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More muscle for Mazda MPV

Exterior makeover: Cerrion Silver (pictured) is one of three new metallic paint colours for MPV, the others being Glacier Blue and Sparkling Silver.

Mazda's MPV gains a more powerful engine in a mid-life facelift

18 Jun 2002

JUST as Mazda Australia pulled a rabbit out of its hat last week with the specification and pricing of its revised 323 range, this week it's the MPV's turn with a mid-life facelift giving the people-mover abigger, more powerful engine and improved equipment levels for not a lot more money.

Pricing for the new MPV remains a sub-$50,000 proposition at $49,850, which represents a rise of $2940, or 6.3 per cent, on the now superseded 2.5-litre MPV.

The small cost increase enables the MPV to maintain its price-advantage over rival V6 models at the top end of the people-mover segment. It is still more than $4000 cheaper than the Honda Odyssey and almost $7500 cheaper than the entry level long wheelbase Chrysler Voyager.

The smaller-engined, 2.4-litre four-cylinder Toyota Tarago also remains more costly, commanding a $1450 premium over the MPV.

For the extra money over the outgoing 2.5-litre MPV, buyers receive a raft of changes and improvements spanning a new 3.0-litre V6 engine, five-speed automatic transmission, revised styling, more standard equipment, retuned suspension and upgraded brakes.

The 3.0-litre MZI V6 engine develops 152kW of power at 6200rpm and 271Nm of torque at 3000rpm, which are increases of 23kW and 44Nm on the superseded 2.5-litre powerplant, while the torque peak is on tap from 1500rpm lower in the rev range.

The engine is mated to an electronically controlled five-speed automatic, which is a first for a Mazda in Australia, although it retains the previous model's column-mounted gearshift.

Front suspension rigidity has been increased through changes to the lower L-arms and a stiffer cross-member, while damper and spring rates have been retuned front and rear.

The braking system has a new brake booster, shorter pedal stroke and now uses low expansion flexible hoses. There's also thicker side door glass and revised insulation materials in the A-pillars.

Mazda claims these modifications have improved straight-line stability, ride quality, steering feel, braking performance and NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) levels.

Styling changes to the MPV have given it a more sports-oriented look with a new grille, reprofiled front bumper with integral lip spoiler and mesh-covered op-enings, front foglights and new design 16-inch (up from 15-inch on the old model) alloy wheels.

Both the headlights and tail-lights have been redesigned, while roof rails are now fitted as standard.

On the inside the new MPV gets suede-like trim on the seats and door panels, a fold-flat table incorporating a lidded storage box and cupholder located between the front seats, new safety latches for the sliding doors, grab handles on the back of the front seats and steering wheel-mounted controls for the revised audio system - the Mazda modular unit with separate bass, treble and mid-range controls is now standard.

Also, the middle row seats now fold forward further to improve rear seat access.

The mid-life revamp of Mazda's large people-mover has given it a much needed boost in what has become a very competitive sector of the market, albeit a low-volume one.

Mazda is not expecting any significant increase in sales as a result of the update, but it does expect the new MPV to maintain the model's 80-unit per month average, rising towards 100 units per month.

The MPV has struggled to do just that during the first five months of this year as sales are down almost 40 per cent on the same period in 2001, forcing a drop from fourth to eighth in the segment against its better performing rivals - Tarago, Odyssey and Voyager - as well as the new breed of smaller people-movers, Holden's Zafira and the Toyota Avensis Verso.

To the end of May its average monthly sales have fallen from around 75 units to just under 50 units, which is both the MPV's worst start to a year and worst performance for any five-month period since the current generation went on sale in late 1999.

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