When Mazda’s second-generation MPV appeared as a ‘99 model, it was both appreciably better than its predecessor and disappointingly conventional. The original MPV (‘89 to ’98) was a bull-nosed eccentric; powered by a longitudinally-mounted 3.0-liter V-6 in front, powering either the rear wheels or all the wheels with a big solid axle in the back, it had regular swinging rear doors on regular hinges with windows that rolled down. It was out of the mainstream, built like a bridge girder, and oddly compelling – things its successor is not.
The current MPV seemed so ordinary then, and is still pretty ordinary now. The styling is generic, the V-6 is planted transversely to drive the front wheels and the rear side doors slide. There are some saving graces such as the Odyssey-like third-row bench seat that tumbles into its own well and disappears to produce a flat floor, the side windows still roll down, it’s a smaller package than other, increasingly un-mini, minivans and it’s the only minivan sold here that’s assembled in Japan. But there were some frustrations as well; and in ’99 that was most particularly the weak 160-horsepower output of the 2.5-liter V-6 – an engine so Pokey it could be made of clay and ridden by Gumby – and the lack of power operation for the side doors.
Entering its fourth year of production, Mazda has tweaked the Gen II MPV to ameliorate some of the frustrations with a new 200-horsepower engine, five-speed automatic transmission, optional electric motors hooked to the side doors and a few other modifications. It’s a better van, but it still lacks eccentricity.
“Quirky” is probably a pretty crummy marketing plan anyhow.
Taurus heart, Jag tranny
As Mazda becomes ever more enmeshed in Ford’s engineering web, it’s hardly a surprise to find that the “new” engine in the 2002 MPV is in fact a familiar Ford component. Produced in the United States by Ford, the MPV’s 3.0-liter, DOHC, 24-valve V-6 is, with a slightly modified intake, the same Duratec engine used in the Ford Escape and Mazda Tribute small SUVs and first seen in the engine bay of the Taurus. The Duratec is now the workhorse of Ford’s fleet, with various versions showing up not only in those previously mentioned vehicles but in the Lincoln LS, Europe’s Ford Mondeo and the Jaguar X- and S-Types. Doubled, it’s even the engine upon which the V-12 in the Aston Martin Vanquish is based.