The second generation Mazda MPV, introduced in mid-1999, replaced the quirky, but beloved (by some) first generation MPV with it’s available 4WD and hinged rear doors. By waiting for the minivan dust to settle, Mazda got most of the details right with this redesign.
In the spring of 2001 my soon-to-be new wife and I were in the process of successfully blending our two families, a la The Brady Bunch. We had found a duplex rental large enough to accommodate 5 kids and 2 adults. All that remained was to replace the holdover Mercury Villager from the previous administration. Between the move and planning a late spring wedding, I was feeling some pressure to get the car thing done. I had been scouting Honda Odysseys for a couple of months, but dealer inventory was sparse and for whatever reason, dealers weren’t working that hard to sell the few units they had in stock. So I started to look a little farther afield.
I was aware of the first gen MPV with it’s funky styling. In Minnesota, that usually meant the optional 4wd and two tone, green over silver paint. There was one in the day care pick up line and the styling grew on me. The second gen MPV went from funky to generic, with Mazda offering one of the smaller minivans at the time. Their Zoom Zoom campaign implied the small size gave it Miata like handing prowess. I’m not sure I bought that argument, but living in the city with parking space at a premium, I appreciated the compact dimensions.
The car shopping experience this time around turned out to be maybe my worst ever, but not really the fault of the dealer. I just needed a new minivan, I wasn’t really working hard at the deal. I’m sure I ultimately paid too much, but I’ve managed to block the details. I suppose I’m like most consumers in that if I feel like I overpaid, I’m just never going to be happy with the product. That was certainly the case here, although the MPV wasn’t innocent either.
We ended up with a Silver 2001 MPV LX with grey cloth interior. Equipped with dual sliding doors and second row captain’s chairs, the layout certainly simplified child seat loading and unloading. By this time our youngest were 5 years old, still in their child seats, and they commandeered the second row for obvious reasons. The MPV had a very flexible interior, perhaps rivaling Honda with it’s tricks.
Starting with the second row, the passenger side seat could slide about a foot to starboard or port, creating a middle row aisle or leaving the passenger side open a bit for curbside loading of the third row. This feature got a lot of use, although over time the seat track filled with sand, Cheerios and what not, making it hard to slide those seats. Both middle row seats could be easily removed when you needed the space for hauling. You folded the seatback down and then released a latch on the floor. The seats weren’t exactly lightweight and finding the latch point could be a real pain when reinstalling the seats, but it is a feature we used a lot.
The rear seat had also had a nice trick of it’s own; after folding the seatback, you could flip the entire seat down into the floor, leaving a flat cargo area. In later years of ownership, this feature got a lot of use hauling yard waste to the local composting site.
The whole family took many memorable road trips in the MPV before the kids got too big. That third row could technically fit three, but it got to be a fight as to who would get the second row once the twins had graduated from their car seats. The rear seat did have its own climate controls, but that was about it back there as far as creature comforts. We would stow all our luggage in a soft bag strapped to the standard roof rack. The kids learned to carry their own back packs stuffed with books, ipods and such because once that bag was strapped on it was staying there until we reached out destination.
The early 2nd gen MPVs came with the Ford 2.5L Duratec engine making about 170 hp, coupled with a 4 speed automatic. While this engine produced enough power to get us around, I always felt like it was working too hard. I don’t know if it was just bad luck with our van, but at about 60,000 miles we started to have ongoing issues with ignition coils. At about this time our oldest child started driving and the MPV became her primary ride. We trained her well, she would call us every time the check engine light came on, which was often. I remember one time we got a call around dinner time. She was stalled at a stop light in rush hour traffic, getting evil looks from drivers trying to maneuver around her. After that incident, the MPV started to get used less, mostly just for cargo hauling. With those seats removed, we could fit a lot of stuff inside.
We held onto the MPV for 7 or 8 years, putting about 95,000 miles on it. Mazda still hadn’t solved their rust issues and by this time we had serious rust forming around the rear wheel wells. A friend I worked with had a slightly newer model with the power sliding side doors and in addition to the same rust problems, his van was in the shop multiple times to get those doors repaired. In the last year of ownership we probably drove the MPV less than 3,000 miles; it mostly just sat there taking up valuable driveway space. I finally listed it on Craig’s List for an absurdly low price and it was gone the same day. In the end, although it did serve us well, I just never really liked it very much. Looking back at the twenty or so cars I’ve owned, I would have to say the MPV is at the bottom of the list. My next car would be another Mazda. This next one is actually in my top three, but man those rust problems, Mazda was really trying my patience.
