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2006 Mazda MAZDA5 review

May 3, 2006 12:25 PM EST | Mazda , Vans/Minivans | Email to Friend | Comments (0)

View large imageMazda may be taking a risk bringing its compact Mazda 5 minivan to the U.S., but if buyers can get honest about their needs for space and power, the 5 has enough of the right stuff to succeed.

Low price, generous features list, precise steering, stellar fuel economy for a minivan.

Can seem underpowered when fully loaded with people and gear, extremely cramped third row.

What's New for 2006
The Mazda 5 is a new, affordably priced compact minivan that seats six

Compact minivans, called space wagons overseas, are nothing new in Europe and Japan. For years, these space-efficient vehicles have served families who live in parts of the world where narrow streets, limited parking and high fuel prices make vehicles with petite dimensions a necessity. The concept was first broached on American soil 15 years ago when Nissan tried to woo families into the Axxess, a diminutive minivan whose looks called to mind a towering, dowdy station wagon. Buyers weren't impressed, and the Axxess was hustled into early retirement.

For 2006, Mazda boldly dives into these choppy seas with the introduction of the 5, a Lilliputian hauler with a low price tag. The 5 is bigger than its platform mate, the compact Mazda 3, but significantly smaller than every other minivan on the market. At 181.5 inches long and 69.1 inches wide, it's 2 feet shorter and 8 inches narrower than a Honda Odyssey, and exactly 8 inches shorter and 3 inches narrower than Mazda's already-small-for-its-class MPV. Tipping the scales at about 3,400 pounds with an automatic transmission, the 5 also slices nearly 400 pounds off the MPV's curb weight and over 1,000 pounds off the bulk of an Odyssey.

Despite its slight stature, the six-passenger Mazda 5 is a minivan through and through when it comes to amenities. Twin sliding rear doors are governed by a mechanism that allows them to be operated with the force of one finger. Second-row seats fold flat and recline. When the third-row seats are lowered, the 5 provides about a 5-foot-long load floor and a total of about 44 cubic feet of cargo room. Front side airbags and full-length head-protecting side curtain airbags are standard.

If ever the time was right for a compact minivan like the 5 to break into the U.S. market, it's now. Sky-high gas prices have left drivers desperate for fuel-efficient family transportation that doesn't force them to give up conveniences they've come to expect. On top of that, the 5's sporty looks and handling should prove much more palatable to buyers who didn't warm to the homely Axxess.

Body Styles, Trim Levels and Options:
The compact Mazda 5 minivan is available in two trim levels: Sport and Touring. The Sport trim includes dual manual-sliding rear doors, 17-inch alloy wheels, ABS, air conditioning with cabin filtration, a CD stereo, keyless entry, cruise control, and power windows, mirrors and locks. Step up to the Touring trim and you'll get a sunroof, automatic climate control, an upgraded MP3-compatible stereo with an in-dash CD changer, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and front foglights. Touring models are eligible for an optional voice-controlled navigation system, while Sport buyers can pick up the sunroof and CD changer as options.

Powertrains and Performance:
The 5 is powered by the same 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine found in the Mazda 3. In the 5, it produces 157 hp and 148 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard. Either trim may be equipped with an optional four-speed automatic. Fuel economy ratings are 22 mpg city, 27 mpg highway with the manual and 21/26 with the automatic.

Four-wheel antilock disc brakes with Electronic Brakeforce Distribution are standard on the 5, as are seat-mounted side airbags for front occupants. Standard side curtain airbags protect the heads of passengers in all three rows.

Interior Design and Special Features:
Getting passengers and cargo in and out of tight parking spaces is a snap thanks to the 5's sliding rear doors. Theater-style seating, with each row raised 2 inches higher than the one before it, allows even third-row passengers a view of the windshield. Both second- and third-row seats fold flat, offering an ample load floor and 44 cubic feet of cargo capacity. Those in the second row get 35.2 inches of legroom, but third-row passengers aren't nearly as lucky; they're stuck with a measly 30.7 inches. That's 10 inches less than you'll find in a Honda Odyssey, and just enough room for small children.

Driving Impressions:
Performance isn't a priority for most minivan buyers. Still, the 5's power-to-weight ratio is a real concern. While the van's 2.3-liter engine feels peppy in the Mazda 3, the 5's additional 600 pounds make it work hard. Acceleration is fine around town, but faced with merging into fast-moving freeway traffic or steep highway grades, the 5 feels underpowered. Zero to 60 mph takes 10.1 seconds, and that's with just a driver aboard; with a load of passengers, performance suffers even more. The minivan uses the same suspension design as the 3, including a multilink rear suspension. The result is minimal body roll, although the taller, heavier 5 feels a bit top-heavy in tight turns. Steering is as sharp as the sporty 3's, and a tricycle-tight turning radius makes the Mazda 5 a breeze to pilot in parking lots.

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