2000 Mazda MPV
2000 Mazda MPV. Click image to enlarge

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Test Drive: 2000 Mazda MPV

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By Chris Chase

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Since the beginning of the minivan era – which began in 1984 with the original Dodge Caravan and Plymouth Voyager – one of the lures of the minivan was that it offered the carrying capacity of a van yet drove like a car.

In reality, the minivan concept delivered on one half of that promise, but fell short on the other. Many an enthusiast simply accepted the fact that starting a family meant giving up his or her sporty coupe and belting themselves into a – yawn – minivan. While these are capable and commodious vehicles to be sure, they were never exciting. At least, that was the case before the 2000 model year, when Mazda came calling with the second generation of its MPV.

The MPV was always a bit of an oddball in the minivan field. The original was a compact, one-size-fits-all, rear-wheel-drive affair in a class full of front-wheel-drive boxes, many of which were available in two sizes. Mazda went with a more conventional approach in 2000, switching to a front-wheel-drive platform.

2002 Mazda MPV
2002 Mazda MPV. Click image to enlarge

The MPV continued to march to its own tune in three areas, however: it was still smaller than most of its competition, available in just one size and it offered a decidedly more interesting driving experience than other minivans.

So the MPV is on the small for the class, but how much so? At first glance, its 2,840 mm wheelbase and 4,750 mm overall length are consistent with other size-small minivans: the now-defunct short-wheelbase Dodge Caravan had a 2,878 mm wheelbase and was 4,732 mm long. The most significant size difference between the MPV and its competitors was width: only the also-now-defunct Chevy Venture/Pontiac Montana/Saturn Relay/Buick Terrazza were narrower, albeit by a negligible two mm, at 1,830 mm.

A word about all these aforementioned defunct minivans: Mazda discontinued the MPV after 2006, choosing to concentrate on crossovers instead. The seven-seat CX-9 replaced it in 2007, and other manufacturers have recently dropped minivans from their lineups too, including Ford and General Motors.

The result of its smaller stature was a deficiency in cargo room compared to some competitors, but that was made up for in the fun-to-drive category. From the start, Mazda gave the second-generation MPV a firm suspension to carry its “zoom-zoom” mantra over into the people-mover class of vehicle. That tight suspension made the 2000 MPV a hit with automotive writers, who praised its sporty handling, and a ride that truly verged on car-like.

2002 Mazda MPV
2002 Mazda MPV. Click image to enlarge

The MPV’s handling won over many drivers, but what didn’t wow anyone right away was the second-generation MPV’s 2.5-litre V6 engine. It was the same 170-hp DOHC Ford Duratec unit that powered the Ford Contour and Mercury Mystique and Cougar, and while it was a spirited performer in those cars, it struggled under the MPV’s 1,656-kg curb weight.

In 2002, Mazda fixed that problem by dropping in a different motor from Ford’s parts bin, the 3.0-litre Duratec from the Taurus, into the MPV. Now, with 200 hp on tap, the MPV finally felt as sporty in a straight line as it did in the twisties. Along with that new engine, 2002 through 2004 models also got a five-speed automatic transmission, while 2000 and 2001 MPVs had a four-speed.

In 2004, the MPV received a mild facelift to bring its looks in line with other models in the company’s lineup. Trim level designations were also changed that year, with GX, GS and GT replacing the DX/LX/ES model nomenclature.

2002 Mazda MPV
2002 Mazda MPV. Click image to enlarge

That the MPV is aimed at drivers more concerned with performance than fuel economy shows in Natural Resources Canada’s fuel consumption ratings for this minivan. The 2000 MPV was rated 13.6 l/100 km in the city, and 9.9 l/100 km on the highway. Those numbers improved somewhat by 2006 to 13.3 l/100 km and 8.8 l/100 km in city and highway driving respectively. Both the GM and Chrysler vans from similar years are more efficient.