Mate of mine has one exJDM it has a six cylinder engine, theyve had it years done big mileage it seems grunty enough we towed his VW Beetle and Kombi on a trailer with it seperately mind no rust last time I saw it and he was talking of replacing it his commute has trebled in length with their latest move and these MPVs suck the gas pretty hard, though he now has a fully restored 63 Beetle on the road so he could be back to driving that, the kombi got sold too busy to work on it.
All I got to say is that a few months ago I experienced power sliding doors and removable seats and decided I could not live without them. Now it seems like I was a fool all these years for not trying them sooner.
That is such a bummer about the rust and the engine problems. Really is a shame because I like the interior layout especially the open center aisle all the way to the dashboard. I would probably permanently remove the third row seats and convert the well into a storage compartment with a flat lid. It needs a V6 and 6 speeds, though. Or at least a very healthy turbo on that 4.
The 2.5 and 3.0 are both V6 actually. My 3.0’s had 5-speed autos. I did drive the 2.5 version several times and while I like the character of that engine (also found in Jaguars), not near enough oomph for a 7 passenger conveyance.
Yeah, 3.5L and 6speeds seems like the minimum. 3.8L and 10speeds’ better.
I lived in upstate NY for 8 years and I’m familiar with the tin worm. With over 220k miles, my Ford Escape ran fine in the slush, snow, and muck. After each storm, a trip to the car wash was the norm in order for a salt rinse. For an extra buck, there was an additional spray nozzle to rinse the underside of the car as well.
However, the bottom of the car and the lower door frames were turning orange red. Once the A/C went south, I also put it on Craigs list for a minimal sum and it sold in the first day. Even with the rust and busted A/C, the car ended up in Mexico.
You did what my buddy did and bought a year too soon. 2002 and up had the 3.0L with 200 HP and scooted around just fine, even with people aboard. I had a 2003 and a 2005 bought new with first wife. Perfect size IMHO. Yes the coils suck, same as they do on 2002 Miatas I’ve had. Roached a $1,000 cat in one of those thanks to misfiring…..grrrrr
Rusting issues aside, I always felt badly for the 2nd gen MPV. It was sized ‘just right’ (meaning SWB and more easily maneuverable) and was not only the second minivan with a magic fold-into-the-floor 3rd row seat (the Honda Odyssey pioneered that desirable feature), it also came with the Odyssey’s roll-down sliding-door windows, too. The Odyssey gets all the glory but I always felt the MPV was a more practical (and way more affordable) alternative that had all of the Odyssey’s features.
The only issue was the first two years had the slow 2.5L/4-speed combo, but that situation was resolved in the 3rd year with an upgrade to the 3.0L/5-speed, making the freshened 2003 MPV just about perfect.
Sadly, American minivan buyers did not agree, and the MPV only lasted another three years thru MY2006 in the States, being replaced by the even smaller Mazda5 (aka Premacy) quasi-minivan. Besides being smaller, it ditched the removable 2nd row seats and fold-into-the-floor 3rd row, instead, opting for ‘all’ of the passenger seats folding flat (just not into the floor), making for a somewhat smaller load area. The Mazda5’s main claim-to-fame was that it was available with a manual transmission.
Unfortunately, while a valiant effort, it wasn’t anymore successful than the MPV (the 2nd gen Mazda5’s somewhat odd side ‘swoop’ didn’t help), and was Mazda’s last minivan effert in the US, converting over to similarly sized SUVs. I’m not a fan of that strategy, but Mazda (like all auto manufacturers) is just selling what people will buy, so I can’t blame them.
I was always kind of intrigued by these, and had them in my list of cars to stop for when I saw one advertised on the List of Craig after my 96 Odyssey got smashed. But they were rare, and either really expensive (if nice) or really rusty.
