2006 Mazda Mazda5
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Mazda calls its cheeky new Mazda5 a "multi-activity sports vehicle," but it just as easily could be called a crossover, compact car, sport utility—or a microvan because of its sliding side doors.
Call it what you want, the front-wheel-drive, car-like Mazda5 is the type of vehicle that a growing number of drivers are buying with $3-a-gallon gasoline instead of midsize and big SUVs, which are fuel-thirsty and often not much fun to drive.
The youth-oriented Mazda5 is based on the sporty, popular Mazda3 compact car and is a 6-seater, although you might not guess that, considering its compact size. However, the distance between its axles has been stretched from 103.9 inches 108.3 inches for a roomier interior.
The built-in-Japan Mazda5 comes from the innovative automaker that has given us the unique rotary engine on and off since 1970. The rotary—currently used in the Mazda RX-8 sports car—is small with few moving parts.
But a rotary isn't economical enough for the Mazda5, which uses a sophisticated-but-conventional 2.3-liter 4-cylinder engine with 157 horsepower.
Decent Fuel Economy
The Mazda5 is priced to create buzz among the iPod crowd at $17,435 in Sport trim and $18,950 in Touring trim.
Added to the Touring are automatic climate control, a power tilt-and-slide sunroof and an AM/FM radio with an in-dash 6-disc CD changer with 6 speakers.
Fairly big, attractive 17-inch alloy wheels similar to those used on Mazda sports cars are standard. And the grippy all-season 50-series tires are wider than one might expect to be put on basically an economy-oriented vehicle.
Despite its utilitarian nature, the Mazda5 looks sporty, with slick styling and body color grille, door handles and front/rear fascias. The Touring trim level looks the sportiest with standard fog lights, side sill extensions below doors for a lower appearance and a rear spoiler.
You can get the Touring's sound system, sill extensions and spoiler for the Sport in a $490 Popular Equipment package.
The sunroof costs $700 for the Sport, and the Touring has a $2,000 navigation system. A DVD entertainment system is $1,200 for both versions.
Large openings behind the sliding doors allow easy entry to second-row seats. The third-row seat area is hard to reach and is best left to small children.
Large Cargo Area
Tall drivers will find good room up front in side-supportive seats, and the roomy second row area's adult-size seats slide fore and aft and have reclining backrests. A vehicle height of 64.2 inches allows generous headroom. There are plenty of cupholders and numerous interior storage compartments.
The dual overhead camshaft 16-valve engine is made of aluminum for light weight to improve handling by minimizing weight over the front axle.
Larger Engine Needed
While it's an easy highway cruiser, the Mazda5's tachometer registers a rather high 3000 rpm at 70 mph. Revs at or below 2600 rpm would be more comforting because that would indicate the engine isn't working as hard.
Fun to Drive
The rigid body works with an all-independent suspension with front/rear anti-roll bars. It delivers a supple ride and resists body lean in curves. Short front and rear overhangs help handling and parking ease.
Stopping distances are commendably short, and the brake pedal has a nice feel. Front brakes are ventilated for extra cooling and better stopping power in tough conditions.
The hood is held open with a prop rod instead of a more convenient hydraulic strut. Although crowded, the engine compartment has conveniently located fluid filler areas.
Vehicles such as the Mazda5 are popular in Japan and Europe, where space and utility must be maximized and driving performance and economy are important. High gasoline prices are making vehicles with those attributes more popular in America.