2006 Mazda5 Touring Review


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2006 Mazda5

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2006 Mazda5 Touring

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Mazda

It could be confusing. There a Mazda MX-5, and there is a Mazda5. But place the two side by side, and confusion evaporates. The MX-5, also known as the Miata, is the best-selling two-seat roadster in history. The Mazda5 is a... ???

Taxonomy fails at times like this. From a distance, a Mazda5 looks like a minivan. Its one-and-a-half box shape, with sliding doors on each side and a liftgate at the rear, says minivan. But doesn't Mazda already have a minivan in its MPV?

Indeed it does, and a closer look at the Mazda5 shows it to be noticeably smaller than the MPV, which is already one of the few current minivans that doesn't aspire to be a full-size van. With sport-compact styling clues like clear plastic covers over colored taillights, and, optionally on the Sport model or standard on the premium Touring model, lower cladding and a hot hatch-style rear visor wing, the Mazda5 is obviously not being aimed at your basic soccer mom.

Instead, the Mazda5 is being marketed to young and young-at-heart ``active lifestyle'' people as an alternative to any existing vehicular form, and Mazda calls the Mazda5 a ``multi-activity vehicle.'' More succinctly, it's yet another new-category crossover vehicle, in this case blending the space efficiency and passenger/cargo versatility of a minivan with a sporty small car, the Mazda3.

The Mazda5 was created by stretching a Mazda3 over four inches in wheelbase, with major revisions to the floorpan for its six-passenger, three-row seating configuration. In footprint, it's about the size of a compact wagon, but its relatively long wheelbase - three inches greater than the larger Mazda6 wagon - and tall stance with short overhangs all promise, and deliver, great space efficiency. The openings for the sliding doors are actually larger than those of the MPV minivan, and make passenger access in tight parking spaces a snap.

Both the Sport and Touring models feature a re-tuned version of Mazda's 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine with 157 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque matched to a standard five-speed manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes. Both feature 2+2+2 seating, with the rear two rows folding separately and the second row adjustable fore-and-aft for legroom. The main differences between the two are in exterior trim and interior appointment, with the Touring having automatic climate control and an upgraded audio system.

During my week with the Mazda5 Touring I had just parked and unloaded my bicycle for a ride at a spot popular with cyclists. No problem there - with the second and third rows folded, the bike fit easily, with no disassembly required. The car got plenty of looks, and one cyclist stopped, interested, and wanted to know all about it. What's there to say? The Mazda5 has plenty of space inside for bicycles, snowboards, boogie boards, skis, camping gear, climbing gear, dogs, people, groceries, you name it, without being large and unwieldy outside. It's comfortable on the road, with better handling and fuel economy than a regular minivan or even many crossover SUVs. And the price is right, too, at just over $20,000 well-equipped.

APPEARANCE: It is the box it came in, but that's the point. Take one medium-sized box, taper it a bit for aerodynamics and style, and add a small, sloping and sculpted second box to the front for the drivetrain. Result? One Mazda5. The stylistic details are pure Mazda, an angularly-bulging hood that flows into the corporate five-point grille with logo, bright complex headlights, and sporty-looking but not overdone wheel arches. Standard on the Touring and optional on the Sport is an aero kit comprised of lower front and side extensions, foglamps, and a spoiler over the top of the tailgate. All models have clear covers over colored taillights mounted high on the D-pillars, for a European look.

COMFORT: In style, the Mazda5's interior is much like that of the Mazda3, with grippy cloth upholstery, very good seat padding, and a black-and-gray color scheme with silvery plastic trim. In four-seat configuration, there is plenty of room for four tall adults, as the second-row seats can be moved fore and aft separately for legroom. With the second row all the way back, there isn't much third-row legroom, but in a more moderate position children or small adults can fit comfortably. Since each second- and third-row seat can be folded flat individually, cargo/passenger versatility is assured, and as mentioned, there is plenty of room for many different things. The sliding doors are wonderful for passenger loading, especially in tight parking spaces, and also help to position cargo. The load floor is not too high, for kindness to human backs. The Mazda5's interior can even be used for a camping bivouac, but some sort of hard cover over the seatbacks is necessary for that as there is a one foot-wide space between them.

SAFETY: Among the Mazda5's standard safety features are advanced-design front airbags, front seat side-impact airbags, and three-row side curtain airbags, three-point safety belts for all six seating positions, and four-wheel antilock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Compared to the sedan and hatchback models of the Mazda3, the Mazda5 is considerably larger and heavier. This, allied with a fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension that is tuned more firmly than in a minivan or crossover SUV, gives it a high degree of comfort and stability on the highway. The Mazda5 also works well on twistier roads - hey, P205/50VR17 tires are not your basic minivan spec - but, remember Physics 1A, it can't be as responsive as a smaller, lighter car. Still, it is more enjoyable than any minivan or SUV.

PERFORMANCE: Weight, to the tune of an additional 600 or so pounds compared to the Mazda3, also makes itself noticed in acceleration. Again, think Physics 1A, so this is expected. With nearly 3400 pounds to move, the 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine's 157 horsepower (at 6500 rpm) and 148 lb-ft of torque (at 3500 rpm) work a little harder than in a Mazda3. Zero-to-sixty time, at around ten seconds, is a couple of seconds longer, and fuel economy, at around 22 mpg average for my driving, is a few miles per gallon less. Balance that against the extra space, life is full of compromises. My test car had the optional four-speed automatic transmission, which worked well, but undoubtedly removed a bit of sportiness and mileage compared to the standard five-speed manual.

CONCLUSIONS: The Mazda5 is a useful, space-efficient vehicle.

SPECIFICATIONS
2006 Mazda5 Touring

Base Price			$ 19,510
Price As Tested			$ 20,400
Engine Type			dual overhead cam inline 4-cylinder
				 with variable cam phasing
Engine Size			2.3 liters / 138 cu. in.
Horsepower			157 @ 6500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 			148 @ 3500 rpm
Transmission			4-speed automatic (opt)
Wheelbase / Length		108.3 in. / 181.5 in.
Curb Weight			3,389 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		21.6
Fuel Capacity			15.9 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87-octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P205/50VR17 Toyo Proxes A18
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS and EBD standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		21 / 26 / 22
0 to 60 mph				est 10.0  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Automatic transmission			$ 900
Destination charge			$ included

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