Review: 2006 Mazda 5

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.

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