Monday, November 3, 2008

Mazda5: Whatever you call it, call it good


We've always seen the Mazda5 as one of those, "What is it?" vehicles.
You know, the type that makes you wonder: sedan, small SUV, crossover, minivan or whatever?
The answer is a bit of each.
The Mazda5, introduced a few years ago as Mazda's replacement for its MPV minivan, is versatile, practical, fun to drive and even a little stylish, once you gain an appreciation for its unusual design.
You've probably heard all about how there has been such a sharp decline in minivan sales this decade, as the popularity of crossovers has risen.
But the fact is, minivans were a good idea in the first place because of the functionality they offered families and other people who wanted easy access to the front, middle and rear rows of their vehicles.
Some crossovers have been able to offer that, others haven't.
But the Mazda5 has it, with its sliding side doors and middle-row individual seats.
Plus, with those seats and the back row folded down, you get a healthy amount of cargo space.
Loading boxes, groceries or a stroller is a breeze, making this a great vehicle for young families or grandparents, two key demographics of minivan drivers.
The sliding doors operate easily, and aren't heavy at all, but they do feel sturdy enough that you won't feel like they could come unhinged at any moment.
The second row seats slide fore and aft to give more legroom for passengers, or perhaps more room for stuff you might toss back there.
If passengers in that row are carrying gear such as duffel bags, they can toss that in the third row and sit quite comfortably.
In fact, the seats themselves are very comfortable. They are wide and cushiony enough to be accommodating on even a long trip.
The only problem you might have is that if you are a tall person driving, your legroom is a little bit compromised.
We wished Mazda had made the driver's seat with a bit more room to slide back, because after about 45 minutes to an hour of driving, things were getting a little cramped and we had to stop to stretch out.
But if you're under, say, 6'2", this shouldn't be a problem.
Design-wise, we loved the modern interior styling.
No boring minivan features are to be found here.
The control display on the dashboard even has sort of a luxury-type appearance.
You also get steering wheel mounted audio controls, an optional navigation system, dual 12V outlets and a sport shifter.
A sport shifter on a little minivan - is that really necessary?
Yes, because this thing lives up to Mazda's Zoom-Zoom credo.
Its suspension is tight, steering is precise and acceleration is energetic.
The five-speed automatic transmission shifts smoothly.
The aluminum 2.3-liter four cylinder engine makes 153 horsepower and 148 pounds-feet of torque.
But one of our favorite attributes is the gas mileage.
The Mazda5 is listed at 21 mpg city, 27 highway according to EPA data.
In combined driving, we got about 26 mpg.
That is very good for a six-passenger vehicle.
Another thing that we noticed that scored points for the Mazda5 is how when it was loaded down with people or stuff, it didn't seem to affect its performance.
We tossed in a few big lawn and leaf bags full of clothes that we were donating, and carried a few people to the donation center and had seemingly as much power as when the vehicle is empty.
Because of its relatively small size, zipping in and out of parking spaces is not a problem, either.
You can't say that for most minivans and some of the crossovers on today's market.
The sticker price on the Mazda5 we drove was $22,675.
The Mazda5 is another reason we think Mazda has one of the best product lineups among automakers today.
If you would prefer a crossover, check out the CX-7 or CX-9, two that are among the tops in their respective categories.
For a small sedan or hatchback, the Mazda3 is sporty, very stylish and priced nicely.
If it's a larger sedan you're after, the Mazda6 has been newly redesigned and now competes well with luxury cars of the same size but higher price ranges.

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