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1998 Mazda MPV
Sue Mead

Mazda's rugged MPV minivan has been around for awhile, but it's still a great vehicle and still looks

fresh. Seven people can ride in comfort and the MPV can easily tow up to 4,500 pounds.

Most MPVs sold nowadays are four-wheel-drive All-Sport models. Four-wheel drive gives the MPV the

traction capabilities of a sport-utility vehicles with the people-carrying abilities of a minivan. In

comparison, the two-wheel-drive models cost less, ride a little smoother, and are a couple of inches

closer to the ground, making it easier to climb aboard.

Mazda has sold nearly a quarter-million MPVs since introducing the 1989 model. This popularity can be

traced to the performance, handling and reliability the MPV offers. Nearly 99 percent of them are still

on the road.

Last year's redesign brought dual airbags, a revised instrument panel and more flexible seating, all

welcome improvements. For 1998, there are no real changes to the MPV. A CD player is now standard equipment

and Mazda is sticking a new badge on all of its vehicles this year, an oval with a stylized flying M. Walkaround
Two trim levels are available: LX and the more luxurious ES. Each offers a choice between two- and

four-wheel drive.

All come with Mazda's powerful 3.0-liter, 18-valve V6. This engine produces 155 horsepower and 169 foot-pounds

(lb.-ft.) of torque. A 4-speed automatic transmission is standard equipment.

Now one year old, the MPV's All-Sport package has been very successful. The MPV brought muscular styling

and a sporty appearance to the world of minivans and it still looks good. The All-Sport package complements

the MPV's design with an outdoorsy, rugged look; this was accomplished with specially designed trim pieces,

including the grille guard, stone guard, fog lights, fender flares, rear bumper guard, roof rack, five-spoke

alloy wheels and two-tone paint.

The MPV remains a paradigm of practicality. Hinged doors on each side swing open 90 degrees. Many owners

feel these are easier to open and close than the sliding doors found on most minivans. Cars aside, look at the

number of hinged doors in our daily lives compared with the number of sliding doors. Mazda now mounts the rear

passenger doors on both sides of the MPV, eliminating the annoyance of having to run around to the other side

of the car to tend to a baby or unbuckle a child.

The back door is a single lift gate designed to make loading easier.

All MPVs come with dual airbags, steel door beams, energy absorbing crumple zones and four-wheel anti-lock

disc brakes. Two-wheel-drive models ride on P215/65R-15 all-season tires while the 4WD models get wider, more

aggressive P225/70R-15 mud-and-snow tires.

An optional four seasons package adds a separate heater for back seat riders, a larger capacity windshield

washer tank and a heavy-duty battery.

Our $31,460 test vehicle was loaded with the $1,200 power moonroof and the $2,250 ES preferred equipment

group, which includes dual air conditioning, carpeted floor mats, keyless entry system and privacy glass. Interior
Mazda's attention to detail shows inside. The speedometer and tachometer are housed in a rounded instrument

panel. Ventilation and audio controls, cupholders and storage for small items are all located front and center

for easy access. A sporty four-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel houses the driver's airbag, while the

passenger-side airbag is above the glove box. A rear air conditioning blower with separate controls adds to

the comfort of passengers in the back rows. A storage tray under the front passenger seat slides out and is

handy for keeping mail and other small odds and ends from sliding around the cabin.

New for 1998 is an AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers that comes standard on all trim levels. An optional

cassette player is useful for those who enjoy books on tape or already have a big cassette collection.

Other standard MPV features include power windows, locks and outside mirrors, cruise control, tilt steering

column, power steering, a digital clock, rear wiper/washer/defroster, dual vanity mirrors and remote fuel

door release.

All MPVs come with reclining front bucket seats. LX models are upholstered in nice velour cloth, while ES

models come with leather seating surfaces.

One of the most important considerations when ordering an MPV is choosing between seven- and eight-passenger

seating. Eight-passenger models use a second and third row of bench seats that hold three passengers each. Both

rows can be folded flat to carry cargo and the middle bench reclines and adjusts fore and aft. It looks good on

paper, but the width of the middle bench makes getting to the third-row bench seat difficult.

