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?
I can definitely relate to a lot your experiences here. My wife and I bought our first minivan shortly after our second child was born. Prior to that, we were dead set against minivans, but a few long trips in an overstuffed sedan was enough to prod us to take the plunge. When we eventually bit the bullet and bought a minivan (an Odyssey in our case), it was a huge relief, and we never looked back or regretted our decision. We still have that van (10 years old), plus a 2-year-old Sedona.
I knew of only one person who owned one of these Mazda MPVs; they were an older couple who lived near us. They didn’t need a minivan for hauling kids, or any people for that matter, but just liked the versatility. For folks like that, the somewhat smaller size of the MPV relative to other minivans made it a great choice. But I suspect that many families judged the MPV to be just a tad too small. Great car though, and I’m glad it found an appreciative second home too.
We loved our MPV. Maximum space inside with minimum space outside. It was smooth and comfortable. It was also highly flexible with its fold away 3-row bench and re-configurable second row (lateral sliding split bench or captain’s chairs). The well behind the 3rd row also helped keep groceries and other gear in place (I.e., not sliding forward during an unexpected hard stop).
The only shortcoming of the MPV was it’s propensity to rust.
We loved the flexibility of the seating and storage for all the reasons you note. We had used the sliding feature often, particularly when it made sense to have a small “aisle” to get in the back seat by the passenger side door.
We didn’t have huge rust issues, even though this was a MN van, but there was some rust in the rockers starting when we sold it. I suspect it would have gotten worse as time went on.
By ’06, Mazda was again making decent cars, and also these.
I’ve owned one, 2000-odd 2.5 4-spd auto, and involved almost-like-ownership in the metallic grey 3.0 5-spd ’06 twin of this one (long and really dull story as to what that means that is of no interest here).
The 2000 had a lovely sports engine that was rather absurd in an MPV, as it was super smooth, always at 6000 rpm, but quite lethargic and capable of 16 mpg when being kind to it. It also blew up, which endeared it not, especially as that was due to an entirely undetectable crack in a piece of obscure plastic water manifolding that was common to these engines but impossible to see in this installation.
The second, the ’06 MPV, was much better suited to people and moving about, as its name might imply. It was decently quicker yet used less fuel, proving the adage that there is no substitute for cubic inches, more gears and better technology. It was an irritation that it too needed the preventative repair of the plastic bit that thus prevented the blow up, if lessened by the fact that that repair of enormous, engine-out cost did not fall upon my credit card.
But both, or either, were second-rate to drive. They were a squeaky cobble upon a platform of something inherently lower, and felt it. They just felt like a thin drunk, skinny and tipsy. They did the opposite of inspiring confidence.
I am surprised the author doesn’t mention the removable seats, as this did lift them. It made them a credible garbage bag or woodpile mover, when they weren’t moving equally stinky kids.
In fairness, I should also point out that the ’06 of my involvement is still yet hauling kids and bags of equal pong to this day, and at about 250K miles, that hardly makes it a loser.
“They were a squeaky cobble upon a platform of something inherently lower, and felt it. They just felt like a thin drunk, skinny and tipsy. They did the opposite of inspiring confidence.”
This is one of the most poetic descriptions of the way a car drives I’ve ever read. When most car reviewers struggle not to use “like it’s on rails” for the 1000th time, I’m impressed by how vivid a description this is. Mirrors exactly how I felt driving a 1st generation Sienna, just too much vehicle for the platform.
We had a 2003 MPV and our experience was a little different from yours. It’s quite possible that by the final 2006 model year, Mazda had cleaned up a number of the problems we saw.