I always thought vehicles of this class and size made great cars for 6 passengers, and only passable cars for 7. 3 abreast in a back seat was never fun in my childhood, and that was an era of much wider cars. It worked better in my Ford Club Wagon with the extra-wide back bench.
Well, they were ‘true’ minivans like the original 1984 Chrysler T-115. So, yeah, a bit of a tight squeeze in the back unless the passengers were young children.
But that’s the thing. The last MPV was terrific for a growing family with a few kids, up to four (and even five, for a short trips).
There’s something in the tone of what you write here that does an excellent job of conveying what I think is a common feeling about minivan ownership in the 90s and aughts. Speaking for myself, I think that a good deal of that – it was ok, it got the job done – feeling came from the fact that most of the time minivan ownership was accompanied by heroic kid-juggling/raising and there was just relatively little passion left over for anything else.
Plus, it’s hard to really love a vehicle that is soon “so full of sand, Cheerios and what not” (it was always the “what not” that truly grossed me out) that you had no choice but to acknowledge the literal force of nature that kids are and give up to this. The effect that little kids have on the interior of a vehicle is like rust has on the exterior. Do what you want, but the rust will eventually win. The destruction just happens sooner when it’s by Cheerios.
Which is not to say that many of us did not have great times transported by our minivans, it’s just that the vehicle did (I believe) little to inspire those good times. I would argue that this is not as often the case with other types of vehicles that give their owners something else beyond being the best “container” for conveyance.
Great series! I look forward to reading what happens next.
Yes, it is hard to love a minivan. I know from experience, since I currently have to of ’em.
However, minivans are flexible and comfortable, and cost significantly less than equivalently-sized and/or equipped SUVs or pickups. Earlier this summer, our family completed a 5,500-mi. road trip in our of our minivans. It performed flawlessly, and even though a minivan is probably the least exciting vehicle one could buy, at this point in my life, I’ll gladly sacrifice some excitement in the interest of frugality. So with that said, I love our minivans.
I just noticed something intriguing about the two interior shots: in one, the middle captain’s chairs do not have dual armrests while they are there in the other. I guess the armrests were either added or deleted during the 2002 refresh, but I wonder which it was.
Good catch! Mine had those arm rests, so maybe dropped for 2002?
I’m 95% sure both my 03 and 05s had all the armrests. Also the sliding door windows powering down cannot be stressed enough how wonderful that is – my 03 Honda van had fixed side door glass and rather sucked.
Maybe the earliest ones didn’t have the extra armrests and it was a running change. IIRC, there were LX and ES models with the biggest differences being power sliding doors and leather seats.
The 2nd gen MPV was nicely packaged, and one of the key features was a driving experience that was, AFAIK, the closest to being like driving a car that a typically-sized minivan ever came.
Oh, now you’ve done it…gone and triggered my rant № 313. Why on –
Ferenginar– Earth do we put up with this when buying cars, as if it’s normal? Imagine if we considered it normal to have to horse around like this with the price of frozen peas or cans of paint or any other mass-produced product. Comparison shopping and asking for a deal aren’t what I’m talking about; I mean one doesn’t go in a Safeway expecting to have to spend hours playing dumb games like “How much is this bag of frozen peas?” “Well, you’re in luck! My boss has authorised me to make killer deals this weekend! Let’s go in my office and see if we can come to terms to get you into this terrific bag of frozen peas today!”, etc.
Yes, it’s been going on almost forever in the motor trade…yes, there have been at least pretended attempts at no-haggle pricing…no, none of that addresses what I’m banging on about here.
Daniel, I totally agree with your overall point. All I will add though is that in many parts of the world, people DO haggle just like you say over the price of even the most basic of groceries; add to that the corruption and graft that in many places goes into access to other basic services such as utilities, and well, I guess some may say that we here are lucky for only being subjected to something like that when it comes to buying cars and (to a certain extent) housing. But to your point, why do we have to do that for cars when we don’t have to for other stuff? It is a strange feature of American life.
(Remember when it was necessary to haggle for appliances and electronics? I do… 🙂 )
I think it just comes down to price level – high price stuff, you haggle. Buying a car, house or business, you rarely just pay the ask. Bag of peas at 1.99 is simply not worth the haggle hassle, or simply the time it would take to find a manager and go through the effort to save 20 cents.
