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Old 03-12-2002, 09:02   #1 (permalink)
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Mazda adds ZOOM,ZOOM,ZOOM to MPV

Mazda adds zoom, more sporty feel to its underpowered MPV minivan


By RICK KRANZ
Automotive News

CARMEL VALLEY, Calif. - The Mazda MPV finally gets what it needs: a pinch of "Zoom, Zoom."

The 2002 MPV comes with a 40-hp boost and a five-speed automatic transmission meant to silence critics who complained about the disappointing performance of the 2000 and 2001 models. It also comes with suspension tweaks designed to provide a sporty feel.

Mazda has enough confidence in the modified MPV to boast in TV commercials that the 2002 vehicle "has the body of a minivan and the soul of a sports car," and blend in images of its sporty sibling, the Miata.

Mazda introduced the current generation of the minivan in 1999, choosing a 160-hp 2.5-liter V-6 and a four-speed automatic transmission. A larger engine was not available.

But "the 2.5-liter MPV had a power problem," said Robert Davis, vice president of product development strategy for Mazda North American Operations. "We heard it loud and clear from our customers."

Davis was interviewed during the MPV press introduction here.

For 2002, all MPVs are equipped with a 24-valve 3.0-liter double overhead cam V-6, supplied by Ford Motor Co. The engine is similar to the

V-6 introduced in the Mazda Tribute last year. The engine produces 200 hp at 6,200 rpm and 200 pounds-feet of torque at 3,000 rpm.

The second issue with MPV owners was the engine noise caused by the four-speed automatic transmission, which was overworked and shifted too often because of the engine's lack of power. The frequent shifts also hurt fuel economy.

The new transmission, a five-speed produced by Jatco Transtechnology Ltd., features a slope control system that avoids unnecessary shift changes during a hill climb by holding the transmission in fourth gear rather than shifting down.

Mazda says the engine and transmission changes provide a slight fuel savings over the previous powertrain: 18 mpg city and 24 mpg highway, compared with 18/23 mpg for the 2001 model.

The MPV's suspension was tweaked to improve handling and reduce body roll. Mazda claims a 64 percent reduction in body roll.

But will the "Zoom, Zoom" advertising and the images of the Miata in the MPV commercial create expectations the 2002 minivan cannot meet?

"It is a minivan. It is not a Miata," said John Mendel, executive vice president for sales, marketing, customer service and parts for Mazda North American Operations.

"Someone asked, 'Are you concerned about the safety aspects, that you are over-promising, that people will overdrive this car?' I don't think anybody will go shopping for that vehicle thinking they are buying a high-performance vehicle," Mendel said.

"What I think people will be saying is, 'I enjoy driving this car. I have good power, I've got good balance, and I don't feel like I'm driving a school bus.' I think that is kind of the target," he said.

The MPV is available in two trim levels, LX and ES; the base DX no longer is offered.

The LX has a sticker price of $22,770, including destination charges, and the ES has a sticker price of $27,712. Both are on sale now.

Other changes for the 2002 model year include: power sliding doors, which are standard on the ES; restyled front fascia, grille and headlamps; and optional 17-inch wheels.

Mazda sold 32,181 MPVs in 2001, a 9.6 percent decrease from the previous year.
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