Mazda's Premacy should suffice for most Multi-Purpose Vehicle hunters in search of space rather than gimmicks. It also has cheapness to recommend it
Seven seats for less than $100,000 For those in search of space rather than gimmicks. It may not be radical enough as an MPV, but the handsome seven-seater Mazda Premacy drives very much like a car

CONSIDERING the size of most Singaporean families, a Multi-Purpose Vehicle (MPV) is logically unnecessary. A sedan usually does the job well enough, even if used for a weekend getaway for five across the border.

Unless you have a pair of grandparents living under the same roof or you like to go on excursions with an entourage, why else would you need an MPV, especially the small five-seater ones?

In most cases, it is the better packaging that MPV-buyers seek. The abundant cabin room and superb versatility make the MPV a more practical car on the whole than its saloon counterpart, assuming the two are both based on the same platform. The Toyota Spacio (which is Corolla-based) and Renault Scenic (Megane-based) have proved to be successful mini-MPV spin-offs, scoring second place in total sales next to their leading sedan variants.

Mazda has the Premacy with which to do battle in this category, but to take the segment-leading Opel Zafira head on, it boasts seven-seating capacity. A removeable rear bench big enough for two compact adults has been added in the usually five-seating Premacy.

It cannot, however, disappear into the floor like the Zafira's clever rear seats. It can only be stowed away by having it reclined, folded, and secured against the second row bench, although there is a choice of removing it completely if you really need the boot space.

And if that is still not enough, the second row bench can be juggled the same way, leaving only the two front seats and a large cargo area behind them. One problem, though, is that the floor is far from flat, resulting in some possibly awkward moments when you have to load large items into the car.

When occupied fully, the Premacy offers more than decent room. Three-across seating in the centre reveals an impressive amount of shoulder room and the moveable bench almost guarantees enough legroom for everyone. The sunroof, too, does not encroach on headroom.

But as an MPV, the Premacy is just not radical enough, and brings nothing new to those already out there. The table-top seatbacks of the second row and front passenger seats are an old trick, and you do not get handy underfloor storage bins like you would with the Scenic, or as many cubbyholes as with the Spacio. As a consolation prize, however, you do get a concealed trough with partitions in the spare tyre area.

At least it looks good. This new Mazda is among the most handsome MPVs I have come across. The five-cornered radiator grille and slanted headlight give it a ferocious appearance, but at the same time a recognisable Mazda face.

The Ford Focus-like bulge around the wheel arch adds extra sportiness to the Premacy, a hint that Ford - now the main shareholder of Mazda - has lent a hand in designing it.

The test car was further enhanced with Mazda's optional body kit, but the roof-mounted spoiler and 15-inch alloy wheels come standard.

But is the Premacy as spirited as its looks suggest? Mazdas usually have lively engines and the Premacy does not disappoint. Its 133bhp 1.8-litre unit is res ponsive and rather creamy, with admirable low to mid-range grunt even if the car is loaded fully with people and things.

At high revs, specifically 4500 rpm and above, expect it to get a little raucous and transmit a little vibration to the steering wheel.

The handling is not exactly mind-bending like the Honda Odyssey's. Neither is the amount of grip available huge enough to make the car seem capable of cornering on rails. But the Premacy is still much better than most MPVs when you drive it at the limit, with only its substantial body-roll discouraging you from going in too fast into a turn.

If the body roll is occasionally severe, at least the rise quality is supple in most conditions. Whether you happen to be driving alone or have six people travelling with you, the road surface may be infested with pockmarks or undulations but the comfort-oriented suspension remains impressively well-sorted.

On the whole, the Premacy lacks the sheer packaging brilliance of the Zafira, and cannot match most of its rivals in terms of MPV-cleverness, but it looks good and drives very much like a car. In fact, it should suffice for most MPV hunters, in search of space rather than gimmicks.

And as a final bonus, it has cheapness to recommend it. Seven seats for less than $100,000 works out to just over $14,000 per seat. Not exactly a bum deal.

SPECS

Mazda Premacy 1.8

Price: $98,988

Engine: 1,839 cc DOHC 16 valves

Gearbox: Four-speed automatic

Power: 133 bhp at 6,000 rpm

Torque: 163 Nm at 4,000 rpm

Top speed: 185 kmh

0 to 100 kmh: 12.5 seconds (estimated)

For enquiries: Contact Mazda Motor on 280-4666