The MPV did excel, however, in crash safety. In U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) tests, the 2000 and 2001 MPV scored four stars for driver and passenger protection in frontal crash tests, and five stars in front and rear occupant safety in side impact tests. From 2002 to 2006, the MPV scored five stars in all NHTSA crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), however, had a different opinion. The MPV scored only an “acceptable” rating in that organization’s frontal offset crash test, while side impact performance earned a “poor” rating. Note that both organizations tested MPVs without side airbags; these were offered as an option in LX and GS models and were standard in ES and GT models.

2000 Mazda MPV
2002 Mazda MPV
2000 Mazda MPV (top); 2002 Mazda MPV. Click image to enlarge

Despite Mazda’s generally good reputation for dependability, the MPV is decidedly average in the reliability department. The five-speed transmission added in 2002 has been problematic; the older four-speed is a better bet, even if it does come with the less powerful engine. There are mentions, too, in the forums at MPVClub.com of engine ignition coil problems with the 3.0-litre motor. For those who don’t mind getting their hands dirty, here’s a helpful post detailing how to replace faulty coils yourself.

Cracked exhaust manifolds also appear to be a fairly common issue – read here and here – as do coolant leaks in vans with secondary heaters for the rear seats. It appears that in colder parts of North America where salt is used extensively in winter weather, the hoses that run hot coolant to the back of the van are prone to severe corrosion and leaking. The hoses can be replaced but appear to be pricey; a stop-gap fix is to simply plug the rear heater lines.

See this thread at MPVCLUB.com for suggestions on common problems to be aware of in a used MPV.

Used MPV values range from $4,225 for a 2000 DX model, to $13,800 for a 2006 GT version. For about $10,000, you could try for a higher-end 2005 model; you’ll be looking at $10,000 or less for any 2003 or older model. Look for well-maintained examples, and pay attention to how well the automatic transmission has been maintained. Often, even a transmission that’s prone to problems will be reasonably dependable if it’s “over-maintained” over the course of its life. Find a newer MPV that fits this bill, and passes a once-over by a trusted mechanic and you’ll likely have decent luck.

The second-gen MPV is a fun family hauler; a so-so reliability history is the only thing that would make me think twice, but as mentioned, a careful shopper could walk away with a good deal on a well-maintained example.


Black Book Pricing (avg. retail) January 2010:

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Online resources
  • Start with MPVClub.com and don’t look back. This site is a terrific resource with many knowledgeable posters who are – surprisingly enough – very enthusiastic about these vans. The links in the article above will take you to details on the MPV’s most common reliability problems.

  • Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999138; Units affected: 1302

    2000: Certain vehicles have fuel injectors that do not match the lower intake manifold. This condition could potentially result in a fuel leak. In the presence of an ignition source, an engine compartment fire could occur. Correction: Dealers will replace the lower intake manifold with the correct one.  

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 1999147; Units affected: 2392

    2000: On certain vehicles, due to the inappropriate shape of the linkage in the rear door lock controller, accumulated dust may prevent the door lock mechanism from functioning properly, causing incomplete locking of the door when the childproof locking system is used. This may result in an opening of the door while driving. Correction: An additional clip will be added to the linkage of both rear doors. 

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000029; Units affected: 7166

    2000: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 1101- Emission Device. Inappropriate programming of the Powertrain Control Module.(PCM). Correction: Dealer will reprogram the PCM.  

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2001297; Units affected: 12990

    2000-2001: Due to inappropriate brake pipe layout certain vehicles fail to meet the required partial failure stopping distance required by C.M.V.S.S. 135. Correction: Dealers will replace the proportioning valve, brake pipes, and hardware. 

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004183; Units affected: 2718

    2000-2002: On certain vehicles, the cruise control actuator cable may be broken due to insufficient strength. Also included are certain 2000-2001 minivans built between March 31, 1999 and March 31, 2001, that have had the cruise control repaired and possibly had a defective cable installed during that repair. It is possible that the broken actuator cable may be out of position and could interfere with the operation of the accelerator cable, preventing a decrease in engine speed while driving, increasing the risk of a crash. Correction: Dealers will replace the actuator cable. 

