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2006 Mazda5

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San Francisco: If you're a family of 6, you have probably at least considered buying a minivan. There are plenty of good ones out there. But if you're worried that piloting one means giving up enjoyable driving, you now have an option. Take a look at the new Mazda5.

The new Mazda5 delivers six passenger seating and generous cargo capacity when four of those folks stay home. And its lean proportions make it surprisingly fun to drive.

Mazda is now part of Ford's automotive empire, but the company's leaders are very much aware of Mazda's reputation as the Miata making company. So they are concentrating on finding useful niches to fill. The four door RX-8 sports car is one way they have taken the path less traveled. The Mazda5 isn't the only microvan around, but it is the only one with three rows of two seats, and it's the only one that can claim family ties to the Miata.

The Mazda5 is significantly trimmer than the mainstream minivans. It's 7.6 inches shorter than a Dodge Caravan on a 5.3-inch shorter wheelbase. The 5 is a full 9.5 inches narrower than the Dodge, but has plenty of people space with its two abreast seating. It fits much better in your garage, too. Second row legroom is about an inch less than the Dodge and third row seating is about three inches less, but it's still adequate. The Mazda weighs 813 pounds less than the lighter of the two Caravans, so it can use a smaller engine with better fuel mileage.

My test unit, in sharp Cardinal Red, was a perfect little commuter during the week, when it transported one 175 pound man across a bridge and down the freeway in spacious comfort. As a minivan style vehicle, it has the long, extended windshield up front, with little trapezoidal windows helping relieve the massive base of the front pillar. Sitting a bit higher than a regular car, the 5 never feels claustrophobic. Mazda has set up theater style seating, so the second and third row passengers can see what's ahead.

On the weekend, my wife and I visited an antique dealer, and when we discovered a three-drawer chest for the dining room at a very attractive price, we dropped the second and third row seats and simply slid it in. You don't need to remove any headrests; you simply pull a lever and go. The second and third row seats are individual chairs, so you can fold down only one side and still carry something more than six feet long as well as four people. Both side doors slide open, like a minivan's should.

Mazda has made the 5 a pretty sporty proposition. Despite its boxy appearance, it handles well, thanks to an independent front and rear suspension, front and rear stabilizer bars, and variable assist power steering.

Stopping chores are easy with four-wheel disc brakes, with the fronts ventilated. Mazda stirred in Electronic Brakeforce Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist to keep your stops even and as powerful as possible. Antilock brakes are standard. The 17-inch alloy wheels look great, and may have some positive effect on the ride quality.

The Mazda5 comes two ways, Sport and Touring. I had the latter. Both models come only well equipped, not stripped down. All 5s get the aforementioned alloys, as well as power mirrors and a rear wiper. Inside, there are power locks and windows, remote keyless entry, cruise control, and air conditioning. You even get a standard AM/FM/CD stereo. The Touring adds a leather wrapped steering wheel, a sunroof, automatic climate control, a six-disc CD changer, and some visual enhancements.

The Mazda5 is economical, but it's no weakling. A modern aluminum 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine uses dual overhead cams to get 157 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. My test car had the optional $900 four speed automatic transmission, which worked fine but left me wondering how much more fun I could have with the manual. Mileage figures for my car were 21 City, 26 Highway, not hybrid level numbers but well ahead of the gas-guzzlers, including big, six passenger American sedans and full-size minivans.

Complaints are virtually nonexistent for this Japanese built hauler. My tester had no rear compartment cover, so there was minimal secure storage. The right front passenger had no left side, fold down armrest like the driver enjoyed. The intermittent windshield wipers had only a single speed. But that's it.

Price is a big part of the appeal of the Mazda5. The Sport starts at just $17,995 with a manual transmission. The Touring runs $1,500 more, but that's still under $20,000.

Sometimes it's good to have everything you need, including fun, but nothing you don't. The Mazda5 can help you get there with no problems.  By Steve Schaefer   © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo © AutoWire.Net
Column Name: 
 A microvan thatís surprisingly fun to drive
 The 2006 Mazda5
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 The 2006 Mazda5
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Mazda Internet Media
Series #:   2006 - 21

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