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2006 Mazda5 Review

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MAZDA 5 for 2006
A Pleasant Surprise

SEE ALSO: New Car Buyer's Guide for Mazda

By Steve Purdy
TheAutoChannel Detroit Bureau

This week’s tester was a very pleasant surprise. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a Mazda 5. Of course the classic Mazda MX5, better known as Miata, first came to mind but they are only cousins, not siblings. Both are Mazdas, the latter a most competent little sports car, the former a lovely little compact minivan. Mazda calls it an MAV or Multi Activity Vehicle. Built off the world class Mazda 3 platform, also shared with the Ford Focus, this sassy little van is attractive in many ways.

Who is it for? Well, after living with it a bit, I’d say it’s for youngsters, oldsters and many inbetweeners. The sporty, modern styling will certainly appeal to youngsters while the utility and the remarkably easy ingress and egress will appeal to the retired set. The compact size, good mileage and 6-passenger format might appeal to anyone. The slick sliding rear doors that open easily and close themselves will appeal, I think, to all of the above categories of potential customers.

One of my favorite aspects of the Mazda 5 is the driving position. It is an easy step directly into the roomy driver’s seat. Not up. Not down. Not constrained in any way. The standard tilt and telescopic steering wheel adjusts in both directions with more range than most. Extended all the way out and most of the way down it fit me perfectly. Seated mostly upright in the fabric bucket driver’s seat the steering wheel and other controls felt perfectly natural. The dash-mounted shifter is in easy reach and the audio and cruise controls on the steering wheel are well thought out. Materials, while not luxury-class, are of good quality, well designed and well put together.

Powered by a 2.3-litre, dual overhead cam, 16-valve inline four-banger the Mazda 5 was plenty quick. Variable valve timing and variable induction keep it efficient and dual balance shafts keep it smooth. It comes standard with a 5-speed manual gearbox but our test vehicle was equipped with the 4-speed automatic with manual shift mode. Shifts in the manual mode were leisurely at best. I wouldn’t use it necessarily for a sportier feel rather to keep the revs up for better performance. The 157 horsepower and 148 lb-ft of torque were plenty for most purposes but it runs out of grunt quickly if we don’t keep the revs up. A turbo on that engine might be nice. The EPA estimates about 22 mpg around town and 27 on the highway for the manual transmission and just 1 mpg less at each end for the automatic. With a 15.9-gallon fuel tank the cruising range is admirable.

Four-wheel disc brakes and standard ABS as well as electronic brake force distribution and quick rack-and-pinion steering provide confidence. We didn’t put it through enough rigorous testing to evaluate those features. All Mazda 5s come with 17-inch P205/50 all season tires on 5-spoke alloy wheels.

The unibody is reinforced with three H-shaped structural components, at the fire wall, B-pillar and C-pillar, for rigidity and crashworthiness. Being built for worldwide appeal the Mazda 5 is designed to pass the strict European standards for third row seat protection. Six airbags protect driver and passengers.

Plenty of storage and a versatile seating plan characterize the inside of the Mazda 5. Lots of cup holders and cubbies as well as storage and stowage areas add to its practicality for families or just for all the stuff we all like to have with us when we’re out and about. The 50/50 third row seats fold down with a pull of a strap and then pull easily back into place.

The basic Mazda 5 Sport starts at $17,995, the slightly better equipped Touring version starts at $19,510. About the only extras included in the Touring version are fog lamps, body colored outside mirrors, rear spoiler, side sill extenders, automatic climate control and an in-dash 6-CD changer with 6-speaker audio system.

Mazda has come back over the past four or five years from near oblivion. They no longer make the big sedan called Millenia. The last generation 626 was less than competitive in the market. And the wonderful RX7 died of old age. Now we have the flashy Mazda 6, new Mazda 3s, a redesigned MX5 and this year at the Detroit auto show an award winning concept sports car that may hint of a new RX7. Mazda is back as a serious competitor.

Take a look at the Mazda 5 and you’ll see why.

Steve Purdy, Shunpiker Productions