on 2003 Mazda MPV ES Auto Review
Mazda MPV

2003 Mazda MPV ES

Sport and safety in petitely proportioned package

Bob Nagy on 03.01.2003

It’s tough to grab much attention when you’re not the big dog in any pack-literally or figuratively. That adage has proven particularly true when applied to the minivan segment, a subset that’s been acutely impacted over the past decade by the rising popularity of SUVs and car-based crossovers.

While the DX was dropped last year from the low end of the lineup, the now-entry-level LX opens at $22,690 while our top-line ES tester starts at $26,090 and can be maxed out at just over $29,000, including $520 in destination fees. Visually, the 2002 MPV heralded its functional changes with a subtle but purposeful revamping of its front and rear fascias based around a bolder grille and air dam treatment.

For 2003, the MPV gets standard 17-inch alloy wheels on the ES, and adds a new DVD entertainment system.

Mechanically, the focal point of the MPV is its 3.0-liter, 24-valve DOHC six, a variation on Ford’s versatile DOHC Duratec V-6, also found in Mazda’s compact SUV, the Tribute. With 200 horsepower and 200 lb.-ft. of torque, it boasts 18 percent more power and 21 percent more twist than its predecessor. Better yet, 90 or more of that latter commodity is available from 1,800-5,500 rpm.

Complementing the engine is a smooth-shifting 5-speed automatic that offers Slope Control logic to help eliminate unnecessary shift changes on grades.

A bit less obvious, but nonetheless welcome, are a series of modifications to the MPV’s coil-sprung underpinnings aimed at, in Mazda’s own words, putting the soul of a sports car into the body of a minivan. Key ingredients in the recipe up front include a reinforced subframe, friction-reducing, offset-mounted shocks that are fitted with special low-speed valves, a more efficient anti-roll bar setup, revised camber settings and more isolation-oriented bushings.

Complementing that mix in the rear are stiffer springs and shocks, a larger diameter anti-roll bar and new bushings. The rack-and-pinion power steering unit was improved for 2002 to offer better off-center effort and feel.

Mazda MPV

Inside, the control layout on the audio system permits easy access to gauges. Optional on the LX and standard on ES, power-sliding side doors are also fitted with retractable glass, a feature that helps eliminate any sense of claustrophobia and makes them unique among today’s minivan set. Both MPV models boast a comprehensive list of features, including air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, cruise control, tilt steering column, and front/rear intermittent washer/wipers.

On the people- and cargo-hauling fronts, these MPV siblings come with removable second-row captain’s chairs that offer five inches of fore/aft travel as well as Mazda’s Side-by-Slide transverse adjustability plus the Tumble-Under third-row bench that disappears into a well in the floor and rotates 90 degrees to become the perfect perch for a tailgate party. That setup allows MPV payload to encompass anywhere from seven passengers and 17.2 cubic feet of cargo to two people and 127.0 cubic feet of assorted stuff.

Stepping up to ES adds even more to the mix. In addition to the features previously mentioned, leather replaces cloth in the upline MPV, a 9-speaker/180-watt AM/FM/CD/cassette sound system supplants the base 4-speaker/100-watt AM/FM/CD and offers a 6-disc in-dash changer option, and rear air conditioning and front side airbags are standard. While Mazda recently introduced an Aero package (body kit and rear spoiler), the sole other extras available on the ES are a power moonroof and a cold-weather package.

Our first encounter with the MPV came in a day of meandering up and down the coast of central California over a variety of terrain and road types. It soon became evident that Mazda’s ’02 upgrade program was a solid success. Despite a slight tendency for its transmission to engage in some gear-hunting on steeper uphill stretches, there’s no question that the new powertrain makes a huge difference in the vehicle’s overall performance.

The suspension changes also merit kudos for materially curtailing roll and pitch motions in corners while enhancing steering feel and attenuating kickback.

Even with its recent comprehensive array of changes, there’s not much chance of the MPV blasting into the forefront in a pure sales-numbers game, but this handsome people-hauler should at least be added to a lot more people’s short list of minivans worth a test drive. (www.mazdausa.com)

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