2006 Mazda 5 Review
Procreating pistonheads must give up many things: impromptu sex, driving nowhere in particular, sleep. Unfortunately, twisty tackling and stick shifting are also on the parental hit list. Even Dads or Mums with a sports car tucked away in the garage end up spending virtually all their driving time schlepping their brood in a slushbox-equipped family hauler. Yet all is not lost. A three-rowed three-pedaled bespoilered people-mover survives in clutchophobic America: the Mazda5. This vanlet offers pistonheads hope they can meet their needs and satisfy their desires with a single set of wheels. Or not.
The 5’s basic shape— droopy nose, big boxy butt, conspicuous door tracks— is all minivan. Just this, and no self-respecting pistonhead would bite. So Ford’s Japanese subsidiary gilded the box with a huge crosshatched grille, a fierce boy racer body kit, high-mounted Altezzas and bold five-spoke 17-inch rims. It’s not much of a disguise, but sleep and adrenalin deprived enthusiasts could well be fooled.
Unless they enter the Mazda5’s interior. For anyone wondering how Mazda managed to add the sliders and a third row to the Mazda3 platform without hoiking-up the price, the answer lies within. Low-rent door panels and seat upholstery leave no doubt that this ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no foolin’ around. All but the most desperate enthusiast will see past the three-spoke wheel’s perforated leather and center stack’s once-fashionable faux metal to clock the hard plastic surfaces struggling to relate to one another. The 5’s a penalty box for those who’ve done a bit too much foolin’ around, devoid of the chic, clever style that graces other Mazda interiors.
Functionally, the Mazda5’s interior fares better. If you’ve just an offspring or two aboard, there’s plenty of packaging pleasure to dull the ocular pain. Buckle said offspring into the reclining second-row captain’s chairs. Then tuck the Mazda5’s not-quite-adultworthy, virtually inaccessible third-row seat under the floor and chuck it all in: strollers, multifangled saucers, black hole baby bag and the rest of the twenty-first century infant's prerequisites. Should baby make five, it’s time for another sacrifice. Mazda offers a foldaway seventh semi-seat—overseas. American clutchophiles with five alive who want to travel with both their family and their gear must opt for the rooftop cargo box, and kiss the 5’s sportingly low center of gravity goodbye.
Once underway, it’s instantly clear that fecund torque junkies need not apply. The Mazda’s 157hp double-cammer loves to pile on the revs, but there’s no escaping the fact that its four pots nestle in the nose of a vehicle weighing over 3300 pounds. It’s often necessary to shoot the tach needle to the far side of five grand in search of thrust. Punish the go-pedal and you’ll still be lucky to hit 60 in under nine seconds. On the positive side, the manual’s high-mounted shifter falls readily to hand and slides from gear to gear with satisfying smoothness and precision. Swap cogs early and often and the four feels almost frisky. I repeat: almost.
Dive into some curves and the please-don’t-call-it-a-minivan leaves the laws of gravity in the dust. No other three-row vehicle approaches the Mazda5’s agility. All but the most compact SUVs and minivans feel at least twice as heavy as the Mazda through the bends. Except when they're twice as heavy; then they feel three times as heavy. The Mazda’s steering reacts quickly with the light, precise feel typical of the marque’s compact zoomers. Understeer happens, but the front end’s V-rated 50-series rim protectors put up a long, hard fight before ultimately sliding curbwards.
Although the Mazda5 towers nearly seven inches over the Mazda3, it doesn’t heel over in hard turns like a Caravan caught in a gale-force crosswind. And the 5's multilink rear suspension tap dances over bumps adroitly enough to prevent patchy pavement from waking the rug rats. However, any six-seater that drives like a sport compact is going to assault the ears like one too. Lexus-spec sound insulation would add considerable kilos, so you won’t find it here.
Fancy footwork notwithstanding, there’s no escaping the fact that the Mazda5 is, beneath all the fancy kit, a minivan. As long as the road is sufficiently twisty, the fingertips and seat of the pants receive the right sensations. But the Mazda5’s upright seating position, steeply-raked windshield and invisible hood conspire to kill the excitement. An inescapable awareness of the sliding doors taps in the final nail.
Ultimately, Ford of Japan hasn’t sufficiently disguised the nature of this minibeastie. The microsegment of diehard heel-and-toers with four children may have no alternative. But pistonheads who haven’t been quite so prolific require more enticement to lure them out of their three-kid-plus-cargo-capable hot hatches, new wave sport wagons and Japanese rally refugees. Third row, third pedal, sporting handling or no; six into 5 does not go.
[Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, a vehicle reliability and price comparison site.]
P00ch on Jul 15, 2007
For a clutch-happy family of 3 or 4 who doesn't want an SUV or 'full-size minivan', and doesn't mind a Euro-style four banger, this vehicle represents great bang for the buck. Although the low price is reflected in the interior plastics, the 5's handling and interior capacity make up for it. I get a kick out of driving this thing like it's a hot-hatch. Pros: ample hooning capability with little payoff in fuel consumption, tons of cargo space and versatility, low price. Cons: cheap interior plastics, could use 6th gear for highway driving, awful boy-racer taillights. But if you've got 3 kids plus, go with a larger alternative.
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