Chances are when Deep Purple wrote the song “Highway Star” back in 1971, the “driving power” they sang about wasn’t a family-friendly minivan. Nevertheless, Nissan’s used the same title on its latest minivan, the Lafesta Highway Star -- which, for all intents and purposes, is simply a Mazda5.
In January, we reported that Nissan had inked a deal with Mazda that would have the Hiroshima-based automaker supplying Nissan with variants of the Mazda5 mini-minivan. Odd? Perhaps, but Nissan felt the 5 somehow filled a gap in its domestic van lineup, although it already has a few models (notably the Serena C26) that are similar in both size, shape, and seating.
Nevertheless, the Lafesta Highway Star is now part of Nissan’s Japanese portfolio. For the most part, the van is identical to the Japanese-spec Mazda5 (aka Premacy), with a few small exceptions. First, Mazda’s clown-faced grille is no more, replaced by a stoic yet stylish three-bar grille and a chiseled front fascia. Second, Mazda’s so-called Nagare accents -- waves that ran into the front door stampings -- are gone.
While U.S.-spec Mazda5s receive the same 2.5-liter I-4 found in the Mazda3, the Highway Star uses Mazda’s direct-injection 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine offered in other global markets. Buyers have their choice of both front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive; opting for the latter replaces the standard five-speed automatic transmission (which also sports a stop/start function) with a four-speed automatic.
Depending on the trim level, Nissan’s pricing currently has the Highway Star either on par with a comparable Mazda5, or ringing in at an extra $4000. Even so, Nissan expects to sell roughly 1200 units a month. Is there that much demand for a Mazda5 without the silly sheetmetal ripples? Only time will tell.