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New styling up front, a fourth door on the driver side, and a revised instrument panel with dual airbags sum up the changes to Mazda's attempt at a minivan.
Like Honda's new Odyssey, the longer-lived Mazda minivan does without a sliding entry door. And for 1996, Mazda matches the Odyssey by providing rear doors on both sides. Mazda promises sedan-like comfort and ride qualities for up to eight passengers. Front MacPherson struts and front/rear stabilizer bars help keep the minivan comfortable and on-course. Bucket seats hold the front occupants, while three fit on the middle and back seat. Optional on LX and ES models are quad captain's chairs. Center-section leg room is less than great, but most riders aren't likely to complain. When fewer passengers are aboard, cargo space can reach 110 cubic feet.
Mazda's lineup, streamlined to three models last year, has been revised again. Three trim levels remain: value-priced DX, well-equipped LX, and luxury ES. Upper-level minivans can have shift-on-the-fly four-wheel-drive. All-disc brakes include rear-wheel anti-locking. The ES edition contains such pleasantries as leather seating surfaces, and automatic load leveling.
Acceleration with the 155-horsepower, 18-valve, 3.0-liter V-6 engine is sufficient, if not quite matching a few contemporary rivals. Four-wheel-drive cuts into potential performance, because of its sizable extra weight. Gas mileage also dips considerably. A four-speed automatic, with electronic controls, is the sole transmission choice. With 4WD, a dashboard switch can lock the center differential, for peak low-speed traction.
Inside and out--especially up front--MPVs offer a distinctive appearance, not quite like most minivans. Styling has been revised for 1996, and the MPV now sports a protruding, ungainly countenance in an effort to make it look more like a sport utility. A new, more contemporary instrument panel debuts, containing dual airbags. Visibility is terrific from the airy cabin. Storage space has been increased by the addition of a large glovebox and deep bins on each of the door panels.
The 1996 MPV is the equivalent of a double Big Mac that's been sitting under the heating lamp too long. There's more to it, but it's old, loaded with fat, and costs more than many competitors. We liked the old MPV plenty for its crisp, clean looks and fun rear-wheel drive personality. This new, heavier, bulbous model leaves us cold. And with base stickers approaching $22,000 with destination charges, we can't recommend the MPV over most other minivans on the market.
Laura's old car was costing her a small fortune every month for gas and repairs. She didn't even want to drive her kids to the park any more. But buying a new Kia Soul changed all that.