Mazda calls the Mazda5 a "multi-activity vehicle infused with sports car inspiration" that "efficiently transports people and equipment like a large SUV."
We'll leave alone the question of whether the words "efficiently" and "large SUV" belong in the same sentence. It is a fact, however, that buyers who are attracted to the passenger and/or cargo capacity of an SUV may be put off by SUV bulk and SUV fuel consumption. A minivan does the same job more efficiently, but seems to carry a social stigma. Station wagons used to do the job, but have now all but disappeared.
So how does the style-conscious consumer transport spouse, children, parents and pets? Urban architects have known the answer for at least a century: Go vertical.
The skyscraper principle applies equally to motor vehicles. Start with a small-sedan chassis for handling, ride comfort, and fuel efficiency. Build the body tall to pack more people and things inside the same footprint. Then give it a clunky-funky look that says "SUV," or at least "SUV crossover," more than "minivan."
Europeans, who have lived with high fuel prices for decades, have been building and buying tall people movers since the 1950s. The Japanese, also, embraced the concept long ago. The idea is still novel in America, but vehicles as good as the Mazda5 just might help it catch on.
The Mazda5 is built on the same mechanical platform as the compact Mazda3 sedan. So it weighs less, and even covers a smaller patch of road than, say, Mazda's own mid-size sedan, the Mazda6. But the tall Mazda5 seats six, where even the Mazda6 sedan seats five at best. See how the game is played? And with the back two rows of seats folded, the Mazda5 will hold far more than your average station wagon. And it drives better than either a minivan or an SUV.
Introduced as a 2006 model, the Mazda5 gets styling and equipment updates for 2008. On the outside, the grille, front fascia, headlights and taillights are new. On the inside, Mazda has added a new shift panel and center console, electroluminescent gauges, second-row cool air vents with fan-speed controls, front and second-row seat armrests, an audio auxiliary input jack, and a tire-pressure monitor. An available five-speed automatic transmission also replaces the last year's four-speed automatic, and the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model now has more standard equipment.
The base Mazda5 Sport starts at $17,995, the mid-level Touring at $20,610. A totally tricked-out Grand Touring, with DVD entertainment, navigation, and Sirius satellite radio would still list for less than $27,000. Looked at this way, there's no competition, making the Mazda5 a good starter minivan for small families with small kids.
The 2008 Mazda5 is available in three trim levels. All are powered by the same engine, a 153-hp 2.3-liter inline-4. A five-speed manual transmission is standard for the Sport, and a five-speed automatic with a manual shiftgate is optional ($950). The automatic is standard for the Touring and Grand Touring models.
The Mazda5 Sport ($17,995) comes with air conditioning; cruise control; tilt/telescoping steering wheel with speed and sound controls; power windows, door locks and mirrors; remote keyless entry; four-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input jack; front bucket seats with fold-down inboard armrests; driver-seat height and lumbar adjustment; folding second-row bucket seats with inboard and outboard armrests; third-row split-folding seat; interior air filter; four passenger assist grips; roof rack, and carpeted floor mats, An attractive and durable-looking fabric covers the seats and door panels with seat side bolsters and insets wearing contrasting textures. The standard wheel-and-tire package consists of 205/50VR17 all-season radials on 17-inch alloy rims.
A power moonroof ($700) is optional, as is a Popular Equipment package, comprising an in-dash six-disc CD changer, a rear liftgate spoiler, and side sill extensions ($490).
The Mazda5 Touring ($20,610) makes the Sport's Popular Equipment package standard, and adds a rear spoiler, fog lamps, automatic climate control, two more speakers for the stereo, a leather cover for the steering wheel, and a combination fold-out table and cargo net bin for the center row of seats. Externally, the mirrors turn body-color (instead of black).
The top-line Grand Touring ($22,365) adds leather seats with matching cloth door inserts, heated front seats, automatic xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) headlamps, heated power mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, and a wireless cell phone link. Sharp-eyed observers might spot the GT's exclusive black light bezels, front and rear.
Options for all models include an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a compass and a universal garage door opener ($275); Sirius satellite radio with a six-month subscription ($430); a rear-seat DVD player ($1,200); a retractable rear cargo cover ($150); and remote engine starting ($350). Additionally, the Grand Touring model is offered with a navigation system ($2,000).
Safety features that come standard on all models include the required dual-action frontal airbags, plus front seat-mounted side-impact airbags for torso protection, and head-protecting side air curtains for all three rows of seats. Also, every seating position gets a three-point seatbelt and an adjustable head restraint. Be sure your passengers use those seatbelts as they're your first line of defense in a crash. The middle and rear seats have child safety seat anchors (LATCH). A tire-pressure monitor, antilock brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist also come standard. Traction control and electronic stability control are not available, which is odd for such a family-oriented vehicle.