When the minivan revolution took place in the mid-1980s, it was immediately clear that car companies around the world had some catching up to do if they hoped to join the Chrysler corporation's Caravan and Voyager in slicing up the sales pie in this new market segment. Response from automakers was varied. Some choose to jump in with both feet, with mixed results, as evidence by the success of the Ford Aerostar and the failure of the Toyota Van. Others attempted to modify their cargo vans into more passenger-friendly affairs, or leverage their light truck platforms as in the case of the GMC Safari.
There was a third group of companies that elected to take a wait and see approach when it came to dealing with the minivan question. These manufacturers were often smaller entities which couldn't just throw a design together and absorb a huge loss if it failed. By biding their time and observing the flow of the market, they hoped to not only attract new minivan buyers but also pickup those disaffected owners who had been burned by half-baked vehicles.
Mazda found themselves in this third group, and they waited until 1989 to introduce the MPV. More car-like than other vans on the market, the MPV was rear-wheel drive with the option of four-wheel drive, like the Toyota Van. However, unlike the Van it did not ride on a truck frame and instead offered a smooth and compliant ride thanks to the Mazda 929 sedan whose chassis it borrowed. This combination of comfort and practicality was an immediate hit with buyers, who flocked to the MPV in droves. The vehicle would become the centerpiece of Mazda's family offerings throughout the next 15 years.
Needing of course to also serve their home Japanese market, at the end of the 1990s Mazda released a much smaller minivan in order to appeal to buyers who required a vehicle that was easy to maneuver through the crowded streets of the country's busy cities. After achieving some success, this vehicle was renamed the MAZDA5 and brought to North American shores in 2005 after undergoing a re-design, where it was briefly sold alongside the MPV before the former vehicle was retired.
This article takes a look at both of these two vehicles, the best used minivans available from Mazda, and describes their features and attributes so that buyers might accurately decide which van better suits their needs.
2000 - 2006 Mazda MPV
When Mazda decided to re-design their iconic MPV, they didn't approach the task with trepidation. Instead, the all-new minivan is radically different from the first generation. While the vehicle is still based upon a sedan platform, swapping the 626 mid-size for the larger 929 of old, that also means that the vehicle is now a front-puller instead of a rear-wheel drive machine. This brings it more in line with the rest of the minivan market, although some buyers will miss the functionality that the part-time four-wheel drive offered in sticky situations.
For the first year of production, the 2000 - 2006 Mazda MPV made use of a 2.5-liter V-6 engine that was capable of outputting 170 horsepower. After losing 10 ponies the following year, customer complaints caused the engine to be replaced with a 3.0-liter V-6 that produced a more appropriate 200 horsepower. All versions of the van employ a 5-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration in the later vans is light years ahead of the initial offerings and these are the vehicles to target when it comes to scoping out secondhand MPVs.
The 2000 - 2006 Mazda MPV features a third row of seating that folds down into the floor instead of having to be removed, which was a cutting edge feature when first introduced. Second row seats are fairly comfortable and can be moved around the interior in order to free up space for odd-sized cargo. The MPV is not about luxury, but rear-seat air conditioning is an option, as are a moonroof, CD changer and DVD entertainment system on later editions of the vehicle. The van's smaller size is somewhat apparent in the interior, but it doesn't suffer too much, and only those accustomed to long-wheelbase minivans will truly notice a difference while riding.
If space is at a premium in the driveway or on the street when it comes to parking, then the 2000 - 2006 Mazda MPV is a used minivan that is worth a look.
2005 - 2007 Mazda MAZDA5
It has become somewhat of a sales minefield to introduce a new vehicle and label it a minivan, particularly if the company responsible is known for building automobiles with a little more vim and vigor than average. When Mazda saw the need to replace their aging MPV minivan in the mid-2000s, they decided that they would import a vehicle that they had been successfully selling in the European and domestic Japanese market that embodied most of the same features as the MPV but in slightly more compact package.
The 2005 - 2007 Mazda MAZDA5 is a rare beast in the United States, a minivan that endeavors to be small instead of large while still offering the same functionality that most drivers expect from a full-size van. Of course, there are definite advantages to being compact, particularly when it comes to performance. The 3,333 lb curb weight of the MAZDA5 makes it easier for the 2.3-liter, 157 horsepower 4-cylinder engine to do its job, resulting in quicker acceleration and smoother driving than would normally be expected in a van. A 5-speed manual transmission is another great trick to let drivers pretend they are at the wheel of anything but a stodgy transporter, helping to attract a younger demographic that isn't quite ready to abandon their sporting past. A 4-speed automatic is also available.
With three rows of seating, the MAZDA5 is equipped to handle up to 6 passengers. The vehicle compares favorably to most other minivans in terms of comfort and space, but it does suffer from a slight sense of claustrophobia for adults loaded into the rear-most position. Children should have no issue riding there for extended periods, however, and the second row of seats are fine for all manner of road trips. The MAZDA5 can also be loaded up with a whole host of attractive options, such as a moonroof, automatic climate control and a CD changer, along with a full range of standard power options.
The 2005 - 2007 Mazda MAZDA5 is a used minivan with car-like pretensions that should please drivers who don't want to let go of their sedan's handling but require the extra space that a van can provide.