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Call the Mazda MPV a 'large sport wagon'

May 21, 2004|by JASON STEIN/Wheelbase Communications

Mazda has lived and thrived off its "zoom-zoom" marketing strategy, a rollicking symbol of the company's desire to make your daily drive more about fun than merely sitting and steering.

It makes perfect sense for the RX-8 sports car, the Miata convertible and the new Mazda3 sedan/wagon twins.

But a "zoom-zoom" minivan? Juice up a family truckster? Now that's a marketing task.

However, Mazda thinks it has something that fits the bill. Or at least something that shatters the minivans-are-boring stereotype. Just don't call it a minivan. Mazda prefers the term "large sport wagon."

Zoom-zoom? Perhaps.

The MPV has rolled into 2004 with enough noticeable changes to warrant the term "overhaul." It's a deliberate attempt to make the package sportier, more eye-catching and appealing to younger buyers, while still holding on to the versatility of a minivan.

Mazda's goal is clear: minivans don't need to be as big and unmanageable as tanks. You can seat seven in an MPV and still have fun on the road.

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Now the real marketing task: how to translate that to buyers.

It's certainly sporty enough on the outside with newly designed 16- and optional 17-inch alloy wheels as well as a revised hood, front fenders, grille, front and rear bumpers, side skirts and headlights.

The MPV's trim physique (and relative light weight) is easy on garage space and makes it a snap to park.

Inside, there's upgraded upholstery and a new headrest design for all four front- and second-row high-back bucket seats. Power sliding rear doors on upscale models and standard power windows (the rear side windows roll up and down, just like in a car) add a level of convenience for which minivans are noted, as do the second- and third-row seats. Both can be configured in a multitude of ways. The third row reclines, can be turned to face the rear, or folded into a recessed well, leaving a flat cargo floor.

Now all of that is nice, but you can't have a minivan these days without solid convenience features. Base MPV LX models come well-equipped with air conditioning, cruise control, tilt steering, keyless remote entry and power windows and door locks. Moving up to the ES adds 17-inch alloy wheels and leather seats.

The MPV offers the option of a ceiling-mounted entertainment system that plays DVDs, MP3 files from your computer and features two sets of wireless headphones, a seven-inch screen, remote control and connections for video games and camcorders.

OK. Enough with the niceties. What about the real zoom?

For fun at the throttle, the MPV delivers a 200-horsepower, 3.0-liter 24-valve DOHC V-6 (the only engine offered) mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with "Slope Control" that minimizes constant up- and down-shifts when rolling through hilly terrain.

Because even a "large sport wagon's" primary purpose is transporting families, safety plays a big role in the MPV's formula. That means standard rear disc brakes for better stopping, advanced dual-stage front air bags, including weight sensors that can detect if there's someone in the passenger seat, and standard side marker lights (check around, they're rare these days) that tell everyone around you that you're making a turn. All MPVs come with four-wheel anti-lock brakes while traction control and side-impact air bags are optional.

So, you have an interesting decision to make. Your choice to pick an MPV could be determined by its bread-box practicality and a few segment firsts (roll-down side windows, for example) and/or its apparent ability to put it all together with its own flair. Or, both. It's obviously not as soul stirring as an RX-8 or Miata, but Mazda is trying hard to make all its customers a part of the "zoom-zoom" family.

Copyright 2004, Wheelbase Communications

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