Mazda calls the Mazda5 a "multi-activity vehicle infused with sports car inspiration" that "efficiently transports people and equipment like a large SUV."
We'll leave alone the question of whether the words "efficiently" and "large SUV" belong in the same sentence. It is a fact, however, that buyers who are attracted to the passenger and/or cargo capacity of an SUV may be put off by SUV bulk and SUV fuel consumption. A minivan does the same job more efficiently, but seems to carry a certain social stigma. Station wagons used to do the job, but have now all but disappeared.
So how does the style-conscious consumer transport spouse, children, parents and pets? Urban architects have known the answer for at least a century: Go vertical.
The skyscraper principle applies equally to motor vehicles. Start with a small-sedan chassis for handling, ride comfort, and fuel efficiency. Build the body tall to pack more people and things inside the same footprint. Then give it a clunky-funky look that says "SUV," or at least "SUV crossover," more than "minivan."
Europeans, who have lived with high fuel prices for decades, have been building and buying tall people movers since the 1950s. The Japanese, also, embraced the concept long ago. The idea is still novel in America, but vehicles as good as the Mazda5 just might help it catch on.
The Mazda 5, or Mazda5, is built on the same mechanical platform as the compact Mazda3 sedan. So it weighs less, and even covers a smaller patch of road than, say, Mazda's own mid-size sedan, the Mazda6. But the tall Mazda5 seats six, where even the Maxda6 sedan seats five at best. See how the game is played? And with the back two rows of seats folded, Mazda5 will hold far more than Mazda's own Mazda6 Sport Wagon. And it drives better than either a minivan or an SUV.
All-new last year, Mazda5 was offered in two well-equipped trim levels. Now for '07, Mazda has added the even more deluxe Grand Touring level with leather-trimmed heated seats and xenon High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights. The base Mazda5 Sport starts at $17,635, the mid-level Touring at $19,150. A totally tricked-out Grand Touring, with DVD entertainment, navigation, and Sirius Satellite Radio would still list for less than $26,000. Looked at this way, there's no competition.
Mazda5 Sport ($17,635) comes with air conditioning; power windows and central locking; four-speaker, multi-source stereo; steering wheel-mounted speed and sound controls; inboard armrests on the middle-row seats; four passenger assist grips; and carpeted floor mats. Cruise control, a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, power outside mirrors and a six-way adjustable driver's seat with inboard armrest facilitate driver-to-car interfacing. An attractive and durable-looking fabric covers seats and door panels with seat side bolsters and insets wearing contrasting textures. The standard wheel-and-tire package consists of 205/50 V-rated all-season radials on 17-inch alloy rims.
Options include a power moonroof ($700), an MP3 player/CD changer ($500); and fog lamps ($300). One option package is offered, comprising an in-dash, six-disc CD changer, rear liftgate spoiler, and side sill extensions ($490).
Mazda5 Touring ($19,150) makes the moonroof, in-dash six-CD changer, side sill extensions, liftgate spoiler, and fog lamps standard; and further upgrades to automatic air conditioning, two more speakers for the stereo, leather cover for the steering wheel, and a combination fold-out table and cargo net bin for the center row of seats. Externally, the mirrors turn body-color (instead of black). A combined navigation and tire-pressure monitoring system is optional ($2,000).
New for '07 is Mazda5 Grand Touring ($21,300), which adds leather seats with matching cloth door inserts, heated front seats, and xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps with manual leveling. Sharp-eyed observers might spot the GT's exclusive black light bezels, front and rear. Automatic transmission is standard, too, as we previously mentioned; the navigation/tire-pressure monitor is still optional.
Options for all models include several self-dimming inside mirrors with various built-in widgets ($230-300); Sirius Satellite Radio with a six-month subscription ($430); a rear-seat DVD player ($1,200); and pearl paint finish ($200). Additionally, Mazda dealers can install a range of accessories; a cargo net ($40), heavy duty all-weather floor mats ($60), a retractable cargo cover ($150), and wheel locks ($40) are just a few examples.
