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MPV with a difference

Mazda's Sporty Package has many pluses - the audio/GPS operating system apart, that is

Published on August 29, 2007

MPV with a difference

The Mazda MPV looks more like a minivan but does have more aesthetic appeal than many of the mundane MPVs on the market.

Gardening has never been one of my favourite pursuits. The most aggravating thing about it is probably pulling weeds. There is a consistent need for attention to detail, and that kind of care simply requires too much energy - even when your mother is watching your every move and is ready to bark out commands like a sergeant major.

Why do I mention pulling weeds? Mainly because driving the Mazda MPV 2.3 C Sporty Package brought it all back to me.

The MPV tested here is imported from Japan by the SEC group and is pretty much what the initials suggest: a multipurpose vehicle. It is known as the Mazda 8 outside Japan. So is it really worth Bt2.9 million to look different in an MPV?

If you ask me, a lot of the units sold by SEC do not necessarily make sense. But since when did the niche-car sector ever take a lesson from logic?

Back to pulling weeds, and why that came to mind when confronted by the MPV: there are simply too many things going on with the MPV - good things, I mean. There are so many details, so many luxuries and amenities hidden within different nooks and crannies of the vehicle that it requires a lot of attention to simply remember that they exist, let alone to use them. Kind of like pulling weeds. The ambient-light button for instance, which brings a glow of light from different regions to help you find things without straining your eyes, because the light sources are hidden; the instrument cluster that looks like the work of an interior designer; and the centre console with its high-end climate controls.

Then there are front, side and rear cameras. While the rear camera helps you park, the side and front cameras mean you could probably sneak the big vehicle to within a few nanometers of the guy next door. The side camera can be extremely helpful when parking close to kerbs and avoiding scratches to the alloy wheels, while the front camera means you don't destroy your low front spoiler.

Because the MPV is offered for executive use in Thailand, both sliding doors (one on each side) can be electrically operated by the driver, as well as the tailgate. All doors come with pressure sensors so they stop if they encounter an obstruction.

Other electrically operated additions include the third-row seats. They have to be folded down manually for safety reasons but can be brought back up with the press of a button. When they are folded down, there is plenty of space to load things into the rear, although the second-row seats can only be pushed forward and do not fold. However, the second-row seats are very comfortable and come with calf rests and plenty of adjustment.

All of this comes with a very elegant interior, which combines dark plastic with cream and dark-grey upholstery, giving a truly premium feel. At times, in fact, you forget that the vehicle is a Mazda, but the steering wheel, with its huge Mazda insignia, reminds you what it is you are driving. The on-steering controls, another touch of dedication to quality, are nevertheless a little small for easy use. The sunroof - not exactly the best option in Thailand - is nice for watching the rain.

The best aspects of the MPV are yet to come. Although a typical MPV "look" is unavoidable, this MPV is sleek, and the huge Mazda badge up front does not look out of place. The large headlights and spotlights add to the sporty image, but these are an addition that comes with the MPV 2.3 C Sporty Package. The rear, although more van-like, has dual exhaust pipes that are almost concealed from sight. Don't expect too many turning heads. The MPV comes across as banal to those who are unaware of what it is.

The driving is what reminds you that this is a Mazda. The "zoom-zoom-ness" is obvious. Corners are dealt with neatly, body roll is controlled, and stability at speeds above 120kph is excellent - by MPV standards, of course. The suspension is slightly on the hard side, although not hard enough to create discomfort for the rear passengers.

Acceleration is impressive, and the 163bhp 2.3-litre engine pumps out all the horses very willingly over the complete speed range. The 180kph speed limit is reached easily, and the fact that the MPV can perform above this limit is obvious. The four-speed automatic gearbox does not seem to limit its performance.

On the move, the MPV feels stable. It is not cumbersome to manoeuvre around in the city, and with the help of the three cameras even a blind man could park it. But what is truly impressive and rather unusual about the MPV is its brakes. They could be considered a little too hard for a woman, but they provide un-MPV-like stopping power. The decrease in velocity is progressive and firm.

Despite all of this, one big con can sidestep a lot of pros, and this is definitely the case with the MPV. As it is imported from Japan the complete operating system comes in Japanese. This means an audio system you can't use and an absolutely useless geographic positioning system (GPS). The audio system does not accept CDs burnt on your computer and only plays original stuff. This, then, is clearly rich man's territory. It means your writer had to go a whole day without music. (Remember the weeds?) The FM radio can only find three Bangkok stations because of the difference between Thai and Japanese radio frequencies.

You would think that with all the money that SEC makes on each sale and the countless number of vehicles that are equipped with GPS, the company would consider investing in a local GPS system, but no such option is available.

So, is the Mazda MPV your ideal MPV? The fact that your major communication system with the vehicle is in Japanese makes things very aggravating, like having a French maid when the only thing you know about France is that its capital is Paris. When all is said and done, customers of SEC won't necessarily be swayed by this article, and the MPV will be just another vehicle parked alongside the others in the big garage.

But there might be just a little bit of sense in buying it because you want to have some fun in a factory-built MPV.


Mazda MPV 2.3 C Sporty Package

Engine: MZR in-line 4-cylinder DOHC 16-valve

Displacement: 2,260cc

Maximum power: 163hp at 6,500rpm

Maximum torque: 210Nm at 4,000rpm

Transmission: Four-speed automatic

Final drive ratio: 3.54

Suspension (front/rear): MacPherson struts/multi-link

Steering: Powered rack and pinion

Brakes (front/rear): Vented discs/vented discs

Dimensions (mm)

Length: 4,868mm

Width: 1,850mm

Height: 1,685mm

Wheelbase: 2,950 mm

Wheel size and type: 17-inch alloy

Tyres: 215 60/R17

Fuel-tank capacity: 68.5 litres

Price: Bt2.89 million

Distributor: SEC Automobiles and Service

Tel: (02) 643 0003

Vijo Varghese

 The Nation

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