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Mazda MPV 3.0-litre

 

I don't really have a use for a seven-seat MPV. Usually there's only two of us in a car and the most we ever carry is four people.

But I've spent the past 10 days in the company of two seven-seater Multi Purpose Vehicles - Mazda's stylish new MPV 3.0-litre and Chrysler's luxurious Grand Voyager AWD.

It's been a while since I've driven a genuine moderately-big MPV, and both the new cars provided a much better driving experience than I'd been expecting.

We'll deal with the Mazda in this test. I've always regarded old Mazda MPVs as rather dull and clumsy-looking workhorses.

But the new car is stylish, is easy and pleasant to drive and has excellent performance.

The last-mentioned is thanks to its larger-capacity 3.0-litre V6 engine.

The engine's size rises from 2.5-litres to 3.0-litres. The new motor develops 18 percent more power (152kW) and 19 percent more peak torque (271Nm). Peak torque is available at 3000rpm compared with 4500rpm in the 2.5.

The 2.5-powered MPV was frequent criticised for a lack of power.

That's certainly been remedied in the new car. The three-litre V6 has plenty of punch.

Other drivers don't expect to be outgunned by a mum's taxi type car at the traffic lights, but the MPV launches instantly and the V6 provides strong low-speed acceleration.

It's a smooth motor, too, and at highway speeds provides relaxed, quiet cruising.

It drives the front-wheels through a smooth-shifting, five-speed automatic gearbox.

The gearbox is controlled by a long lever mounted on the left-hand side of the steering column.

More closely-spaced gearbox ratios permit a lower average engine speed, cutting fuel use and reducing engine noise.


It's a set-and-forget type of gearbox. You slot it into Drive and just concentrate on braking and steering. The gearbox kicks down instantly when you apply more throttle, and the motor is torquey enough to make shifting down manually unnecessary.

We're not bothered by the column-mounted lever, and don't find it any less efficient than a floor-mounted T-bar.

Mazda has given the MPV's styling a major - and successful - makeover.

It looks like a bigger, chunkier version of one of the currently-fashionable monobox hatchbacks.

The grille has Mazda's new corporate look, and the front bumper has been reprofiled and is more aerodynamic. Head and tail lights are bolder.

Attractive five-spoke 16-inch alloy wheels give the car a classy and muscular look.

It's the interior that counts most with an MPV, and the Mazda is roomy, light and airy.

The cockpit is also predominantly light grey, though the dashboard is a contrasting charcoal.

That greyness leads to a feeling of plain-ness and blandness; but it also helps create the impression of space.

You feel as if you are in a roomy vehicle. There's a much greater impression of space in the Mazda's front cockpit that you get in the Chrysler Voyager's, for instance.

The Mazda uses a two-three-two seating layout, and the rearmost seats can be removed to boost the otherwise rather cramped luggage space.

The cloth-upholstered seats are comfortable and both front and middle seats have good legroom. The rear seats, more likely to be used by kids anyway, don't have quite so much legroom.


The driving position is good and as you sit higher than in a car, you get a better view of the road ahead than you would in a car.

The MPV's front doors open conventionally, but the two side doors slide to the rear to provide wide access to the tow rear rows of seats.

When the sliding doors are opened a latch engages to prevent the door sliding forward accidentally. To close the door you have to pull on the door handle, then slide the door shut.

The latch and reduced door effort make it easier to open and shut the door.

Rear seat access has been improved with the middle row seats folding further forward than before.

Grab handles have been added to the backs of the front seats to help make entering and leaving the MPV easier.

The front seat passenger and driver get a fold-flat table that nestles between the front seats. The table has a lidded box and a cup holder.

The table can be extended rearwards into the cabin by 120mm. It can withstand loads of up to 50kg. Luggage can now be made more secure with two additional tie-down hooks in the cargo bay, increasing the total number to six.

The MPV's roadholding is secure. This class of vehicle isn't supposed to be a sports car, but the MPV handles nicely, rather like a bigger, taller car.

Front suspension rigidity has been improved by 40 percent, reducing body roll and improving steering feel.


It has also been retuned to improve ride comfort and handling.

The rear suspension has been for greater roll stiffness and ride comfort.

Our only gripe about the car's dynamics is the steering. It's a little low-geared and requires too many turns of the wheel. It's also a little vague in the straight ahead position. We'd like a more direct system with better feel.

Noise reduction moves include thicker side door glass and revised sound insulation materials in the A pillars.

ISOFIX child seat anchor points that eliminate the chance of incorrectly fitting a child seat, have been introduced.

Standard equipment includes air-conditioning, power-operated windows and exterior mirrors and remote-control central door locking.

A dashboard-mounted Compact Disc sound system is fitted and roof rails are standard. There are also a trip computer, cruise control and an engine immobiliser.

The MPV gets dual front airbags, and has anti-side intrusion beams in the doors.

The MPV is a practical, stylish vehicle with strong performance and secure handling. It has a range of useful features, is nice to drive and provides passengers with a pleasant travel environment. It sells for $50,995.


Auto Trader New Zealand