Test Drive: Mazda5

When it comes to vehicle usefulness, it?s impossible to find a vehicle with the capacity, comfort and capabilities of a minivan.? Unfortunately, minivans have been painted with the ?soccer mom? stigma that has turned many trendy families away in favor of sport utes or more recently crossovers.

Well, it?s time to re-think buying the minivan.? There are some great values on the market from Chrysler, Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Kia, but the one that stands out from the herd, is the Mazda5, because it?s so different and so much fun to drive.

It?s also the only minivan, that?s still mini.? At 180-inches long, it is about the same length as a Toyota Corolla and Honda CR-V.? It?s nearly two feet shorter than the iconic Chrysler Town and Country van and weighs about1,300 poundsless.

Aside from the demur size, the Mazda has the highest fun to drive quotient and it sports an EPA fuel economy rating of 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, making it the best, in the segment.? And for enthusiasts that lust for manual transmissions, the Mazda5 Sport is available with a six-speed manual transmission.

All-new for 2012, the Mazda5 has a cutting edge styling, which Mazda calls ?Seductive Smartness.?? The vehicle silhouette is similar to the original with its dramatically laid back windshield and the roofline that tapers down toward the rear.? What is dramatically different is the new Mazda family broad smiley face grille and a unique wave-like pattern stamped into the side panels.? At a distance the waves first looked like graphics, but they are very much real and stamped into the steel doors.? The result is a dramatic and sophisticated ?Nagare flow design language? which is said to represent the forces of wind and water?and it works creating a unique look.? The design also produces a super slippery 0.30 coefficient of drag.? No other van has the same styling drama.

???????? Inside the same Nagare design language is used on the instrument panel, trim, seats and even the seat fabrics.? The result is a rich, sporty looking interior that is both comfortable with supportive seats for longer trips.? Seating is in a 2-2-2 configuration, with the third row best suited for smaller children. Nevertheless, four passengers in individual bucket seats can be very comfortable and have room for up to 44 cubic feet of cargo with the third row seat folded and significantly more with the middle seats folded flat.? Interior space is maximized, too, with features like hidden storage spaces under the middle seats and spacious storage space between the first and second row seats.

? Unlike the larger minivans, Mazda5 doesn?t have the power sliding side doors and rear hatch.? Rather the lightweight doors slide easily opening and closing with a very light touch.

Powered by the same 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that is used in the Mazda3, Mazda6 and CX-7, the new larger (increased from 2.3-liters to 2.5) Mazda5 engine is rated at 157-hp.? The engine is mated with a standard six-speed manual transmission on the Sport model or an optional five-speed automatic with manual shift control.? The automatic is standard equipment on the Touring and Grand Touring trim levels.

With the new larger engine, 0 to 60 mph acceleration times are dropped by about a second to 9.1 seconds.? That?s about a second or two slower than the larger competitors with V-6 engines, but they take more fuel.? We actually averaged 25.6 mpg during our week driving the Mazda5, that?s 5 to 7 mpg better than the competitors.? That could save you enough money on fuel in a year to make a payment or two.

The Mazda beats all the larger minivans easily in the corners.? It has a strong dose of the Mazda Zoom-Zoom DNA, which includes four-wheel independent suspension and four-wheel disc brakes.? It stays flat and firmly attached to the road with good feedback and a precision feel, more like a sport sedan than a bulky van.? It was also superior in town fighting through traffic or maneuvering through tight parking lots.? The tight 36.7-foot turning radius is a big plus, too.

?????????? The Mazda van comes in three trim levels ? Sport, Touring and Grand Touring ? with the base price starting at $19,990, including the destination charge, for the Sport.? At that price, the Sport includes the manual transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, power windows and locks, keyless entry and cruise control in addition to all the standard safety equipment that?s included on all trim levels.

Step up to the Grand Touring, ?model with automatic transmission for $24,720 and the equipment list grows with 17-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, leather seating (heated in the front), premium audio with Sirius Satellite Radio, Bluetooth and a few other cosmetic and convenience goodies.? Options are limited to a few cosmetic and convenience upgrades that add only $1,000 if all the option boxes are checked.? The only down side is there is no built-in navigation option.? But on features alone, the Mazda5 Grand Touring gets extra points for its value.

For someone who wants the convenience of a minivan, but doesn?t need seven or eight passenger capacity, the Mazda5 is a winner for $5,000 to $20,000 less than the competition with the added bonus of sporty handling and better fuel economy.

By Barbara & Bill Schaffer

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