Mazda World Forum banner

1 - 3 of 3 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,693 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
This post will be the first of what I'd like to see as an impromptu history lesson on the various Mazda models. Since the MPV tends to be forgotten among the more interesting and sporty members of the Mazda family, I'll tackle it first.

The MPV was first introduced for 1989, riding a rear-wheel drive platform and available in a single trim level with several option packages available to bump up the feature count. Engine choices consisted of a 2.6-liter SOHC four (borrowed from the B-series truck line) or the far more popular 3.0-liter V6, a SOHC version of the 929 sedan's powerplant. Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions were offered.

Chrysler's Caravan and Voyager minivans had revolutionized the light-truck market in 1984 with their efficient and spacious front-drive layout, rightfully grabbing the lion's share of minivan sales and making competitive rear-drive layouts look very old-fashioned. But Mazda was merely doing the best it could with what it had, and by comparison most of the rest of the industry was doing the same thing. Toyota had been right there in 1984 with their mid-engined Van (a variant of the Japan-only Town-Ace cargo van), GM had matched Chrysler with truck-based Astro and Safari vans for 1985, Ford had introduced its humble Aerostar in 1986, and Mitsubishi and Nissan both copied Toyota with cargo van conversions for 1987.

And in this light, the MPV was a far better vehicle than any of these competitors. Yes, it was a rear-driver, thus giving it less-than-ideal fuel economy compared to the Chrysler twins. But the MPV had two big assets in its favor: V6 power and available 4WD, which (in combination) was a first in the industry. (The MPV was an early 1989 model; GM and Ford would both introduce AWD variants of their vans later in 1989.) True, Toyota had offered 4WD models of its Van, but the mid-engine layout was quickly proving a hindrance where usability was concerned - 1989 would be the Van's final year due to the heavy increase in competition.

In addition, Mazda made their mark with something that had been heretofore unseen on a minivan anywhere in the world - the use of a conventional swing-out rear door, rather than the usual sliding panel door. This was heavily promoted in MPV advertising, with one particularly notable ad showing both an MPV and the old Toyota Van parked on a steep downhill grade. The passengers of the MPV pop open their regular door and easily step out to the curb, while a pizza delivery boy struggles to keep his sliding door open thanks to the overriding force of gravity.

Car and Driver elected the MPV to its Ten Best list for 1990, citing its great handling and massive cargo space as the major factors in their decision. And among the imported vans, Mazda maintained top billing for several years. Other competitors would come and go (Mitsubishi and Nissan dropped out after 1991), but the MPV kept a loyal following and there were few major changes over the years.

But competition in the increasingly crowded minivan market was beginning to get intense. In addition to its rear-drive stalwarts, GM introduced their new line of "dustbuster" front-drive minivans for 1990 (Lumina APV, Trans Sport and Silhouette). Carrying standard V6 power and a remarkably flexible seating system, these vans showed the way forward even if their styling was a bit too much for most buyers. In addition, Chrysler totally revamped its vans for 1991 and even added a luxurious Chrysler-branded Town & Country version to cement the company's position at the top of the market. What's more, the Mopar folks even added an AWD option to their vans. And Toyota jumped back into the market with a new Previa - still rear-drive, but with a much more usable layout and (again) available AWD.

The MPV remained a force in the market, but the newer vans had begun to chip away at Mazda's sales by 1992. Compounding this was the fact that Mazda had too much capital tied up in other projects (most notably the 626/MX-6 series and the new RX-7, along with the stillborn Amati luxury division) to expend any more cash for MPV updates.

Sales continued on a downward spiral until 1995, when Mazda was finally able to update the MPV. Since four-cylinder vans were pretty much on the way out, the 2.6-liter four was dropped and the 3.0-liter V6 was given a slight power boost and made standard equipment. Automatic was also standard. And there were trim levels for the first time: the first stop was bare-bones L, followed by a well-equipped LX and a luxurious LXE. The 4WD option was available at extra cost for all models.

