Fleet News

Mazda MPV

Mazda

Review

##mazmpv.jpg --Right##THE question is: why has it taken Mazda so long? All the major manufacturers have developed their positions in the multi-purpose-vehicle arena for the past few years, but there has been nothing from Mazda. And now, when the market seems almost saturated, out comes the Mazda MPV, which will go on sale in the UK in January next year, more than 10 years after the original pioneering Mazda MPV was launched in America in 1989.

All Mazda can say is that the launch of the MPV is part of its expansion programme through new models in the UK, completing its MPV family of the Demio and Premacy. And with sales targets set at about 700 units for next year, the vehicle should fulfil all of Mazda's expectations. Mazda is promising competitive pricing and high specification for the UK market. In fact, Mazda UK will not be taking any of the lower specified models available elsewhere in Europe and will only be selling the all-singing all-dancing top-of-the-range version.

Details of exactly what will be available on this model are not being announced until the London Motor Show later this month, when the price will also be unveiled, but Mazda has revealed a few standard specification features. Electric windows and sunroof are expected to be standard, but probably the most innovative and useful item on the MPV will be the independent front and rear air conditioning systems. Through a separate control panel, passengers can control air conditioning in the rear.

Another first for the MPV class is sliding doors at the rear, which prove useful in tight-fitting spaces in car parks, particularly if children are being transported. However, we found the sliding doors a little difficult to operate on anything but the flat. Depending on how competitive the pricing is, fleet drivers could well be tempted by the voluminous space in the MPV, capable of transferring colleagues during the working week (very much part of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott's integrated transport plan), or family at the weekend.

Mazda claims 1,000 seating permutations are possible. The 2.0-litre 121bhp engine puts out sufficient power, and enough low end torque to make acceleration responsive for the large vehicle. But for the company driver eating up motorway miles, the MPV wins over many estates and saloons with its commanding raised seating position - further boosted by the theatre-style raised seating of rows two and three. This is coupled with a smooth and quiet ride on the motorway, largely down to its suspension with independent MacPherson struts at the front and torsion beam axle at the rear. This suspension and all-new chassis also result in very little body roll when the vehicle corners at speed. On the downside, the gearchange into third and fifth often feels imprecise.

Fleets may find the single model options list lacking in many areas - there is only a 2.0-litre petrol engine, no diesel, and at launch there will just be a five-speed manual gearbox. Mazda says an automatic transmission could be introduced later.

On the safety front, the MPV has four-wheel ABS with electronic brake-force distribution system, driver, passenger and side airbags, and it also has an electronic deactivation system which disables the airbags if no front-seat passenger is seated or an Isofix child seat is fitted. On the exterior, the MPV takes much of its styling from the smaller five-seat Premacy launched earlier this year. The lights and front-end to the MPV hint at Mazda's links with Ford, with the Focus-like design. But Mazda says any similarity is purely coincidental.

On the interior there is nothing startling to set the vehicle aside from its chief rivals, but as with many of its competitors storage is something drivers and passengers will not be short of. There are not only door pockets in the front and rear, but also an under-passenger seat storage tray and sunglasses and small item holder in the roof. If a fleet is in the market for an MPV, then this is sure to come into its reckoning, particularly with the air conditioning advancements. But the Mazda MPV seems to be too little too late and really offers very little new in what is a very competitive market.

CO2 emissions and fuel consumption data correct at time of writing. The latest figures are available in the Fleet News fuel cost calculator and the company car tax calculator.

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