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