2006 Mazda Mazda5
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
What if you could pluck some of the best attributes from today's minivans and put them together with new features in a smaller, more nimble and economical package?
Mazda did just that, it seems, with its Mazda5, which debuted as a 2006 model.
But don't call the six-passenger Mazda5 a "minivan." Its outer shape may look like a minivan, but the size is smaller than what Americans usually see. Indeed, the Mazda5, which comes from Japan, is the kind of "multi-activity vehicle" that's more typically seen on space-constrained roads in Asia.
However it's described, the Mazda5 is surprisingly appealing with two seats in each of three rows, sliding second-row doors and decent cargo room in a compactly sized, runabout vehicle that should get a look even from non-minivan shoppers.
It also has an appealing price. Starting manufacturer's suggested price for a base Mazda5 with a manual transmission is about mid-$17,000.
Thus, it's some $1,000 less expensive than the lowest-priced minivan sold in the United States, the Dodge Caravan with four-cylinder engines and standard automatic transmission.
Indeed, the Mazda5 ranks not just as America's lowest-priced minivan. It's America's lowest-priced vehicle—sedan, minivan, sport utility, whatever—that's capable of carrying at least six people.
It's the size
Compared with some other six- or seven-passenger vehicles, the Mazda5 feels downright tidy on the road.
There's no wallowy or tippy sensation. The vehicle moves nimbly in traffic. And it's nearly effortless to park, even in rather cramped parking places at the mall. I felt more like I was driving a compact sedan than a vehicle with three rows of seats.
Note that a larger minivan, such as the Chrysler Town & Country, is 1.5 feet longer and 9.5 inches wider than the Mazda5.
The Mazda5, at 15 feet long and just over 5.3 feet tall, is just 10 inches longer than a Toyota Corolla sedan.
Mostly sprightly ride
Suspension is independent MacPherson strut in front and independent multi-link in back. Standard wheels and tires are 17-inchers.
The Mazda5's lighter weight plays a role, too, in making this vehicle feel sprightly—something that's not usually associated with minivans, especially one with a four-cylinder engine.
For example, weighing less than 3,400 pounds, the Mazda5 is at least 374 pounds lighter than the four-cylinder-powered Caravan and nearly 1,000 pounds lighter than Honda's Odyssey minivan.
Note, though, that the sprightliness is evident when the Mazda5 is carrying one, two or three people and not much more.
The vehicle dynamics—not to mention sense of power—deteriorate when the Mazda5 is loaded with people and cargo, which is why the Mazda5 might be a good choice for folks who don't usually carry five or six people but who want that versatility on occasion.
All four rear-most seats easily fold down, providing 44.4 cubic feet of cargo room, which is about the same as in the Caravan and much more than what's found in a typical sedan.
Horsepower in the Mazda5 is 157 and maximum torque is 148 lb-ft at 3500 rpm. This is close to the 150 horses and 165 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm in the base Caravan.
Drivers will notice that as the Mazda5 becomes filled with more people and cargo, the vehicle's brakes seem a bit less effective, and the tidy handling becomes sloppy.
The engine is heard right at startup but isn't overtly noisy.
Just don't expect to save a lot on gasoline.
Fuel economy for the Mazda5 is rated at 21 or 22 miles a gallon in city driving, depending on the kind of transmission in the vehicle. The highway rating is 26 or 27 mpg.
These numbers are about on par with the four-cylinder Caravan's 20/26-mpg rating but surprisingly are a bit less than the 20/28-mpg rating of the larger and more powerful Honda Odyssey with 244-horsepower V6.
The Odyssey van offers a system that can automatically deactivate some engine cylinders to preserve fuel.
Well thought-out interior
I guess the compact size isn't readily noticeable unless the vehicle is right next to a larger van, and the Mazda5 styling is pretty mainstream.
But people appreciate the Mazda5 when they have a chance to see what's inside. Folks I showed were surprised to find six decently comfortable and attractive seats. Front bucket seats and second-row separate seats each come with an inboard, pull-down armrest.
Second-row seats slide forward and aft on a track for optimal positioning, and third-row riders, though quite close to the rear liftgate, have acceptable headroom, unless they're 6-footers.
The driver's seat has a manual, ratchet-type height adjustment so views over the large dashboard area are good. But I wish that the front passenger had seat height adjustment, too.
Check out the hidden storage areas in the second row. They're accessed by lifting up the second-row seat cushions. One of these storage areas holds the cupholders/tray that can be positioned between the second-row seats. The other is available anytime for storage of small items or even purses.
Note there's at least one cupholder for each seat.
The overall look isn't luxurious, by any means. But it's pleasant and functional.
In snug parking spots, I didn't have to worry about the Mazda5's open doors blocking my way or striking vehicles parked too close to me.
Sales momentum of the Mazda5 was hurt in fall 2005 when the vehicle was recalled because of reports of fires connected to the exhaust system. Mazda has since corrected the problem, which flared when drivers with manual transmissions kept their vehicles in lower gears during highway-speed driving.
It's noteworthy to tell how the company went all out to make things right for the early Mazda5 buyers affected by this safety recall. Not only did these owners get free loaner vehicles for the time their Mazda5s were in the shop, they received $500 cash for their trouble. And Mazda started their new-vehicle warranties all over again, in essence giving the owners a longer warranty. These actions are way beyond the usual treatment for people affected by a recall and reflects well on Mazda.