With all the zoom zooming that is going on at Mazda at the moment to trumpet the arrival of the new Mazda6 and the forthcoming Mazda2, you could be forgiven for not noticing some changes that have been made to the company's imaginatively-titled MPV.
Visually, only the new bumpers and corporate grille give the game away from the outside, but it is under the bonnet that the major revisions have been made.
The previous 2.0-litre petrol engine has been replaced by a more powerful 140bhp 2.3-litre unit from the 6, while a new common rail diesel unit is also being offered. Displacing 2.0-litres and offering 136bhp, the new MPV diesel pitches straight into the heart of the full-size MPV market, where it faces stiff competition from the likes of Ford's Galaxy, Volkswagen's Sharan and Toyota's Avensis Verso.
Also on the horizon is a new version of the originator of the sector in Europe, Renault's Espace.
All of these models offer strong fuel economy and space for seven adults to be transported in comfort, as well as the option of removing some seats to make for a cavernous load-lugger.
In this respect all four cars do the job very well and all are closely matched in terms of price, wholelife costs, driver's benefit-in-kind tax liability and style. So picking a winner in this test will, in the main, come down to totting up the fractions of pence per mile advantages to decide the outright winner.
But style is important too, and Mazda's MPV makes a good fist of hiding its bulk – none of these cars can be described as stylish but the Mazda runs the Ford Galaxy/ Volkswagen Sharan duo close in terms of looks.
Unfortunately, Toyota's Avensis Verso loses out in the beauty stakes – it is more car-based than the others and its styling is an uncomfortable mix of MPV size and car-like looks.
Inside, the Mazda is well finished and generously equipped – the carbon fibre-effect trim helps lift the general greyness of the cabin while the knobs and dials are all high quality.
On the road, the Mazda continues its strong performance – the diesel engine is refined and pulls well from low revs and once it is up and running it offers a surprising turn of speed.
Obviously handling is not its strong point because of its size and higher centre of gravity, but it is by no means an uncomfortable car to live with.
With a price right in the middle of the Ford and Volkswagen models, the Mazda looks good value, although all three are outclassed by the keenly-priced Toyota. But the Mazda does score by offering a generous level of standard equipment which would bump up the price of its rivals if they were specced to match it.
Standard equipment includes four airbags, ABS with electronic brakeforce distribution, air conditioning, electric windows all round, CD player and alloy wheels.
For the money, Mazda has produced a well-built, comfortable, well-equipped and good looking people carrier, but the key to fleet success will be how it fares against its key rivals in the all-important running costs terms on the right.
Mazda MPV diesel
Delivered price, standard car (P11D value): £19,810
CO2 emissions (g/km): 188
BIK % of P11D in 2002: 22%
Graduated VED rate: £160
Insurance group: 11
Combined mpg: 40.0
CAP Monitor residual value: £7,000/35%
Depreciation (19.69 pence per mile x 60,000): £11,814
Maintenance (2.58 pence per mile x 60,000): £1,548
Fuel (9.73 pence per mile x 60,000): £5,838
Wholelife cost (32.00 pence per mile x 60,000): £19,200
Typical contract hire rate: £436 per month
Three rivals to consider
THE Mazda's front-end price pitches it right at the heart of this market, undercutting the Volkswagen by £200 and costing £245 more than the Ford. However, the Mazda is well-specced and adding some options to the other three cars to match its spec level will change things here. But Toyota takes a clear lead in pricing here, with the Avensis Verso costing nearly £1,000 less than the Ford. There is also the added bonus that the lower P11d price will impact on a driver's tax bill.
Toyota - £18,620
Ford - £19,565
Mazda - £19,810
Volkswagen - £20,010
THERE is very little to choose between our four rivals here, with the Toyota taking the laurels for being the cheapest car in terms of servicing, maintenance and repair costs over three years and 60,000 miles. It costs 2.29ppm, closely followed by the Ford on 2.33ppm and the Volkswagen on 2.45ppm (although both share the same engine). The Mazda finishes bottom here, costing 2.58ppm in SMR costs – still only 0.2ppm more than the Toyota.
Toyota - 2.29ppm
Ford - 2.33ppm
Volkswagen - 2.45ppm
Mazda - 2.58ppm
THE Toyota returns a combined fuel economy figure of 43.5mpg, the best performance of the four cars here. Because of this it wins this section, costing 8.90ppm to run over three years and 60,000 miles. Both the Ford and Volkswagen are close behind, recording identical fuel economy (42.8mpg) and cost figures (9.04ppm) but the Mazda lags behind, costing 9.73ppm – nearly a penny per mile more than the Toyota. On combined economy, the Mazda records 40.0mpg.
Toyota - 8.90ppm
Ford - 9.04ppm
Volkswagen - 9.04ppm
Mazda - 9.73ppm
PEOPLE carriers are always popular with used car buyers thanks to their space and interior versatility, so it is no surprise that all four cars here are predicted to perform well in residual value terms. CAP estimates the Toyota will retain 37% of its cost new after three years and 60,000 miles, not the best RV prediction but its lower front end price helps matters. Once again the Mazda misses out – it has the lowest RV prediction (35% of cost new) of our quartet.
Toyota - 17.95ppm
Volkswagen - 18.97ppm
Ford - 19.38ppm
Mazda - 19.69ppm
THE camera never lies and neither do running cost figures. The Toyota wins every section of our running cost comparison and secures a close victory over the Volkswagen. At 29.14ppm, the Avensis Verso is a cost-effective choice for people who need a vehicle of its size and versatility. The Volkswagen comes second here, thanks mainly to its strong residual value performance, with the Ford third and Mazda MPV well behind in fourth on 32.00ppm.
Toyota - 29.14ppm
Volkswagen - 30.46ppm
Ford - 30.75ppm
Mazda - 32.00ppm
Emissions and BIK tax rates
THE Toyota is making a habit of winning every section of our running costs analysis and it continues that trend here by offering the lowest carbon dioxide emissions of our quartet. Allied to the lowest P11d price of any car here, the Toyota easily wins the tax battle, falling into the 19% banding for company car tax for 2002, one band ahead of the Ford and Volkswagen and three ahead of the Mazda.
Toyota - 173g/km/19%
Ford - 178g/km/20%
Volkswagen - 178g/km/20%
Mazda - 188g/km/22%
IT is a shame that the Mazda fares so poorly in comparison to its rivals because it is a well-built, good looking people carrier that does the job the same as any other vehicle in its sector. However, in running cost terms it is simply outclassed by the Toyota Avensis Verso, which performs strongly in all areas. However, the Verso's looks are challenging and for the sake of half a penny per mile more, I would opt for the Sharan.