Here in the US, automakers and dealers don’t use the term “MPV” very often.Â An acronym for Multi Purpose Vehicle, the MPV category is used in Europe to describe vehicles by function, rather than by size.
The common denominator of all MPVs is their emphasis on passenger and cargo space: in addition to minivans like the Ford Freestar and Honda Odyssey, the European MPV market segment includes “compact” and “mini” MPVs, designed to provide a roomy and accessible interior on a smaller platform.
Right now, the Mazda MAZDA5 is the only compact MPV on sale in the United States.Â Without a lot of marketing behind it, and somewhat under the radar of the automotive press, the MAZDA5 has become the darling of environment-conscious young families. You’ll see thirty-something suburban moms gushing about it on Internet forums with the mixed awe and lust usually reserved for Brad Pitt in a bathing suit.
Why?Â The consensus seems to be that the MAZDA5 combines the comfort and flexibility of a roomy minivan interior with the agility and fuel efficiency of a sedan.Â Low-riding and high-ceilinged, the MAZDA5 is easy to load up with kids, dogs, packages, car seats…you name it.Â Drivers praise its maneuverability and quick acceleration.Â And with a sticker price under $20,000 and a EPA rating of over 20 miles per gallon, the MAZDA5 is a lot easier on the wallet than the usual minivan.
So why aren’t more manufacturers getting into the MPV game over here?Â The European market is full of interesting takes on the compact MPV, from the Citroen Picasso, Renault Scenic, and Opel Zafira to the Honda Stream, Kia Carens, Toyota WISH, and Mitsubishi Chariot.
Then there’s the mini MPV segment, of which the Fiat Idea is perhaps the most appealing: a versatile, boxy little vehicle that delivers a lot of flexibility for surprisingly few Euros.Â The mini MPV is one of the hottest new market segments in Europe; don’t hold your breath until they make their way into the North American sales stream, though.Â Which is a shame, because these guys are adorable.