Four doors and removable rear seats add practicality.
Oh, what a difference a door makes. Mazda has added a fourth door to the MPV this year. The new rear door on the driver`s side means back seat passengers can get in and out from either side. It means the driver no longer has to run all the way around to unbuckle the baby from the back seat. It means the MPV is even more carlike than before.
The Mazda MPV is certainly not the newest design on the minivan market. Until this
year, little had changed on the MPV since its 1988 introduction. And while the 1996
model offers some refinements and styling changes, it does not represent a major
Fortunately, the MPV`s styling has aged well. The design does not look dated and the
performance, handling and features help the MPV hold its own against the competition.
This minivan is actually fun to drive.
One of the things that sets the MPV apart from most of the minivan market is its
rear-wheel-drive layout. The Toyota Previa, Ford Aerostar and Chevrolet Astro/GMC
Safari twins are the only other minivans that employ rear-wheel drive, and the Ford
and GM products are essentially trucks. This setup makes the MPV a good choice for
those who tow trailers. Drivers who want improved traction and handling in slippery
conditions should opt for the four-wheel-drive model.
Mazda offers three trim levels--the DX, the well-equipped LX and the leather-lined ES.
The 4-wheel-drive model is only available in LX and ES trim. We evaluated the MPV LX
4WD, which comes with a cloth interior and was equipped with optional captain`s chairs
for back seat passengers. A new All-Sport package introduced at mid-year is designed
to bridge the gap between minivans and sport-utilities through the use of off-road
The 1996 Mazda MPV appears familiar, but somehow looks more aggressive than before.
The new appearance is the result of a bigger front end and a new rear bumper, all
designed to improve crashworthiness. The longer nose also makes it easier to see the
front corners when parking.
The MPV remains a handsome vehicle with its bulging fenders, horizontal taillights and
chunky new front end. Mazda strived to make people think -car+ when they looked at an
MPV. The tail lights are horizontal and the B-pillars are moved back for bigger, more
carlike side windows.
Four hinged doors makes the 1996 MPV more convenient and more carlike than ever. The
Honda Odyssey and the Chrysler minivans are among the few that offer rear doors on
both sides. Most minivans use sliding doors, but those on the Mazda and Honda are
hinged and swing open like the doors on a sedan. All four doors on the MPV feature
power windows that go all the way down.
The DX and LX come with a choice of four solid colors. The LX also offers three
optional two-tone schemes, while the leather ES can be identified by its bordeaux and
sand mica two-tone paint.
While most new minivans are front-wheel drive, the MPV uses rear-wheel drive, making
it a good choice for towing. The load leveling package, optional on the LX and
standard on the ES, raises the tow rating to 4300 lbs. on the 2-wheel-drive MPV and
4000 lbs. on the 4WD model. The Chevy Astro/GMC Safari are the only minivans that can
tow a significantly heavier load and they are considerably more trucklike than the
The MPV`s towing package includes an automatic load leveling system that works well
for balancing heavy loads, a transmission oil cooler, a larger cooling fan and a
full-size spare tire. The bigger fan and full-size spare are standard on the 4WD
model. Without the towing package, an MPV can pull up to 2600 lbs.
The All-Sport package, designed to give the MPV a sport-utility image, is mostly
cosmetic and is available for both 2- and 4-wheel-drive models. It includes a unique
grille, a stone guard beneath the front bumper, fender flares, a rear bumper cover, a
roof rack and special graphics. Larger tires on bright alloy wheels are also
available. The bottom line is that any MPV 4WD model can go anywhere an All-Sport can go.
Mazda has modernized and improved the interior of the new MPV. Sweeping, graceful
lines replace the blocky, angular look of last year`s dashboard. A new speedometer and
tachometer are bigger and easier to read. Gauges, indicators and warning lamps have
been repositioned for easier viewing. Controls for the stereo, heating, ventilation
and air conditioning are easy to reach. The glovebox in last year`s MPV was capable
only of holding the owner`s manual. Now gloves can actually be stored there.
