COAL: 2006 Mazda MPV – Zoom Zoom Family Mover

The sale of the car that was the subject of last week’s COAL was necessitated by the arrival of this week’s COAL – a 2006 Mazda MPV.  This is the story of how a sworn car guy agreed to buy a vehicle with sliding doors and actually learned to like it.

In the spring of 2006, our family was beginning to outgrow our 2000 VW Passat station wagon.  (More on that in another COAL.)  My sons were entering grade school and the need for seating space was becoming noticeable.  In other words, other kids were starting to ride in our vehicle.  Practices.  Play dates.  And the assorted flotsam and jetsam that came with schlepping kids around.  In addition, out of town family wanted to visit, meaning we needed to caravan multiple vehicles to fit everyone.  My wife began to complain about the lack of space and so I began the search for a suitable next family vehicle.

I didn’t start wanting to buy a minivan.  I had always considered our Passat wagon the perfect no compromises family car.  But I did acknowledge that the need for space was getting to be a pain.  We also had a one car garage, which meant that we had some logistical constraints since I refused to park a new vehicle outside in the Minnesota winters.  Most minivans exceeded the available length of our garage, given the other items stored inside.  Most crossovers and SUVs also didn’t sufficiently balance the need for more interior space with reasonable exterior dimensions.  Finally, I wasn’t sold on the driving dynamics of any of these vehicles – and I wasn’t about to compromise on getting something that felt more like a prairie schooner with wheels.

Earlier in our relationship, before we were married, my wife and I bought a used 1993 Mazda Protege.  We loved the car and kept it until we had our first son.  As a result, Mazdas held a special place in our collective driving hearts and so I decided to visit the local dealership in the Minneapolis suburbs.  At first, I was interested in the then new Mazda5.  It was about the size of our Passat wagon, but with room for 6 and sliding doors.  Unfortunately, the actual interior space wasn’t much more – and with all of the seats up for 6 people, the rear storage was really tiny.

We then looked at the MPV, which was in its final year.  I had always thought it was a decent looking vehicle from the outside.  With the 2000 redesign, the MPV moved onto a front wheel drive platform that made it more competitive with other minivans, albeit at a slightly smaller size.  The test drive actually went fairly well – the 3.0 liter V6 (the Ford Duratec engine) moved the car decently enough and the vehicle handled more like a car with controlled body lean.  The clincher was Mazda was putting a lot of money in incentives to move the remaining inventory at the end of the model run.  There would be no MPV replacement, so if we wanted one, now was the time.

The MPV ended up being the vehicle I have owned the longest thus far.  It served us for 10 years and, during that time, we took numerous road trips, camping outings, car pools, and family visits.  It traveled to Lake Tahoe in 2008 for a two week trip, as well as to New York in 2009.  Over those years, my sons grew into adolescence, including my oldest who learned how to drive.  Over the 113,000 or so miles, it was generally a reliable runner – the power sliding doors were a convenience, but could get finicky when the tracks got dirty.  The rear A/C system eventually gave up and it did develop some oil leaks.  But it never really left us stranded (except for a couple of flat tires over the years).

In many ways, the MPV was the quintessential family cruiser.  The third row added versatility and had a nice feature that turned it into a tailgating bench.  My sons and I would watch airplanes land at the MSP Airport while eating McDonalds while parked at the off site waiting area lot.  The roof rack allowed us to add on a cargo carrier that stored extra camping equipment.  The leather seats resisted dirt well and the sunroof allowed us to let the sunshine and air in summer trips.

By summer of 2016, however, we had left the “carrying other people’s kids” phase and had teenagers who weren’t always traveling with us.  The extra rows of seating seemed less necessary and, aside from twice a year trips to haul yard waste, we really didn’t need all of the space.  We decided to downsize to a regular car (a 2016 VW Jetta) and sell the MPV.

Once again, Craigslist came to the rescue.  Within an hour of putting the listing up, I was contacted by a man who was looking for a reasonably priced minivan.  The next evening, he came with his pregnant wife and 7 year old daughter in a Subaru Impreza hatchback to see the minivan.  He said his wife was due in the next month and they needed something that could carry the whole family and all of the equipment needed for a newborn.  Clearly, the Impreza was not going to cut it.  An hour later, after a test drive, they left with the MPV.  It actually made me happy to pass the minivan on to them.  They clearly needed the vehicle since life was going to place new demands on their space requirements.

The MPV did its job capably and with a modicum of sportiness and comfort.  It was neither the biggest, the fastest or the sexiest vehicle one could drive, but for an important decade, it was the backbone of our family and a willing companion as we raised our sons.  Really, what more can you ask of a family vehicle?