Since Our four Seasons Fleet is filled with sedans and SUVs, we decided to diversify our cast of characters by adding <a href="http://www.automobilemag.com/new_cars/01/mazda/index.html">Mazda</a>'s unique new 5. This Euro-style multipurpose vehicle is the new low-price champion in the fleet, costing $21,510 including sunroof, automatic climate control, and even a navigation system. The 5 is an unusual offering in the United States, as it slots below Mazda's MPV, which is already small for a minivan. Still, it offers seating for six people in three rows--although the back row works best for children. The dual sliding doors and folding seats should also prove popular for utility duties. Since the 5's chassis is from the brilliant Mazda 3, we paired it with a five-speed manual gearbox to wring the most performance possible from this inexpensive, small minivan.
1175 miles "The Mazda 5 is easy to park and maneuver, good on gas, and offers a high seating position. What the 5 does not offer is a very exciting driving experience," opines assistant editor Rusty Blackwell.
3735 Contributor Ronald Ahrens: "I enjoy driving the Mazda 5 because of the quick steering, fine clutch and gearchange, and supple ride--even with the standard seventeen-inch wheels and fifty-series tires."
4124 miles Executive editor Mark Gillies's wife, Jane, writes: "Even though I have two children, I would never buy a conventional minivan, but the next time I go shopping for a new car, the Mazda 5 will be on my list."
4300 miles Some general comments: "I like the clear, simple interior styling." "Second-row passengers enjoy bucket seats, but there are no armrests on the sliding doors." "I keep hitting the A/C-off button when shifting."
6025 miles After about a month at the dealer for a recall regarding fire concerns, our manual-transmission Mazda 5 returns to us equipped with a new muffler and two additional heat shields. Models equipped with automatic transmissions also received revised ECU software that commands an upshift when the redline is reached.
8420 miles No, the Mazda 5 pictured above is not our new tornado-chasing vehicle. We fitted a RaySat satellite television system, which includes the saucerlike roof-mounted dish and a Dish Network satellite receiver, and then we added two custom-built Vizualogic headrest displays/DVD players. A few early niggles with audio quality and the remote control were addressed by the installers, so now it's time to see whether the hi-fi system makes the Mazda a road-tripping champion or simply a major-league eyesore.
11,892 miles Copy editor Rusty Blackwell hauls a five-foot table, a bookcase, and a variety of garage-sale items. There's plenty of room in the 5, and its low floor and dual sliding doors make it a snap to load everything.
13,541 miles Assistant editor Sam Smith drives 1600 miles in three days. "Unlike some of the people in this office who have mistaken the Mazda 5 for a sports car, I like this vehicle. It does exactly what it's supposed to do and worked well for my trip."
17,777 miles Contributor Mike Austin drives the Mazda 5 to Dayton, Ohio, and finds that the seats are quite uncomfortable and lack support--not a new complaint. He adds: "The navigation-system controls are frustrating to operate and need a dedicated enter button."
18,366 miles Assistant editor Erik Johnson wishes the 2.3-liter four had a little more power. "Not a lot--it doesn't need to be a family rocket--but enough so that the Mazda doesn't feel so overworked."