2005 Mazda 5

[cars name="Mazda"] has been on a roll lately with an unbroken string of fantastic product introductions, but it is taking a major risk with its new 5. The 5 is what Europeans call a “space wagon,” an automotive trend which hasn’t yet made it to the U.S. Space wagons are based on cars, but they’re taller to provide a far more spacious interior.

The only space wagon we’ve seen here to date is the Chrysler PT Cruiser, and that car initially made waves for its style, not its packaging. Indeed, sales of the faddish PT Cruiser have slowed dramatically since its introduction. While Mazda realizes that 5 sales in the U.S. may be inconsequential, we applaud them for bringing this nontraditional vehicle stateside. If the segment takes off, they’ll be looking pretty smart.

The 5 is based on the Mazda 3 but it is taller and roomier, and it has sliding doors. The idea of a compact but spacious six- or seven-seater is appealing, but the engine options are not; the 2.3-liter four that is adequate in the excellent Mazda 3 will surely be overworked in the far-heavier 5. Alert to Mazda: put a reasonably powerful engine in the 5 and it will be a winner. You can’t sell a vehicle based on your “zoom zoom” slogan if it’s slower than an average economy car.

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