Safety features that come standard on all models include the required dual-action frontal airbags, plus front seat-mounted side-impact airbags for torso protection, and head-protecting side air curtains for all three rows of seats. Also, every seating position gets a three-point seatbelt and an adjustable head restraint. Be sure your passengers use those seatbelts as they're your first line of defense in a crash. The middle and rear seats have child safety seat anchors (LATCH). Antilock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist also come standard.
The Mazda5 looks very much like a shrink-to-fit version of the Mazda MPV minivan, one that has had six grown people belted inside then run through a scalding hot car wash, snuggling it down to its occupants' spatial zones. The MPV is of course built on a different mechanical platform and measures several inches larger than the Mazda5 in every critical dimension. Still, the MPV is smaller than most other minivans, and in styling cues, general outlines and silhouettes, the MPV and Mazda5 are very much in synch.
Mazda5's hood, though expansive, is better proportioned and flows more gracefully into the windshield and A-pillars than the larger MPV's. A single, horizontal bar divides the Mazda5's grille opening and supports the Mazda trademark logo. Fog lamps, when fitted, peer out of oversized recesses outboard of a broad air intake fronted by a crosshatch mesh positioned in the lower half of the wrap-around bumper fascia. Headlight housings slash into the fenders and reach around the sides to touch the front wheel well arches, which are mostly filled by the tires.
From the side, the vista is much busier, although geometrically consistent. A strong wedge influence flares character lines and surface planes from the pinched-down front end rearward to a tall, chopped off, stubby tail rendered even more awkward by a pouting, bulbous rear bumper. Matte black B-pillars and C-pillars play down the height of the glasshouse. Side mirrors attach to the lower half of small, wind-wing-shaped quarter windows. Body-color, full-round handles bridge concave circles in the doors. A gentle bulge crossing the doors' lower extremities ties together the blistered fenders. The slots for the sliding side doors scar the flanks. The optional side sill extensions create a ground-effect look that somehow works, giving the perspective a more complete, more finished touch.
The liftgate extends well into the rear bumper, removing some visual mass from the back end, as well as easing loading with a low cargo floor. Trendy, clear-lens taillight arrays are stacked on each side of the fixed rear window. The optional spoiler drags the roofline back and out above the rear window, adding a bit of edginess to the Mazda5's mostly egg-shaped rear outline.
Other than the packaging, there's nothing special, or unique, about the interior of the 2007 Mazda5. This isn't to discount the packaging. Making room for six adults in a vehicle casting a smaller shadow than the company's five-passenger, Mazda6 sedan is no small achievement. But beyond this, the interior is in line with what's to be expected of a vehicle in the Mazda5's price range.
The dashboard is very minivan-ish, with broad reaches of quality plastic spreading far forward beneath the sharply raked windshield. Symmetrical right and left panels belie the Mazda5's international character, as it's easily re-cobbled for right-hand drive countries. The look is sleek and high tech, but with an odd-looking gash splitting the upper and lower halves of the dash. Air vents shutter like window blinds if the cool or warm air gets too much. Metallic-look plastic trims the center stack, shift console and front door handles. The instrument cluster is pleasantly basic, with eye-catching contrasts between the speedometer and supporting gauges. Equally pleasant surprises for a car in this class are the steering wheel-mounted controls for audio and cruise settings. The display screen for the optional navigation system rises out of the dash top above the center stack and offers four angle settings to fight glare. A panel with the system's controls is tacked onto the console on the driver's side of the shift gate.
Audio and climate controls are sublime, with large, round knobs and widely spaced, clearly marked buttons. The navigation system takes some acclimation, what with the controls located down on the shift console, but they're basic enough that the learning curve is relatively short.
