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2005 Minivan Buyer's Guide
by Martha Hindes

2005 Mazda MPV

You could say good things come in small sizes. In Mazda's case, it's the MPV. Although diminutive compared with some hulky competitors, it instead offers a performance appeal usually lacking in minivans. That was a definite choice by the "Zoom Zoom" auto company that leans toward action (such as stick shifts for fun) rather than adaptability to every possible use.

That doesn't mean you can't haul a lot in an MPV. You can. But it might just be a tad smaller load. Open the traditional sliding side doors and wide lift gate and you still find spacious interior room for its size with seating for seven.

The vehicle Mazda dubs a "sporty minivan" retains the interior and exterior characteristics of the major overhaul for '04, and then adds some fine tuning for '05. Air conditioning becomes a stand-alone option for the base, LX model. An auto dimming rear view mirror with compass and Homelink is added. So is a new, retractable key. The MPV retains side-sliding second row seating for bucket or bench configuration. There's a "Tumble Under" third row that's upright for passengers, tips rearward for tailgate seating or disappears in the floor for added cargo room.

This could be considered the "driver's car" among minivans - and Mazda, touting its racing heritage, bills it as such. It is "road responsive" with such features as speed sensitive steering, taut suspension and "Slope Control" to keep the five-speed automatic smooth and prevent over-shifting when driving mountainous terrain. There's a 3.0-liter DOHC 24-valve V-6 to lend 200-horsepower and 200-lb. ft. of torque, paired with a low curb weight for agility. But, a bummer for the true lead-footer in crowd: Despite Mazda's racing genes, neither the $22,940 LX nor the upscale $28,505 ES comes with a standard transmission. (Not really minivan territory here, but we can dream, can't we?)