- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 18, 2006

Mazda, the Japanese auto manufacturer, has come up with what it is calling a totally new type of vehicle, claiming that there’s nothing else like it in today’s marketplace. It is the Mazda5, a sleekly styled, compact multiactivity sports vehicle that seats six comfortably with three rows of seating, while providing added functionality for both passengers and cargo through its versatile configurability.

The Mazda folks stress that the Mazda5 is not a minivan, not a wagon, nor a crossover SUV. It’s not really a sports car either, except in spirit, but rather a unique new form of transport that appears to be just the right size for a multitude of applications.

The Mazda5 rides on a 108-inch wheelbase, is only 181.5 inches long overall, is 69.1 inches wide, and stands only 64.2 inches tall. Its wedge-shaped form is highly aerodynamic, boasting a low 0.29 drag coefficient. There are sliding middle doors like those generally found on minivans, with a rear lift gate.

Mazda5 comes in two trim levels: Sport and Touring. Both versions are powered by a 2.3-liter, DOHC, 16-valve four-cylinder engine, with VVT and electronic multiport fuel injection. The zippy little engine produces 157 horsepower and 148 foot-pounds of torque driving the front wheels. The standard gear-changing apparatus is a five-speed manual affair, while a four-speed electronically controlled Sport automatic with a manual gearshift mode is available as an option.

Inside, there are captains seats up front and in the second row (the latter both slide and recline) — both with center console setups. In the third row, the seats feature a 50/50 split, and are capable of folding flat forward by operating a convenient release strap, which also serves to pull the seat backs into their upright position.

As with most vehicles that provide three rows of seats, there is limited space behind the third row when the seats are occupied. In the second row, the seatbacks fold forward, and the seats tip forward for third-row access. The hanging center console follows the current trend of positioning the shift knob or gear selector in a high-mount, readily accessible location. The sunroof is standard n the Grand Touring version.

The test Mazda5 was done up in the Touring trim with the Sport automatic gearbox, finished with a Cardinal Red metallic exterior and gray-and-black interior with aluminum-toned trim accents. The base price was set at $18,950 with only the automatic transmission and delivery and processing fees adding to the total for a final sticker amount of $20,410.

The Mazda5’s light weight (3,389 pounds) and standard, 17-inch, five-spoke alloy wheels contribute to the vehicle’s quick, nimble, responsive feel. The steering is rack and pinion with a variable-ratio electrohydraulic power assist, for low-speed maneuverability and positive high-speed feedback.

The ride is firm enough to provide a sporty quality in handling characteristics, but compliant enough to deliver a most comfortable quality.

Acceleration is surprisingly responsive, given the Mazda5’s deceptive look of greater mass. The three-gauge instrument cluster and three-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel with redundant controls add to the functionality of the driver-oriented and sporty cockpit arrangement.

All in all, the Mazda5 offers up an ideal choice for the individual who wants more than is offered by the Mazda6 wagon, and yet doesn’t need everything that the Mazda MPV provides. It’s price seems to match its size. The Sport model rings up at the register for even less, making it accessible for those with more modest budgets — and, with the same level of performance and functionality.

Mazda has appropriately teamed with Quicksilver — the sports apparel and equipment designer and manufacturer with a focus on an active, youthful market. The Mazda5, with its innovative concept, may well be the perfect multiactivity sports vehicle.

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