2004 Mazda MPV GT
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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Like the Dodge Caravan and Chevrolet Venture, the Mazda MPV is a “short wheelbase” minivan: it’s approximately 10 inches shorter than “extended length” minivans like the Dodge Grand Caravan, Ford Freestar, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna, Nissan Quest, and Chevrolet Venture LT.

“Short” minivans are easier to park and manoeuvre in the city and suburban environments, and they fit into home garages easier. Their disadvantage, compared to long wheelbase minivans, is less interior room and cargo space.

Even so, “short” minivans have more passenger and cargo space than cars or SUVs of the same length. And of all the “short” minivans, the Mazda MPV is probably the most space-efficient. The MPV seats seven passengers (2/2/3) and offers 487 litres (17.2 cu. ft.) of cargo space behind the third row seat – more cargo space than you’ll find in the trunk of a typical 5-passenger mid-size sedan. With the MPV’s third row seat folded into the floor and the second row bucket seats removed, the cargo area is a minimum of 44 inches wide and over seven feet long.

Admittedly, the MPV’s three person third-row seat is not particularly comfortable for three adults, and the cargo area behind the third row seat is more vertical than horizontal, but the MPV is nevertheless an extremely space-efficient family vehicle.

Changes for 2004

The current-generation front-wheel-drive Mazda MPV was first introduced in 2000, and received a more powerful 200 horsepower 3.0 litre V6 engine upgrade in 2002.

2004 Mazda MPV GT

2004 Mazda MPV GT
Click image to enlarge

For 2004, the MPV receives freshened exterior styling, redesigned alloy wheels, new seat upholstery, and a spring-assist for the disappearing third-row seat.

Trim levels and prices for 2004 are now GX ($26,595), GS ($29,995), and GT ($35,995) compared to 2003 trim/pricing of DX ($26,090), LX ($29,085), and ES ($36,510).

The 2004 MPV’s face-lift is more extensive than it looks: new headlights and taillights, a new grille, new hood and front fenders, new front and rear bumpers, and side skirts complete the makeover. Top-of-the-line GT models (this week’s test vehicle) have a more aggressive body-coloured horizontal grille bars, a different headlight/taillight treatment, fog lamps, and larger 17 inch tires and alloy wheels. The 2004 MPV is also available in seven new colours: Rally White, Tsunami Blue Mica, Whitewater Pearl, Nordic Green Mica, Cosmic Sand Metallic, Razor Blue and Titanium Gray Metallic.

Inside the ’04 MPV is new seat upholstery and trim fabric, adjustable lumbar support on the driver’s seat, a new three-spoke steering wheel, chrome-plated gauge trim rings, driver and passenger-side sun visor extensions, a standard in-dash six-disc CD changer (GT models) and front-door storage pockets with bottle holders.


Interior is practical

2004 Mazda MPV GT

2004 Mazda MPV GT

2004 Mazda MPV GT
Click image to enlarge

All MPVs come with four captain’s chairs and a third-row, three-person “tumble-under” bench seat. Unique to the MPV are the second row “slide-by-slide” captain’s chairs which slide together to form a bench seat if wanted. These second row bucket seats are also removable. The third row “tumble-under” bench seat can be folded into a well in the floor (after removing the rear head restraints) so that the cargo floor is completely flat. A new spring mechanism makes the seat easy to lift up and down. As well, this third-row seat can be made to face backwards for “tailgate parties”.

The MPV’s step-in height is only 19 inches, but the driver sits fairly high in the captain’s chair with an elevated view of the road ahead. A large windshield and large side and rear windows provide excellent visibility.

The look, feel and overall quality of the instrument panel and seats is of a high quality. From its textured dash plastic to highly visible displays, controls and dials, and leather covered seats, steering wheel and parking brake lever, the MPV GT is a classy minivan.

Interior storage for front passengers includes a flip-down storage bin for CD’s and cameras in the lower centre console, door pockets, glovebox, and a flip-down tray between the front seats with an integral covered coin bin. I counted eleven cupholders: there are two slide-out cupholders below the heater and a cupholder in the centre tray and rear passengers have two cupholders on the right bucket seat, bottle holders in the doors, and four cupholders in the third row.

2004 Mazda MPV GT
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The comfortable second row captain’s chairs include inboard and outboard folding armrests, reclining seatbacks, fore-aft adjustment, and plenty of headroom and legroom. The side windows in the second row will roll down about 75% of the way, a rare feature in a minivan.

For carrying cargo, the second row bucket seats can be removed from the van to create a flat loading floor. The seats aren’t too heavy, but I found them awkward to remove and replace, in part because they’re difficult to get a grip on, and because the side door openings are too narrow to move them in and out easily. My guess is that MPV owners won’t bother taking these seats out unless it’s really necessary. When I first replaced the seats, I inadvertently put the left seat on the right side and right seat on the left side. The seats look identical – the way to tell them apart is that the seat reclining levers must be on the outside when you replace the seats.

To get into the third row seat, passengers can flip up the centre seats or go between them – or slide the right seat towards the left one allowing enough room to enter from the right side. The third row seat has three seatbelts, but the seat cushion is close to the floor and the backrest is rather low, so adults won’t find it comfortable. Still, there’s adequate legroom and headroom for average-sized adults. Unusually, the optional rear heater/a/c controls are in the third row, allowing third row passengers to adjust the temperature and fan speed. Third row passengers also have cupholders in the outside armrests, and overhead map lights and grab handles.

