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
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
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.
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
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
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.
Steve Schaefer © AutoWire.Net - San Francisco
Mazda Home Page
Byline: Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo ©
microvan thatís surprisingly fun to drive
The 2006 Mazda5
Mazda Internet Media
2006 - 21
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