$17,500 to $25,000 Front-Wheel Drive 6-passenger Compact Wagon
Who should buy this car:
A person looking for a small, funky looking, fun-to-drive vehicle that will seat 6 and be easy on gas
Comparable cars in this class:
Nothing Yet -- 5 passenger models include: Chevrolet HHR, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Focus Wagon, Kia Spectra, Mazda3 wagon, Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Matrix
When most people hear the name Mazda, the first thing that pops into their minds is a young lad whispering "Zoom-Zoom" on their TV screens. That memorable advertising slogan is still going strong even though that young boy has no doubt reached adulthood by now. More than just an ad campaign, "Zoom-Zoom has come to epitomize the very soul of this fast growing company. Just hop into any late model Mazda and take it for a spin to see what I mean. These cars have the moves that make drivers smile.
But Mazda's ambitions continue to grow and now the company wants to take the small Mazda3 sedan platform and turn it into a vehicle type never before seen in the US. Would you believe that they could build a vehicle that has 3 rows of seats suitable for 6 adult passengers while keeping the size within a few inches of that compact sedan's dimensions? Not only that, but could it be possible that they can do it without sacrificing their trademark fun-to-drive personality. Not likely you say? Breeep! Wrong answer.
To prove their point to the group of automotive journalists that they invited for this product announcement, a Mazda official pulled up in a shiny new Mazda5, got out of the driver's seat and jumped (easily) into the third row seat. He then invited two of us to populate the 2nd row and the driver's seat and adjust the seats to make ourselves comfortable. While it was somewhat tight in the back, it was far from intolerable for a 6 foot tall person to sit back there.
It is hard for us to imagine that a car not much bigger than a compact sedan can hold 6 adults in three rows of seats, yet here it is. In fact, in Europe where the Mazda5 has been on sale for several months, you can get it in a seven seat configuration with three across second row seating. That package will not make it to these shores because the seat belt anchors for the center passenger are not able to be positioned correctly to meet US regulations. So if you have seven people to transport, you will just have to resort to musical chairs.
This is a whole new segment for vehicles sold in this country. Mazda is gambling that there is enough interest in a small 6-passenger multi-activity vehicle to move 10,000 to 15,000 units per year. After seeing this vehicle, I would say that was a safe bet. This is the kind of vehicle that will find its way into American hearts as quickly as a sad-eyed puppy.
The first thing about the Mazda5 that catches your eye is the styling. You're hooked on its looks even before you find out that it has all this room and versatility. Then you notice the wide sliding doors on each side, minivan style, to make it easier to enter and exit in tight parking lots. Step in height is as good as, or better than a normal sedan, so older people can more easily get in or out without assistance.
If you don't have 6 people to ferry around, the third-row seats fold flat into the floor for cargo space. If you lift the cushions for the second row seats, they each contain a neat storage compartment that is perfect for tidying up for that unexpected passenger you may want to impress. Under the passenger side 2nd row seat, there is also a flip-out karakuri (Japanese for something that contains hidden or secret features ) utility box that can be positioned between the seats. This looks like a tray with 2 cup holders, but also has a compartment with a net-like sack to hold toys or other incidentals. The second row seats are adjustable for and aft and they recline, or they can fold flat for additional storage space.
Sit behind the wheel and you are greeted by a friendly cockpit that is comfortable and well laid out. Our test car was the Touring model with a few upscale options that added to the sense of a higher end vehicle without weighing down the bottom line all that much. Before we visit the options list, let's take a walk down the standard equipment column and see what we get for that measly $17,995 starting price.
We will begin with the fact that all Mazda5 trim levels come with a full complement of air bags as standard equipment. Of course, we have the dual front air bags which are required by all vehicles sold in the US. But then, Mazda adds front seat side air bags as well as head curtain air bags to protect the noggins of all three rows of occupants. Of course, it is always better to avoid using these nice air bags and to that end, the Mazda5 includes 4-wheel ABS (Anti Lock Brakes) and high performance V rated tires.
Not only did Mazda build the Mazda5 on a compact sedan platform, they certified it as a passenger car rather than a truck. Just about every other small SUV or minivan on the market is classified as a truck. This is done in order to keep the lower fuel economy of these vehicles from being included in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) figures for passenger cars. CAFE is a federal law that requires that the fuel economy ratings for a manufacturer's entire line of passenger cars must average at least 27.5 mpg. Light trucks fall under a more lenient requirement of 20.7 mpg. If they do not meet these figures, they must pay a fine of $5 per-vehicle-sold for each tenth of a mile per gallon they miss their target by.
Mazda felt secure enough with the fuel economy of this vehicle that they were able to classify the Mazda5 as a car, thereby including all the safety and emission features associated with this class of vehicle. In fact, the reason that privacy glass is not offered as a factory option is due to federal regulations for passenger cars. Don't worry, if you gotta have smoked glass, the dealer can install window tint after the sale as long as state law permits
We had ample opportunity to put the Mazda5 through its paces in the scenic Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. We drove on all types of roads from Interstate highways to winding mountain roads and were impressed by how Mazda never fails to inject a generous portion of Zoom-Zoom in their products. Even something as mundane as this miniature people-mover.
The 2.3 liter 4 cylinder engine is the same engine used in the Mazda3 and is the base engine for the Mazda6. This is a smooth power plant that offers lively performance with respectable fuel economy. This engine can be mated either to a 5 speed manual transmission or a 4 speed shiftable automatic, which was what we had in our test car.
Just like its older brother, the Mazda3, the steering is sharp and direct with no lost motion. You feel that the car will go exactly where you want and obey your every command. Throttle response was lively and brake feel was powerful providing smooth, easily controllable stops with little fanfare.
The ride was comfortable and smooth over most road surfaces. The suspension absorbed bumps and broken pavement fairly well without losing its composure. Highway driving was smooth and steady with very good directional stability and minimal wind noise. Some road noise entered the cabin on certain pavement surfaces, but was never objectionable.
The driver's seat was comfortable with good support for long stints behind the wheel. There was a manual adjustment for seat height as well as adjustments for steering wheel angle and reach. All controls were well placed and easy to operate. The radio controls had a more conventional layout than the hodgepodge of buttons and dials on the Mazda3. The layout was sensible and easy to use without having to whip out the owner's manual. There was also well laid out steering wheel controls for audio and cruise with well placed buttons that were illuminated at night.
The optional navigation screen flips up out of the top of the dash and is controlled by a panel to the left of the shifter that contained a joystick and a small array of buttons. On our trip back from the mountains to the hotel, we came upon an unexpected detour that rendered our carefully laid out turn-by-turn route guide useless. So we pulled over and programmed the GPS navigation system with the address of the hotel and let the friendly female voice guide us, turn by turn, right to the entrance of the hotel parking lot.
The Mazda5 proves that a practical vehicle does not have to be a dull vehicle. This little wagon is fun to look at, fun to drive, and fun to show off to your friends. It will appeal to a growing family as easily as it might appeal to a young college-bound coed with lots of friends or even her empty-nester parents. And making papa proud of his sensible daughter is a win-win bonus.