We prefer the seven-passenger layout. A pair of captains chairs replace the middle row bench. The captains

chairs are more comfortable than the bench seat. More important, they make it easier to get to the back row.

LX (cloth) models come standard with eight-passenger seating, but seven-passenger seating is optional. ES

(leather) models come standard with seven-passenger seating.

With either layout, the third-row bench seat can be folded forward to provide more cargo space or it can be

removed completely. The MPV does not offer as much cargo space as a sport-utility vehicle--42 cubic feet compared

with a Ford Explorer's 81 cubic feet--but it does a much better job of hauling seven people in comfort. Driving Impressions
In its own way, the MPV is fun to drive on a winding road. It handles better than a sport-utility vehicle.

Ride quality is better as well, whether on pavement and smooth dirt roads. Rough dirt roads are easily handled

by the MPV as long as speeds are kept to reasonable levels. Thrash away like you're trying to win the Baja

1000 and the suspension begins to bottom out.

On slippery surfaces, the four-wheel-drive system improves traction and handling. We climbed a steep, silty

hill in Southern California that would have left a sedan choking in the dust. We later drove it through the

snow and ice of a New England winter with no worries.

The 4WD system automatically splits power between the front and rear wheels as needed, improving traction

in the snow. When the going gets really sloppy, the driver can push a button that locks the center differential.

This splits traction equally between the front and rear wheels, which helps when driving up a steep slope of

mud, snow or ice.

Even with four-wheel drive and those rugged-looking All-Sport trim pieces, the MPV is not ready for rock

climbing. It lacks the long suspension travel and low-range set of gears found on many sport-utilities. So

knowing its limits and slowing down for big obstacles is important in the backcountry.

Plenty of power is on tap and the V6 engine complements the four-speed automatic. Steering is light and

precise. The four-wheel disc brakes instill confidence. At high speeds, the MPV is stable, a benefit of its

independent A-arm front suspension and five-link live rear axle. Anti-roll bars at both ends minimize body

lean in corners, adding to that fun-to-drive quotient.

Our experience is that the MPV is a stable vehicle for pulling light trailers. Based on a rear-wheel-drive

platform, the MPV is far superior for towing than the front-wheel-drive minivans. An optional load leveling

package allows the MPV to tow up to 4,500 pounds. This makes it a good choice for pulling ATVs, motorcycles,

snowmobiles, personal watercraft, canoes, small boats and other light loads. It's a stretch, but we've used it to pull light race car trailers. Summary
Mazda's MPV All-Sport should appeal to buyers who need a minivan but want four-wheel-drive traction. The

All-Sport is capable of getting down the worst roads. Its best feature is its performance and handling on

the pavement.

When it comes to moving people around the MPV is far more capable than a sport-utility vehicle. These traits make the Mazda MPV a practical alternative for families with a gaggle of kids who make occasional forays into the woods.

Model as tested
All-Sport ES 4WD
Basic Warranty
3 years/50,000 miles
Assembled in
Destination charge
Gas guzzler tax
Base Price
Price as tested
Options as tested
Dual air conditioning, power moonroof, remote keyless entry, privacy glass

Model Line Overview
Model lineup
Safety equipment (standard)
Dual airbags
Safety equipment (optional)
3.0-liter sohc18v V6
4-speed automatic

Specifications as Tested
Four-wheel drive, ABS, seven-passenger seating with captain's chairs, leather seating surfaces, reclining front seats, third-row removable seat, power steering, power windows, power locks, power mirrors, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, leather-wrapped steering wheel, AM/FM/CD stereo, tachometer, rear window wiper/washer/defroster, remote fuel door release, two-tone paint, All-Sport Package with stone guard, grille guard, fender flares, rear bumper guard, roof rack, P225/70R-15 tires, alloy wheels

Engine & Transmission
3.0-liter sohc18v V6
Drivetrain type
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
155 @ 5000
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)

Brakes, front/rear
Suspension, front
Suspension, rear
Live axle

Seating capacity
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear

Fuel capacity
Trunk volume
Turning circle
Towing capacity
Track, front/rear
Ground clearance
Curb weight

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