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Short term (test drive): Mazda5


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Exterior

There is no denying that the Mazda5 is a Minivan. A look at the sliding doors and the rounded, two-box profile is all you need to confirm it. However, the vehicle hides its Minivan-ness pretty well, in fact, better than any other Minivan on the road. The triangular headlights lend a sporty look to the nose, like an angry feline, and the trendy clear taillights also create a somewhat sporty credence. And, from the side, it looks more like a lengthened Toyota Matrix than a Mommymobile. Style is a matter of personal taste, and some would laugh at the Mazda5's attempts to cover itself up. But I think that, for a Minivan, this is as good as it gets. 1 2 3 4 5

Interior

You can get the Mazda5's interior in any colour you like, so long as its black. I'd like to see at least a beige/tan option as well, because, for one thing, it doesn't get so hot in the summer, and for another, it doesn't always look like you're in a funeral procession. Though it is a dark environment, the Mazda5 does feel a lot more high quality than the HHR. The vast expanses of black plastic do a commendable job of soaking up the sunlight without bouncing it back into your face (though I wouldn't trust that aluminum-look centre console). The switchgear, like the vents and the HVAC knobs, feel sturdier, too. It is a simple layout, but it doesn't remind you every time you look at it that you paid more for less. Quite the opposite effect, I'd say. The little green slit above the controls where the readouts for fan speed, temp, volume, etc. are listed might take some getting used to; it's a lot of information to pack into a small space. The Mazda5's sound system kicks the HHR's butt. It is both louder and it puts out a more defined sound, though it tends toward distortion at high volumes. Another big difference: The Manual shifter is right where you expect it to be... Soul of a sports car, indeed!

Get into the second row captain's chairs, and you'll find them just as sturdy and supportive as the driver's and passenger's seats. The Mazda5 offers about the same copious amount of headroom as the HHR, along with the added benefit of being wider and longer, so the second row passengers don't get the feeling they're in a penalty box. Even with my brother occupying the passenger seat and me directly behind, there was still at least an inch of knee room. Also, the Mazda5 has fabric on the backs of its seats... No cheap plastic covers here. A clever feature is two storage bins that can be found underneath the 2nd row seats; you pull a little tag towards the back of the cushion and flip the cushion forward. A great place to put your valuables if you're travelling to the bad side of town. In the GT model, a pair of cupholders also flip out of one of the seats. Only a couple of complaints: Make sure that the headrests are raised at least one notch, otherwise, they will dig painfully into your back. The seatbelt is one of those pretensioning types, but the trouble is that it tensions itself before you've finished grabbing enough belt to strap yourself in! Lastly, there is no real place to rest your right arm (or your left arm, if you're sitting on the driver's side), unless you have the window open, which is ideally located for letting your arm dangle lazily out the side. Not a good idea in the winter, though.

The third row seats are best used for children only, or people you really hate. Still, it is nice to know you have them. Never try to sit there without raising the headrests to the maximum height, and make sure that the 2nd row seat in front of you is as far ahead as it will go. Even then, I would hesitate to put an adult back there for longer than maybe 15 minutes. At 5'7", my hair was getting a little too friendly with the headliner... And forget about trying to put on the Fedora.

All things considered, it is an excellent interior. I just wish you could get it in a different colour. 1 2 3 4 5

Powertrain

There is only one available engine with the Mazda5: A 2.3L. i4, making 157 horses and 148 lbs/ft. of torque. The torque peak is at 4,500 RPM, and the Mazda's dry weight is nearly 200 pounds porkier than the HHR. I prepared myself for an underwhelming engine. I was wrong, but, this time, it turned out for the better.

On paper, the 2.3L. Mazda mill looks overmatched. Drive it, though, and you'll find that it is up to the task of hauling ass... up to 6 of them, in fact. The biggest difference? Unlike the procrastinating Ecotec that we sampled in the HHR, the Mazda's engine knows how to rev. Kick the Mazda5's gas pedal and select a lower ratio, and it kicks you back, in the seat of your pants. As you feel the rush of acceleration, you'll also experience a wonderful sound coming up through the tailpipes, music to any gearhead's ears. I don't know how they did it, but Mazda was able to bottle up the might and fury of my Mercury's V8, and with only half as many cylinders! Trust me, this is the Minivan with the soul of a sports car!

The 5-Speed Manual shifter complements the engine perfectly. It is a little notchy and the throws are kind of long, but it is still light years ahead of the HHR's soupy stick. Plus, you don't have to reach down for it. It is right where you need it to be. Why anybody with a working left leg and right arm would choose the optional automatic is beyond me. The standard gives so much, and asks so little.