The only downside we found to the controls is that it`s easy to bump the windshield
wiper stalk when shifting into park.
Overall, the interior of the MPV is a nice place to be. The MPV offers more front
headroom and legroom than the Caravan, Previa and Villager and more headroom than the
Windstar. Getting in and out of the driver`s seat couldn`t be easier. The view is
excellent in all directions with an expansive windshield, big side windows and large
The seats are comfortable and supportive. They come upholstered in an attractive
velour cloth on DX and LX trim, while the ES gets leather. The leather is nice, but
the ES retails for $2300 more than the LX and we really liked the cloth.
The MPV will seat five, seven or eight passengers, depending on the seating
configuration. All MPVs come with front bucket seats. The DX and LX come standard with
a 3-passenger second-row seat. The LX and ES come with a third bench seat in the rear.
With the standard 3-passenger second row seat, the LX can haul eight people, but
they`d better be good friends. The downside of this arrangement is that the width of
the second-row seat makes it difficult to get into the third-row seat.
This year, Mazda offers a pair of captain`s chairs for the second row that are
standard on the leather ES and optional on the cloth LX. The captain`s chairs are
comfortable and make it easy for people, particularly children, to get into the
rearmost bench seat. After spending time with all the configurations, we recommend the
LX with the optional captain`s chairs.
An even more important improvement to the seating is that the third row seat is now
much easier to remove. Release a couple of latches, store it in the garage and the MPV
is ready to haul four or five passengers and their gear. (Those who don`t think
they`ll ever need the third row seat may want to order the DX model and save some
The center bench can also be removed by releasing latches, while the center captain`s
chairs can be quickly unbolted. This feature turns an MPV into a serious cargo hauler
in a short period of time. It also makes the MPV a great camper with more flat
sleeping space than most sport-utility vehicles. Keep in mind that the seats are heavy
and will take up a fair amount of space in the garage. For smaller jobs, the middle
and rear seats can be folded flat for loading long items.
A 4-wheel antilock braking system is standard on the MPV. Dual airbags and 3-point
seat belts in all outboard positions are also standard. All four doors incorporate
side-impact door beams and the new front end was designed to better absorb frontal impacts.
Like most minivans, the MPV drives like a car. It handles nearly as well as a sedan,
provides adequate power and stops competently. The MPV LX 4WD we tested was a rock solid companion on snow and ice, but we`d opt for a 2-wheel-drive LX if we lived in a warmer climate. The 4WD model rides a little higher and its ride quality suffers slightly, but it is still quite pleasant. The MPV can be shifted from 2-wheel drive to 4-wheel drive by flicking a small switch on the shifter column. Another button locks the center differential for sure traction when it`s really slippery.
Twist the key and the MPV`s 3.0-liter V6 starts with a reassuring roar. The engine is
a bit on the noisy side, but delivers adequate power for passing and solid torque for
pulling away from intersections with heavy loads. The 4-speed automatic transmission selects the appropriate gear for the conditions and shifts smoothly.
Spend some time in an MPV and it almost seems sporty. The sedan-like handling inspires confidence. With a turning circle of only 36.1 feet, an MPV can complete a circle in less space than any other minivan, matching the turning radius of the Honda Accord Wagon. The MPV is longer than the Dodge Caravan and Ford Aerostar, but shorter than most minivans. The relatively short length and tight turning radius make the MPV easy to park and maneuver in tight quarters.
The MPV was designed well from the start and significant improvements to this year`s
model make it safer and more enjoyable to live with on a daily basis. It offers good
handling, adequate acceleration and a roomy, comfortable interior with an expansive view. Overall, it`s a great vehicle for carpooling or hauling the family around.
All of this doesn`t come cheap. A fully loaded MPV comes close to $30,000. We
recommend ordering an MPV in LX trim with the captain`s chairs, which should be
available for considerably less.
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