- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

Well, it was only a matter of time before someone would create a minivan that drives like a sports sedan. Leave it to the folks at Mazda to figure out how to re-engineer the Mazda 3 platform into a nifty, versatile minivan without compromising the fun-to-drive aspects of the original car.

The Mazda 3, for those who haven’t been following the market, is a runaway success in the small sports sedan category. It’s a super value for the money and a pure delight to drive, as any owner will tell you. Sales of the 3 are running way above the manufacturer’s forecast.

Not to rest on its laurels, Mazda tweaked the 3’s basic platform and designed the 5 as a totally new segment in the market. It couldn’t have come at a better time, by the way, because fuel prices are re-shaping the way people think about their transportation choices, especially when it comes to SUVs.

Anyway, the Mazda 5 is a hip-styled, “sport-minivan” that, in my opinion, answers a lot of needs. It has capacity for 6 passengers even though it looks from the outside like it would barely hold 4. That’s due to very efficient interior space design that includes a third seat and sliding side doors that are so perfectly balanced that all you need is two fingers to open and close them. Why the sliding doors, you ask? Because opening doors and getting in/out in today’s narrow parking spaces has become a bit of a nuisance. The sliding door makes it easy to do so while allowing for a wide opening.

There are so many other clever little features that you need to visit a showroom to check them out.

Driving the 5 is a delight. It feels in every way like the Mazda 3, which is to say sporty, quiet, nimble and silky-smooth. Once inside there’s no way you’d know you’re driving a minivan; it’s that car-like in every way. Powering the Mazda 5 is a 2.3 liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 157 horsepower, coupled to either a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic, as was the case in the test car.

The test vehicle was equipped with a nicely integrated navigation system and automatic climate control, both of which were quite intuitive in their functions. The center seats folded flat and there was ample storage under the seats. The rear seat offers 50/50 split folding, and when all seats are folded the cargo floor is totally flat.

Safety features include three-row side air curtains along with driver/passenger front and side bags, ABS and a very well designed body structure. All these features and benefits come at a very good price, with an MSRP of $22,410 including destination, for a fully-equipped model.

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