This update helped things out a little bit, but the MPV was still a rear-driver in a world increasingly populated with front-drive vans. To that end, Ford had introduced the new Taurus-based Windstar van to supplement its old Aerostar. Besides that, Nissan had come back to the van market with a vengeance in 1993 with their well-designed and V6-powered Quest (also shared with Ford's Mercury division as the Villager). Even Honda had gotten into the act, sending over their new Odyssey with four standard swing-out doors and finally trumping Mazda's sole remaining unique feature.

Mazda knew that they needed a different angle to promote if they hoped to survive in the minivan market, and they found it for 1996. Although still using the same old rear-drive platform and basic body in use since the MPV's introduction, 1996 marked a major update in terms of features. First and foremost was the addition of a left-side passenger door, matching Honda's Odyssey and adding a big improvement in usability for families. Second was a revised set of trim levels, mirroring the old ones (L, LX and LXE) in terms of equipment but now called DX, LX and ES.

Finally came the big change: the new All-Sport package, which was effectively the old 4WD option with a twist. In short, the All-Sport group included a unique lower-body paint treatment and a raised suspension with all-terrain tires - thus, your minivan could be equipped as a sport-utility vehicle. In a market where minivans were beginning to be seen as boring "mom-mobiles", sport-utes were becoming a strong favorite for their rugged looks and all-weather 4WD capability. Mazda figured that the MPV had been used in the same way for many years anyway, so why not take that image to the max?

No doubt, the All-Sport made a unique offering in the van market, but any success it had was destined to be short-lived. In particular, 1997 marked a major turning point in the minivan market. Chrysler had totally redesigned its vans to great fanfare, GM introduced a new and more conventional body style for its front-drive vans (while the rear-drivers continued on), and both Ford and Toyota announced that their rear-drive vans (the Aerostar and Previa) would be gone for 1998 in favor of front-drive models. So the MPV was the last of its breed, still desirable for those wanting an all-purpose hauler but basically denounced by parents who needed a more efficient and maneuverable vehicle for the daily grind. Thus, 1998 would be the MPV's final season, with only the more profitable LX and ES models still offered.

There were no 1999 MPVs, as the all-new front-wheel drive version arrived as an early 2000 model. Luckily for Mazda fans, the new MPV was far from a copycat model and was, in fact, smaller than most other vans on the American market. Power came from a 2.5-liter DOHC V6 with 170hp, totally new to Mazda and actually borrowed from Ford's car line. Trim levels included (as before) a basic DX, popular LX and sporty/luxurious ES. The All-Sport package and 4WD were gone entirely, Mazda deciding that their minivan niche would be found in on-road handling and performance.

The magazines loved the new MPV's superior handling prowess and its big cargo capacity (helped by Mazda's willful copy of the unique Honda "disappearing" rear seat), but were less than impressed by its lethargic engine. Around town it was okay, but highway journeys required more power than the little 2.5-liter V6 could give. Once again pressed by other duties (like the new Tribute SUV and continuing development of the upcoming RX-8), Mazda could only tell the MPV's detractors to hold on for a little while. Thus, there were few changes for 2001.

Happily, 2002 brought a quickie facelift and newfound energy to the MPV line. Most important was the revised engine, the 3.0-liter version of Ford's Duratec V6 as used in the Taurus. Besides that, the slow-selling DX model was dropped (again) and there was a general styling improvement across the board.

No changes are expected for 2003, but that's all right for most Mazda fans. The fact that the MPV is once again a true contender in the minivan field should be enough to keep anyone happy.

Duncan Malloch (hondaboy) :D



Last edited by hondaboy81 at Sep 18 2002, 10:39 PM
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
10,541 Posts
Does mazda even still produce the MPV? If they do, that bad boy could use a complete interior and exterior overhaul..........................
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
2,693 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Did you read the history? The original rear-drive MPV dropped out of the lineup after 1998, but the current front-drive MPV arrived for 2000 and remains available today. The new model has even undergone a minor facelift and had a major engine upgrade since it first appeared.

By way of an update and addendum to this piece, you should know that MPVs sold in Japan are now available with a standard 2.3-liter four (from the Mazda6) and AWD as an option. Both of those are doubtful for importation to the States, but AWD could still make a comeback.

Duncan :D
 
1 - 3 of 3 Posts
Top