Count me among the fans of the 5, from the start. I was with Mazda in Hiroshima, Japan, in November 2004, when the company first showed this vehicle to the America press corps. Back then, even Mazda’s North American officials were unsure whether the 5 would fly in America, but I was enthused by this mini minivan’s packaging and thrift. The way I see it, there are plenty of people who need a bit more space and utility than a traditional sedan but who don’t want to spend the money that it takes to drive a full-size minivan or a mid-size SUV. Here at Automobile Magazine, we ran a Four Seasons test of a 2006 Mazda 5, and even the doubters among us were won over after twelve months. With an as-tested price of $21,510 and average fuel economy over our test’s 21,343 miles of 25 mpg, all while hauling up to six people and a lot of stuff, what was not to like?
The 5’s appeal lies partly in the fact that it is built off the same platform as the excellent Mazda 3, which now in its last months on the market is still one of the best cars in its category and a great pleasure to drive. (Look for an all-new Mazda 3 early in 2009.) So the 5 doesn’t feel like a penalty box when you’re driving it. It’s no sports car, mind you, but it has decent steering feel and body control and a reasonably communicative chassis, and it makes the most of its 157-hp, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. Our Four Seasons test car had a 5-speed manual transmission, which allowed us to wring the most out of the engine, but this 2008 model is equipped with a five-speed automatic that also does quite a good job and doesn’t really sap much of the engine’s power.
The 5 is very user-friendly. The side doors slide, as in a minivan, and the second-row captain’s chairs fold down easily, as do those in the third row. Ergonomics are good, and there are vast sightlines through the broad windshield. The cream-colored cloth upholstery in our test vehicle had a nice, subtle, Japanese-inspired pattern woven into it.
ABS and side curtain air bags are standard, but we wish stability control were offered.
All in all, four years after I first saw this vehicle, I still think it is one of the unsung heroes of affordable family transportation.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
I, too, am a fan of the Mazda 5. And with fuel prices now in the forefront of Americans’ minds, this spacious and fun little people hauler’s 21/27 city/highway EPA ratings (22/28 mpg for the stick shift) make it more relevant than ever.
My wife and I are expecting a child, and the Mazda 5 will definitely be on our shortlist when the time comes for our next car. If we bought one of these, though, it’d definitely be a stick shift, like Automobile’s long-departed Four Seasons Mazda 5. That car was more enjoyable than this automatic. Like Joe D pointed out, the stick shift allows you to extract every last ounce of oomph from the 2.3-liter four-cylinder, which I feel is adequate but far from overwhelming in this car.
From an aesthetics standpoint, I prefer the original 5’s tri-circular taillight theme over the ’09 5’s more linear design. The fabric of the inner door-panel trim is a bit strange, too – it looks like your grandmother’s couch, with vertical lines that aren’t quite parallel – although I think I could grow to like it.
The best part about the 5 is that it adds an element of driving fun to the micro minivan package, something largely absent from similar vehicles such as the circa-1993 Dodge Colt Vista, the original Honda Odyssey, and the current Kia Rondo.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Ok, I’ll join the club: I love the Mazda 5, too. I liked our long-term Mazda 5, I like this short-termer, and all in all, the 5 is probably the only minivan on the planet that I’d even think about buying. It’s fun, it’s cheeky, and it can carry a lot of stuff.
That said, after driving this 5, I’m reminded of the car’s shortcomings. With the exception of a little headroom and a pair of sliding doors, the 5 does little that a decent-sized station wagon can’t do. It’s economical and fast enough for most peoples’ needs, but it also suffers from a serious case of identity crisis: It’s neither as entertaining and economical as a good European wagon nor as useful as a full-size minivan. Perhaps that’s why you don’t see more of them on the road?
Sam Smith, Associate Editor
I’ll echo the earlier comments. This Mazda 5 is a very logical and practical, especially given our national interest in fuel economy. Here’s a vehicle that will seat six people and still let you bring along some belongings, but it won’t suck down a barrel of oil every hour at cruising speeds and it’s incredibly easy to maneuver through parking lots and city traffic.
I haven’t sampled a 5 with the manual transmission, but I had no issue with this 5’s automatic. Shifts are respectable and I don’t feel like the automatic zaps all the power out of the engine like so many four-cylinder/automatic combinations out there. Aside from the slightly funky looks and mediocre power, I don’t understand why more people aren’t buying the Mazda 5. I doubt everyone who drives a minivan actually needs that much room and the low price of a 5 would have me thinking twice about how much room I really need. Perhaps this vehicle is just too logical for the American consumer.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
2008 Mazda 5 Touring
Base Price (with destination):
Price as tested: $22,075
Pearl Paint ($200)
Compass/AutoDim Mirror ($200)
Sirius Satellite Radio ($430)
Fuel Economy: 21/27/23 (city/hwy/combined)
Size: 2.3 L DOHC 16 Valve I4
HP: 153 @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 148 @ 4500
Transmission: 5-Speed Automatic
P205/50 R17 89V all season tires
17″ Chrome wheels