Seats are, well, adequate: best in the front row, then losing both comfort and support as you move to the third row. Seat bottoms could be deeper, and bolsters could be more substantive. The driver's seat height adjustment is manual and pivots on the front of the seat bottom. Thus, the higher it's ratcheted, the less leg room it leaves. And be aware the moving up to the moonroof-equipped models shaves off nearly 2 inches of headroom in the first row and about a quarter inch in the second.
Head restraints are adjustable in all three rows, but they, too, diminish in comfort in the second and third rows, especially the rearmost, which are functional, yes, but add nothing to an already minimally accommodating seat. On the other hand, in their lowered position in those two rows they cut so sharply into the upper back that anybody sitting there will be sure to adjust them to an effective height just to avoid the pain. And this is a good thing.
Not many adults will want to park for very long in the third row. There's plenty of head room, measuring only 1.5 inches less than in the Ford Freestyle, another tall station wagon with three rows of seats; and a mere 0.2 inches shy of the Dodge Caravan, which is still something of a benchmark among shorter-wheelbase minivans. It's in leg room and hip room that the Mazda5 cramps third-row occupants. It gives up 2.6 inches of leg room to Freestyle and 3.8 to Caravan; in hip room it falls short of Caravan by a full eight inches. Access to that third row is achieved by yanking on a loop sticking out from between the second-row seat bottom and back and folding the seat bottom forward; then, releasing a lever on the side and the seat back to fold it forward. Suffice to say, climbing into the third row is best left to the truly limber and not very tall.
Visibility is good, as expected in a minivan-type transporter. The outside mirrors could be farther forward, as the reason for those faux wind wings is so the track for the front door windows can be far enough back that they'll roll all the way down. The view forward from the second and third row seats is surprisingly unobstructed, thanks to each row being two inches higher than the row in front, and to t
The Mazda5 is more utilitarian than fun. That said, it's a pleasant car that in some ways delivers more than expected in some ways, while coming up a bit short in others.
Just using the Mazda5 is the best part. It tucks into tight parking spaces, thanks in no small part to a turning circle that bests all the competition by several feet, including the five-passenger Mazda6. Everyday errands are run with a reasonably clear conscience, and without requiring a home equity loan, thanks to miles-per-gallon ratings ranging from the low to mid-20s.
From behind the wheel, the Mazda5 is an OK driver. Steering isn't especially precise, but it has good on-center feel and directional stability. For such a relatively tall car, there's little buffeting from crosswinds or passing trucks. Brakes are solid, with communicative pedal feedback.
Throttle tip-in can be a bit quicker than expected, especially when accelerating from a stop around a corner. But for the most part, engine response is easily managed.
Speaking of engine response, while the Mazda5 is reasonably peppy with a couple people belted in, load it up with a weekend's worth of yard stuff or with another couple for a night on the town, and movement gets a little sluggish. There's still enough torque to get everything underway with relative ease, but beyond that, evidence of strain emerges. Planning ahead is required for merging on to a freeway or for passing on a two-lane road. All that mass also explores the brakes' limits and shifts the car's balance around, converting abrupt evasive moves into exciting moments. Even unloaded, quick left-right-left transitions are best taken no faster than socially responsible rates of travel.
The shift lever for the automatic transmission glides confidently through its gate. The automatic's manual shift mode is faithful to the concept, holding the selected gear regardless of engine speed. Push up to shift down, push down to shift up. The five-speed manual is definitely not a sporty gearbox, requiring careful aiming for gear selection. Clutch engagement is smooth, and pedal take up is neither too light nor too heavy.
Road noise is not especially intrusive, no more so, certainly, than in the Ford Freestyle. Suspension activity is more noticeable, with sharp pavement breaks resonating directly into the cabin, in part due to weight savings that bring the Mazda5 in well under the Freestyle's two tons.
The Mazda5 is an impressive package in this price range. It seats six yet takes up less space than a minivan and costs less to buy and operate. The new Grand Touring version adds a touch of luxury to this otherwise utilitarian package.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Tom Lankard filed this report from Huntington Beach, California.