Byline: Dave Boe Daily Herald Auto Showcase Coordinator
Is it a minivan, or something more?
Almost every automobile manufacturer doing business in the United States offers a minivan in one shape or form. Mazda, not intending to be left out of this profitable and popular transportation mode, offers customers its MPV (multi-purpose vehicle.)
If nothing else, the MPV has withstood the test of time in a fiercely competitive field. First introduced in the 1989 model year, it has been around longer than many import competitors. Mazda says 99 percent of its minivans are still on the road. And results from a 1995 J.D. Power and Associates study rank MPV first in minivan dependability.
How does Mazda differentiate its minivan from the competition? For starters, MPV is one of the few minivans sold in the 1996 model year with available all-wheel drive, handy on wet or snowy mid-western roads. Editions not featuring all-wheel drive come equipped with rear-wheel drive, a departure from the industry norm.
When Chrysler Corp. redefined the minivan concept in the mid 1980s, their vehicles differentiated from larger cargo vans by utilizing front-wheel drive, creating a more car-like people mover. Still, rear-wheel drive MPVs are better suited for trailer towing. Capacity reaches 4,300 lbs. with a special towing package. Since most sport-utility vehicles (SUVs), like a Chevorlet Blazer or Ford Explorer, also offer rear-wheel drivetrains, Mazda touts its MPV as a hybrid between SUV durability and minivan comfort.
The MPV receives major redesigns in 1996. Enhancements include two swing-open, sedan-like doors with conventional roll-down windows for back passengers. Prior to the 1996 model year, only a right-side swing-out door was offered. For years, MPV was the only minivan offering these doors. Most opt for sliding rear doors.
Safety upgrades incorporate dual air bags and anti-lock brakes standard. A redesigned front grille and instrument panel round out major cosmetic changes.
The Japanese-built MPV offers three body styles; entry-level DX, mid-level LX and top-of-the-line ES. A 3.0-liter 155-horsepower V-6 powers all models, and each share identical body measurements; no extended version is currently offered. Although its 7.7 inches longer in overall length from last year, current dimensions place MPV at the smaller end of the minivan spectrum. Standard equipment …