2004 Mazda MPV GT 2004 Mazda MPV GT
2004 Mazda MPV GT 2004 Mazda MPV GT
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The fold-into-the-floor third-row seat is very easy to drop down and lift up from the floor well – simply tug on three straps, and pull. It will also flip over backwards to face rearwards – a good idea for outside sporting events. The great thing about tumble-under rear seats is that they go wherever the van goes, rather than being left behind in the garage. And of course, there’s no heavy lifting in and out. Another advantage is the deep storage well in the cargo floor created when the seat is in the ‘up’ position.

My van had the optional power sliding side doors. These can be opened from the driver’s seat or from the second row by pressing a button. To prevent young children opening the doors, the driver can deactivate the second row buttons. The power doors can also be opened with the remote key fob – very handy for opening the doors as you approach the van with a bunch of parcels in your hands. Unlike some minivans however, the MPV does not offer a power rear hatch door.

The rear cargo opening is large – four feet wide and 42 inches tall. However, the width of the cargo area between the wheel housings is 44 inches. With the third row seat in an upright position, there’s a surprising amount of cargo room given the short length of the van – due mainly to the well in the cargo floor where the third row seat folds in to.

With the third row seat folded flat, the cargo floor is about four feet long, and with both second row seats removed from the van, the cargo floor is seven feet long.

My van came with the optional ($860) moonroof, which is larger than most moonroofs, and includes a sliding sunshade.


Driving impressions

Since it’s not as long as larger minivans like the Grand Caravan, Odyssey and Sienna, the MPV is easier to park and easier to manoeuvre in the city. In fact, the MPV is only 2.5 inches longer than a Mazda6 sedan. Its good outward visibility is enhanced by large windows, a height adjustable 8-way power driver’s seat, and a tilt steering wheel. A rear wiper with washer and intermittent wiping setting clears the rear window of dirt, condensation, or ice.

2004 Mazda MPV GT
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The driving position is very comfortable and two folding armrests make it possible to relax while cruising on the freeway. The round instruments are easy to read and the controls are well within reach. However, when the column shift lever is in the ‘Drive’ position, it partly obscures the radio volume knob (see photo).

With a 200 horsepower 3.0 litre V6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission, performance is brisk and the engine is surprisingly quiet. The MPV jumps off the line delivering sprightly performance and the five-speed automatic delivers smooth shifts. This transmission also includes “slope control” which minimizes “gear-hunting” on hills. On the freeway, the engine revs at just 1900 rpm at 120 km/h and 2300 rpm at 120 km/h.

Fuel consumption of 13.3 l/100 km (21 mpg) in the city and 8.8 l/100 km (32 mpg) on the highway is about the same as a Dodge Caravan and worse than a Chevrolet Venture – however the MPV has 20 and 15 more horsepower respectively.

2004 Mazda MPV GT
Click image to enlarge

Though the MPV is supposed to be a “sporty” minivan, I wouldn’t say it handles any better than a Dodge Caravan or Honda Odyssey. Like all minivans, the handling is a bit “top heavy”. The MPV’s suspension is independent MacPherson struts in front and torsion beam at the rear, and the GT model comes with sticky Dunlop SP Sport 215/60R-17 inch tires on five spoke alloys.

A turning circle of 11.4 metres (37.4 feet), and engine-speed sensitive power steering provides decent manoeuverability and low turning effort at low speeds. While base MPV models have rear drum brakes, GS and GT model have four wheel disc brakes with ABS and electronic brake force distribution.


Safety

The 2004 MPV has a the best five-star rating in the U.S. government’s 35 mph frontal crash test (NCAP) and a five-star rating in the side impact test. Standard safety features include dual-stage inflation front air bags, seven three-point seatbelts, six adjustable head restraints, child locks, tether anchors in the second and third rows, and height-adjustable seat belt anchors.


Competitors

The MPV’s main competitors are the Dodge Caravan, Chevrolet Venture, and Pontiac Montana – and possibly the slightly larger Kia Sedona.


Verdict

The MPV is an excellent all-around family vehicle – roomy enough for seven with plenty of cargo space, yet it’s not too big to park and not awkward to drive in the city. Top-of-the-line models are fairly pricey, though.

The Mazda MPV is built in Japan.


Technical Data: 2004 Mazda MPV GT

Base price (GX) $26,595
Base price (GT) $35,995
Options $860 (moonroof)
Freight $1,125
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $38,080
Type 4-door, 7 passenger minivan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.0 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 200 @ 6200 rpm
Torque 200 @ lb-ft @ 3000
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight 1,691 kg w/o rear A/C (3728 lb.); 1,699 kg w/ rear A/C (3746 lb.)
Towing capacity 907 kg (2000 lb.)
  with Towing Package 1,361 kg (3000 lb.)
Wheelbase 2,840 mm (111.8 in.)
Length 4,813 mm (189.5 in.)
Width 1,832 mm (72.1 in.)
Height 1,755 mm (69.1 in.)
Ground clearance 133 mm (5.3 in.)(Laden)
Cargo volume behind 3rd seat 487.1 litres (17.2 cu. ft.)
Cargo vol. with 3rd seat folded 1546L (w/o rear A/C) (54.6 cu.ft.), 1520.7L(w/ rear A/C) (53.7 cu. ft.)
Cargo vol. 2nd/3rd seats folded 3596.4L (w/o moonroof) (127.0 cu.ft.) 3525.6L (w/ moonroof)(124.5 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 13.3 l/100 km (21 mpg)
  Hwy: 8.8 l/100 km (32 mpg)
Recommended fuel Regular unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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