We kept the van for over 200,000 miles, but a lot of the problems we had started much earlier. The biggest issue was the coil packs on the ignition system, which started giving us problems at around 80,000 miles–we drove through some heavy rain and the engine started missing on at least one, possibly two cylinders. We limped on through the trip and when we got home, we discovered that water had seeped in under the seal on the cam cover and shorted out the long spring that connected the coil to the spark plug. This happened several times and the bad part was, in order to get to the coils on the back side of the engine, the entire intake plenum and associated plumbing had to be removed–an expensive job and one I didn’t want to try to do myself. Finally, very late in the van’s life, I discovered a simple fix: spray WD-40 down into the coil pack to keep water off the spring. Oh, and all that missing and spraying raw fuel into the exhaust led to a burned-up catalytic converter.
We also had a spark plug blow out of the cylinder head. The mechanic told me that was not unknown among these Ford and Mazda engines that shared that design. This necessitated a new cylinder head and shorted out the engine control unit, another expensive fix.
The van was very comfortable, took us on many long trips with our then-young children, and looked nice. I just wish it had been more reliable.
Had the same problem on a 2003 of a V6 turning into a V5. Old school mechanic used a helicoil to fix the lack of grip on the spark plug. Because it was on the front bank of cylinders it wasn’t such a hard job.
The JATCO 5-speed auto also failed, to the tune of a $4,000 AAMCO rebuild. Should have just swapped a newer rebuilt transmission like the dealer wanted to do, but I was ignorant.
That said we liked the size with the space and highway travel with a toddler and a big dog. Seemed like the Ford engine and a 3rd party transmission were the weak points.
My family owned two of the MK1 RWD-929 based cars and were saddened with Mazda went to these FWD based ones. My brother still has our original ’89 in his fleet, with 250k+ on it now, quite rusty and a headgasket (180ishK?) and transmission replacement (230k) under its belt.
Slightly OT, but this article made me search the internet for local MPVs for sale, and I came across this Mk1. It still has its first license plate (a big +) and looks preserved.
Wifey and I owned a 2001 in black metallic over camel leather. Loved it, best van we have owned by far, and sold it later to mom, who needed a replacement for her ’88 Taurus. Loved the 2.5 V6, loved the sunroof, the visibility, the engines sound, and it was a “just right” size. Lots of typical Japanese features, great quality feel for what is was, and no real issues that weren’t operator induced. Got near 24.5 MPG over our time of ownership. Finally ended up selling it for mom after a stroke ended her driving days. I still see it tooling around.
Always considered the 2nd gen MPV as ‘just right’ (at least after they upgraded the engine/trans to the 3.0L/5-speed. It’s worth noting there was s lot of hoopla regarding the magic folding rear seat and roll-down sliding door windows of the new 1999 Odyssey. Well, the 2000 MPV had both, too, and in a much more user-friendly size. It was another well-packaged vehicle that didn’t get anywhere near the attention or sales it deserved during the time SUV and CUV were taking over everything.
Gee, when I was 8, my brother 6, and my sister 4 all my mother had in 1961 was a 1961 white Comet station wagon and no seat belts.
Child car seat laws and seat belt laws changed everything. Your Mom probably stuffed 6 or 7 kids into that wagon on occasion (kids have this amazing tendency to have friends 🙂 ) but to do so today you have to have 6 or 7 seats with seat belts, even if they are old enough to skip the car seats. No passenger car can do this.
I will admit to a fascination with these, which were almost invisible when they were new and even more now. During one of my used car forays I was ready to look at one I found on CL, but I decided it must have been some kind of scam because the ad was an unbelievable combination of quality and price and got taken down.
I am usually a believer in bigger is better when you go for utility, but there are times when bigger is not better. It was a niche market and even Mazda had trouble there, but when it is what you want, it’s a great choice.
The SWB minivan (like the original Chrysler T-115) was another casualty of the rise of the SUV. The soccer mom stigma just killed them, and it was a real shame since they did so many things well. The MPV, in particular, came the closest to driving like a car instead of a tank.
I absolutely love my 06′ Mazda Mpv. I didn’t want it at first, but turns out it was what I needed.
Also, I have a limited edition 2011′ Town & Country Chrysler and I’ll still pick my MPV over it. I’m going to drive/ride the Mazda until it goes out!!