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2000116; Units affected: 10629

    2000: Certain vehicles do not comply with the requirements of CMVSS 120 – Tire Selection and Rims. Vehicles may not have the correct cold tire inflation pressure stated on the tire information labels for 16-inch tires and the labels do not include the recommended rims that should be used with the tires specified on the label; may be equipped with 15-inch tires and do not have the correct markings on the sidewall; may be equipped with 15-inch rims that do not include the required markings. Correction: Correct labels and installation instructions will be mailed directly to owners. Letters will also advise owners with 16-inch tires to make certain that the tires are inflated to 35 psi. Owners with 15-inch tires will be advised to make sure that when they replace the P205/65 R15 92 tires with the correct P205/65 R15 94 tires.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004376; Units affected: 22782

    2001-2002: On certain vehicles equipped with a 2.5L V6 Duratec engine, while driving at a constant speed on the highway, it is possible that the engine speed will not decrease when releasing the accelerator pedal due to a frozen throttle valve. This condition occurs at ambient temperatures from -30 to -40 degrees Celsius. The vehicle can be brought to a full stop by depressing the brake pedal. Correction: Dealers will replace the intake manifold and PCV hose with modified parts which will change the layout of the PCV hose system.

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002145; Units affected: 79

    2001: On certain vehicles, the diffuser may come off the inflator for the passenger air bag during deployment due to improper welding. Under these conditions, expanded gas cannot be supplied to the bag and may not deploy during a frontal crash. Correction: Dealers will replace the passenger side airbag with a correct one. 

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2002047; Units affected: 2892

    2002: Certain mini vans fail to comply to the requirements of federal motor vehicle safety standard no. 120, “tire selection and rims for motor vehicles other than passenger cars.” an incorrect gross axle weight rating (GAWR) was indicated on the certification label. Correction: Owners will be mailed accurate certification labels and inserts for the owner’s manual. 

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2003047; Units affected: 14715

    2002-2003: On certain vehicles, the front fog light bulb socket was installed improperly. If the vehicle continues to operate with this condition, the bulb socket and the wiring harness may separate from the fog light housing as a result of exposure to vehicle vibration. Should this occur, the bulb socket and the harness can drop inside the bumper and in the worst case, the heat generated can cause the bumper to burn. Correction: Dealer will re-install the bulb socket properly. 

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004067; Units affected: 3392

    2004: On certain vehicles, the front passenger-side airbag was improperly wired and may not provide adequate protection in the event of a crash. Correction: Dealer will install a short wiring harness kit. 

    Transport Canada Recall Number: 2004192; Units affected: 3476

    On certain vehicles, the tire inflation pressure indicated on the vehicle certification label is not correct. Each of the labels includes tire inflation pressure information in kilopascals (KPA) and in pounds per square inch (PSI) for one of the three sizes of tires available on MPV’s. In every case, the maximum tire inflation pressure specified in PSI is incorrect while the information provided in KPA is correct. The labels show the maximum tire pressure as 240 KPA / 32 PSI when it should be shown as 240 KPA / 35 PSI. Correction: Owners will be notified of the non-compliance by mail and will be provided with a corrected label that they can apply to their vehicle.

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

    Used vehicle prices vary depending on factors such as general condition, odometer reading, usage history and options fitted. Always have a used vehicle checked by an experienced auto technician before you buy.

    For information on recalls, see Transport Canada’s web-site, www.tc.gc.ca, or the U.S. National Highway Transportation Administration (NHTSA)web-site, www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on vehicle service bulletins issued by the manufacturer, visit www.nhtsa.dot.gov.

    For information on consumer complaints about specific models, see www.lemonaidcars.com.

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