Unveiled in September 2004 at the Paris Motor Show, the Mazda5 straddles a line between SUV, minivan, and wagon. Still, not everyone would call it a "crossover," which is one of today's big buzzwords for vehicles that blend benefits of several body styles. Mazda correctly advises that nothing else on the market is quite like the Mazda5, noting that it "breaks convention."
Seating six occupants on three rows of seats, the Mazda5 is fitted with sliding rear doors like a minivan. Compact dimensions are considerably smaller than those of a minivan, however, which translates to easy handling. Built on a 108-inch wheelbase, the Mazda5 is 181.5 inches long overall and 64.2 inches tall.
Beneath the hood sits a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 157 horsepower at 6500 rpm, as well as 148 pound-feet of torque at 3500. A four-speed automatic with manual-shift mode is the sole transmission. Front and rear anti-roll bars are included in the fully independent suspension, and Mazda claims a turning circle that's under 35 feet, suggesting impressive maneuverability.
Standard alloy wheels hold 17-inch tires. A two-stage liftgate makes it easier for shorter persons to open and close the rear cargo area. Weighing a relatively modest 3,333 pounds, the Mazda5 features a body-colored grille, fascias, and door handles.
Sport and Touring models are available, the latter adding a six-CD changer, moonroof, foglamps, automatic climate control, side sill extensions, and a rear liftgate spoiler.
More than might be expected, the Mazda5 is an enjoyable vehicle, of suitable size for most families, in the European mold. Except for an occasional slight sputter in the engine of a test model, not much fault could be found with the Mazda5. Performance is hardly record-setting, but response is smooth and acceleration is more than adequate for most drivers - actually rather spirited in takeoffs. Well-behaved transmission operations helps make the Mazda5 friendly and appealing.
Especially easy to maneuver, it corners like a compact car, and body lean isn't much of an issue in curves. Ride comfort beats most SUVs and many minivans, with no discernible penalty for such satisfying handling traits.
Exceptionally easy to enter, the Mazda5 is comfortable once you're inside, occupying seats that are close to chair-height. Despite a low roof, it offers plenty of head space.
Very little engine sound is evident, though you can tell it's a four-cylinder if you listen closely. A slight touch of road noise occurs at times.
Driver's seat bolstering is snug but unobtrusive. The lighted gear indicator is handy. Visibility is super, except for some blockage by the right-hand second-row headrest. All told, the Mazda has just about everything for practical motoring, for one appealing price: $19,510 (including $560 destination charge), plus an extra $900 for an automatic transmission rather than stick shift.