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A stylish and capable minivan if that's all you need, but compared to newer class leaders, the 2006 Mazda MPV lacks the size, features and refinement to compete for the top spot.
Manageable size, lots of interior storage, decidedly unminivan looks, roll-down windows in the sliding doors.
Missing the power and room of its closest competitors, lacking the latest safety hardware, noisy engine, clunky transmission, too much body roll to feel as sporty as Mazda claims.
Available MPV Minivan Models
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Aside from a few new exterior colors, Mazda's MPV minivan is unchanged for 2006.
Mazda's first attempt at a minivan appeared as a 1989 model. It distinguished itself from the burgeoning minivan field with features like a right-side swing-out door (as opposed to sliding) and optional four-wheel drive. Over the next 10 years, Mazda fitted its MPV with a left-side rear door (still hinged), standard ABS, a standard V6 engine and a removable third-row seat. In 1997, the company created an All-Sport model that included special body cladding, distinctive graphics and alloy wheels. Without an SUV of its own, this was Mazda's closest offering to the hot-selling Ford Explorer. By 1998, however, the MPV's "uniqueness" had worn thin, as the sales numbers confirmed. It was time to retire the original Mazda MPV and start over from scratch.
The current Mazda MPV arrived in 2000, and was notable for its fold-flat third-row seat and the roll-down windows within the now sliding doors. However, a weak 2.5-liter V6 and an equipment list that was lacking some basic safety features limited its popularity. In response, Mazda upgraded the powertrain to a 200-hp, 3.0-liter V6 and added some features in 2002, while the 2004 brought more standard features, including the all-important separate rear air conditioner. These incremental improvements made the MPV a much more viable choice, but roomier, competitively priced offerings from Honda, Kia, Nissan and Toyota offer better overall packages. Although the 2006 Mazda MPV may still hold appeal for small families who prize style and maneuverability above maximum space and cutting-edge features, the new Mazda 5 compact minivan also offers these virtues, albeit in a more refined package that costs less. Prospective buyers should try both before making a decision.
The Mazda MPV is a four-door, seven-passenger minivan with three available trims: LX-SV, LX and ES. The base LX-SV comes with 15-inch steel wheels, dual manual-sliding doors with roll-down windows and a CD player. The LX adds 16-inch alloy wheels, steering wheel-mounted stereo controls. A power driver seat, side airbags for front occupants and traction control are options. Step up to the ES trim and you get 17-inch wheels, dual power-sliding doors, privacy glass, leather upholstery, an upgraded nine-speaker sound system with an in-dash CD changer and a separate rear air conditioner. Many of these features are optional on the LX. A DVD-based rear entertainment system and a sunroof are also available as options on both the LX and ES.
The MPV comes with a 200-horsepower, 3.0-liter V6 paired with a five-speed automatic transmission. Towing capacity is 3,000 pounds with the optional four-seasons driving package. EPA estimates are 18 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes are standard on all models, while traction control and side airbags for front occupants are standard on the ES, optional on the LX and not available on the LX-SV. Full-length side curtain airbags and stability control are not available on any MPV. In government crash tests, the Mazda MPV earned a perfect five-star rating in all front- and side-impact categories. In frontal-offset crash testing conducted by the IIHS, the MPV received an "Acceptable" rating (the second highest out of four).
The interior is equipped with three rows of seating for seven passengers. The second and third rows can be reconfigured for multiple seating arrangements. The second row features two comfortable captain's chairs that have their own flip-up armrests. The right-side second-row captain's chair can be released by a handle, allowing it to slide along tracks to meet up flush with the other seat, creating a bench. Both second-row seats are removable. For maximum convenience, the third-row seat easily folds flat into the floor.
Nicely weighted steering and a compact size makes the 2006 Mazda MPV easy to maneuver on tight city streets, but vans like the Odyssey, Caravan and the new Mazda 5 offer sportier handling. The 3.0-liter V6 provides adequate acceleration in most situations but is quite noisy under heavy acceleration. Those who plan to carry heavy passenger loads or tow a trailer should consider competing vans, all of which can be had with larger engines. Additionally, the MPV's five-speed automatic transmission is often indecisive, hampering acceleration efforts with early upshifts and late downshifts.
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