New for 2006, the Mazda5 is a multi-faceted people mover based on a stretched Mazda3 platform. The innovative six-passenger design of this scaled-down minivan is geared towards young, active-lifestyle buyers who demand exceptional features and flexibility in a single, high-value vehicle. Available in Sport and Touring guise, the Mazda5 complements its first-in-class 2+2+2 flexible seating layout with an extensive list of standard comfort and convenience touches. Equally appealing, the price of both starts -- and in many cases, ends -- below $20,000.
With minivan cues but crossover character, the Mazda5 embraces a somewhat eclectic but contemporary style highlighted by its crisply rendered sheetmetal, dramatically swept-back windshield, and large, sliding side doors. Mazda heritage comes through strongest in its front and rear fascias, as well as its flared fenders and the signature "V" line of its lower backglass. While only the Touring has standard side sills, both variants wear 205/50VR17 all-season tires on cast-alloy wheels.
Black and aluminum-look plastic elements impart contemporary flair to the Mazda5 interior, although the latter can create annoying glare in bright sun. Complementing the look are seats covered in tasteful black cloth with silver center insets. Overall, the instrument legibility and switchgear layouts merit high marks. A large locking glovebox, pockets in each door, and a small covered console cubby provide basic stow space. All Mazda5s have dual front/mid/rear cupholders, a 12V powerpoint in the dash and rear cargo area, and storage bins beneath the second-row seat cushions and rear cargo floor. Touring models add a foldaway rear consolette with two more cupholders and a mesh storage bag.
Large, well-balanced sliding side doors ease access to the rear quarters. Once in, you can choose from two adult-scaled mid-row buckets or a better-for-kids 50/50 split third row bench. Both tiers feature theatre-style elevation (the roof has been raised by 6.5 inches over Mazda3 spec) and can easily be folded flat in any mix-and-match combination. With all seats up, there's room for about 7 cu ft of cargo, loadable through a large one-piece rear hatch. Drop down row three and capacity jumps to 44 cu ft. That figure virtually doubles when you opt for a two-seats-and-lots-of-stuff configuration, creating a 63-inch-long load surface in the process.
Even at Sport level, the massive Mazda5 standards roster includes air conditioning, power windows/locks/mirrors, a tilt/telescoping steering column, wheel-mounted audio controls, keyless remote, cruise control, and AM/FM/CD audio plus safety touches like ABS disc brakes, a deformable pedal set, and front/front-side/side-curtain airbags. Step up to Touring, and the list adds a rear spoiler, side sills, a power moonroof, six-disc CD changer, and optional DVD navigation and rear-seat entertainment systems.
Mazda's free-revving 2.3-liter DOHC I-4 (shared with the Mazda3) is the sole Mazda5 engine. Here, it makes 157 hp at 6,500 rpm and develops 148 lb-ft of peak torque at 3,500 revs instead of the normal 4,500. Both Sport and Touring models offer a choice of a five-speed manual gearbox or an optional four-speed "manumatic" autoshifter.
Out on the road, the Mazda5 leaves no doubt about its corporate heritage -- nor about the fact that it weighs roughly 500 pounds more than a comparable Mazda3s. The suspension bits, electro-hydraulic power steering, and anti-lock disc brakes have been appropriately upgraded to handle the extra mass and payload possibilities, an effort further abetted by semi-sticky, low-profile tires. That combination yields an eminently livable balance of comfort and control, and it does a great job of limiting body roll in corners. Outward visibility is good, particularly through the panoramic windshield. And with a compact 34.8-foot turning circle and those big sliding doors, this high-utility hauler fears neither crowded parking lots nor "compact only" spaces.
What does intimidate the Mazda5? Mostly long, steep grades. While the 2.3-liter four remains enthusiastic, shuttling around nearly 17 percent more mass takes an inevitable toll on its zoom-zoominess, especially when you decide to head for the hills. Keeping pace with in-town traffic is never an issue, and acceleration is respectable with either transmission. But as the terrain gets more demanding -- or you more closely approach the Mazda5's 1,239-pound maximum payload -- it becomes clear that extra underhood firepower would be a very good thing.
In addition to ABS brakes with Electronic Brake Force Distribution, a reinforced passenger cell, three-point seatbelts for all passengers (with pretensioners/force limiters on the front buckets), and a deformable pedal set, the Mazda5 features dual-stage "smart" front airbags, plus front-side and side-curtain bags.
With its singular mix of style, flexibility, and versatility, Mazda's self-proclaimed multi-activity vehicle has the tangible attributes to please a broad range of potential owners. Despite a youthful character, the Mazda5 displays design maturity and value orientation that makes it a logical consideration for everyone from current Mazda3 owners to potential Scion xB or Chrysler PT Cruiser buyers seeking to make a step up in space. Given today's perpetually rising gasoline prices, impressive EPA numbers -- 22/27 mpg with a manual and 21/26 mpg with an automatic -- should bolster its appeal. While the Chrysler Pacifica and Mercedes-Benz R-Class offer similar 2+2+2 seating and versatility, it comes at a radically different scale and price point. Mazda has hit on an accessible price with a compelling minivan alternative, whose desirability moves in measure with gasoline prices.
Great features, outstanding versatility, super price. The real issue is whether it can break through the perceptual wall that separates a mere minivan from a cool crossover.
Exceptional versatility Room for six Outstanding standard feature set
Overtaxed engine Automatic transmission has only four speeds Glare-prone interior trim
A micro-minivan with distinctive style and outstanding flexibility, the feature-packed and value-priced Mazda5 offers the first -- and for now, the only -- 2+2+2 seating configuration in its class.
There are few extras for the comprehensively equipped Mazda5. Sport buyers can add Touring items like a moonroof, foglights, MP3/CD six-disc changer, and the Popular Equipment Package (CD changer, side sills, rear spoiler), while Touring owners can opt for a DVD-based navigation system. An automatic transmission, pearl paint, cargo cover/net, floormats, and wheel locks are available for both.