Exactly. If you were buying peas for the Army, you’d haggle. One bag? No. The big difference I think is you know everyone is paying the same price for the bag of peas. Cars and houses, not so.
But now we’ve arrived at a tautology.
I don’t agree with your grouping. There’s only one of any particular house or business, but there’s a more or less practically unlimited supply of most new cars.
My Top 3 list of annoying this to buy is:
It’s really a tough call between #s 1 and 2, though.
As to #2, there’s a very easy solution: buy a genuine natural latex foam rubber mattress online. No BS; the best comfort, and reasonable prices. What you want is a medium firm 4″ layer and a 2″ soft layer; both natural rubber latex foam.
I’ve been sleeping on foam since 1971, when I bought my first slab at a local foam rubber store. Graduated from synthetic to natural latex in the late ’70s. I tended to buy them too firm. Finally figured out the perfect mix. Easy to find online.
As to #1, when you’re spending several hundred thousand (or more), it’s bound not to be as easy as buying a bag of frozen peas.
And as to #3, that’s beginning to change, as Tesla has shown there’s a much better way. Carvana delivers used cars to your door, and will take it back. I’m convinced that the car shopping world is in the middle of a major transition.
Thanks for the mattress advice – I’ve never thought about foam mattresses… will definitely look into that next time.
Not to come off like a salesman, but all the really top rated and premier (expensive) mattresses use latex foam. Springs are totally old school, and just not as comfortable. High end latex mattresses in stores easily run $2-3k or more, and aren’t always 100% latex.
But there’s reputable online sellers. Last time I used this place, and the mattress is absolutely perfect. $1000 for a queen.
We went the sleepnumber route as my wife and I prefer vastly different firmnesses in our mattresses. We ended up with a “refurb” from the same store that sold the new ones for less than half the regular price and it’s been perfect for over a decade now. Extremely happy with it.
Eric, we’ve also got a natural latex mattress as does our daughter. We’ve had them roughly ten years.
The only pitfall is I managed to dish out the shape of my body from hips to shoulders within about five years. Part of it is is likely due to it being a single layer and the other part is I am a back and side sleeper who doesn’t move much when sleeping. My wife, who flops around a lot, hasn’t had the dishing on her side of the bed.
Our daughter’s mattress, which is a two layer as Paul described, has not had any dishing issues.
We go thru that crap because the average American car buyer is terrified that someone else will buy the car for $5.00 less.
It’s curious that this MPV generation didn’t sell better, but I guess minivan buyers tend to value the extra size that the Mazda dispenses with. The only people I’ve known who owned one were an older couple who lived near me — they bought theirs not as a kid-hauler, but rather due to its flexibility and maneuverability. I recall that their MPV rusted too.
In a word, timing. By this time, if an American wanted a minivan, they went big. Otherwise, it was all SUV. Even Chrysler abandoned the classic SWB minivan for the next gen 2008 Grand Caravan, instead figuring people would gravitate to the Journey for a quasi small, people mover. They weren’t wrong.
Although the Kia Sedona offered short and extended starting around that time. That thing scooted with the 3.8L
I think the Sedona was the last gasp of the SWB minivan. A shame to the point that the Chrysler T-115 is a classic.
I’m a recent minivan convert, older, and I never have more than 2 passengers in my 8 passenger van. For me it’s the comfort and utility in a maneuverable package that fits in a small garage. Half the seats are removed and stashed in the attic because I don’t need them. I also value performance though. So I guess I had to wait until minivans had some of that before I would buy one. I’m thoroughly satisfied with the handling but I could use a touch more acceleration. I would say the 250hp/6speed drivetrain is barely acceptable. It needs 300hp/10speeds and about 300 lbs less weight. And more width.
I’ve tried several older minivans, and the front seats never go back quite far enough for my 34″ inseam legs. They try too hard to fit 3 rows in, or something.
The tales of Mazda rust make me glad we live in Oregon where road salt is almost unknown. The sliding door MPV always seemed like an also ran and the truly small Mazda5 was a much more significant offering. We had one for a short time and the amount of interior space was astonishing, plus you could get a flat load floor. Our CX-5 is nowhere near as good a hauler.