Is the Mazda5 really any faster than the HHR? Probably not, or, if it is, not by a whole lot. But I can tell you this much: it feels a heckuva lot faster than it is. It is so much fun to drive, you won't care how fast you are going. I don't know how Mazda got that sports car feeling into the Mazda5, but they deserve an award for it, especially when it has about 700 pounds of humanity along for the ride! 1 2 3 4 5

Ride & Handling

Put simply, the Mazda5 drives like a Mazda. The handling is sharp and smooth in snaky corners, even at speeds nearly twice the posted limit. It has a point & shoot interface: Point it where you want it to go, and it shoots to the place. Still, there is a sense of delay between where the front wheels and the rear wheels are, and this, along with a pinch of body roll, ensures you remember you are not quite piloting a sports car. Still, the Mazda3-derived suspension bits are very convincing, and, dare it say it, fun to drive!

Not surprisingly, that same fine-tuned suspension has an impact on the ride quality. But not too much. While not as Buick-smooth as the HHR, the Mazda5 has a fairly composed ride. I would imagine that rough stretches of road would shake the Mazda's steady demeanor, but there are none in the area where we did the test drive. There are dealerships from every major manufacturer (and some minor ones, like Jaguar) in this area. Many of the roads have been recently re-paved. Coincidence? I think not.

All things considered, I would say that the Mazda5's handling is about as close to perfect as a tall, 3,300+ pound Minivan is going to get. If there ends up being a bit of a tradeoff in the ride, and can deal with it. After all, that is why they make seats with all those adjustments! The Mazda5 earns another solid 1 2 3 4 5

Practicality

As I said earlier, the Mazda5's third row seat is pretty well useless, but it is still good to know it is there if you need it. I'm still young and limber, and quite able to clamber in an out of those small seats. Hence, the Mazda5 is about the perfect vehicle to party in with your friends. Think about it: You can take five buddies with you, wherever you are going. Each of them will have at least one cupholder, if not more. Crank up the tunes, hit the gas, and head out on the open road. Perhaps best of all: What kind of cop is going to pull over a Minivan? If that isn't as close to my perfect car as it gets, well... I would settle for an Aston Martin. 8)

As far as handling more plebian tasks, the Mazda5 seems like it would be able to handle just about anything you might ask. Every now and then, we have to take my Grandparents with us when we go places. That makes six passengers. The Mazda5 has six seats. While it may not be the most comfortable journey for those in the 3rd row, it beats having to take two cars. For grocery getting, there is very little cargo room with the third seat up. Fold it flat, though, and you open up a caverous space to haul all sorts of perishable goods. Fold down the 2nd row as well, and you've got an absolutely titanic (if not quite flat) amount of space; I can't think of anything that you would have to carry within reason that would not fit. In another contrast to the HHR, it's all carpeted back there, so the denser foodstuffs would have at least a little bit of something to hang on to when you start carving the corners.

In terms of practicality, I think the Mazda5 can truly do it all, while still delievering 4-cylinder fuel economy. Maybe it sounds a little too good to be true. Maybe it is. But I'm plenty convinced. The Mazda5 gets another 1 2 3 4 5

OVERALL SCORE: 23 (Max. 25, Min. 5)

FINAL THOUGHTS: I came into that test drive thinking that the Mazda5 would be spot on in just about every other field, but then make a huge compromise in the powertrain department. I'm glad to say I was wrong. For my money, there is no better crossover vehicle on the market today. Nothing else matches the Mazda5's remarkable blend of do-it-all utility with such car-like handling, an eager powertrain, and styling that is pleasing to the eye and the touch, inside and out. If me and my parents can afford it, I think this will be the one.

Edited by Petra
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Fascinating. As a long-time minivan owner (and also fan of the class of vehicles), I was curious to read someone else's opinion. I checked out a "5" back in April and was mostly impressed. I loved the styling and the general drivability of the thing. What I didn't like was the fact that it cost as much as a well-equipped standard length Caravan (which is a lot roomier) and the fuel economy w/auto tranny wasn't appreciably better than the heavier Caravan's either. (Caravan is rated 19/26 MPG with the torquey 3.3L V6, while the Mazda 5 w/ ATX is rated 21/26 MPG. Interestingly, the more powerful Mazda 6 wagon is rated 20/27 MPG).

I like the size and concept of the 5 but I was hoping for better fuel economy.

Edited by NeonLX
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Yeah, I think the 5 is a genuinely cool vehicle, and I'm struggling to understand why it isn't catching on, especially when dealers are advertising them for $16,995. Sure, it could be more powerful or better made, but besides that, the only explanation I know of is that most don't want fun in practical vehicles (?)

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Kudos to Mazda for reviving this segment in the US. Now we'll see how long it takes other companies to take an interest. After all there are more than a dozen 5-7 seat C-segment MPVs on the market globally, even excluding such smaller 5-6 seat models such as the PT Cruiser, Renault Scenic and Honda FR-V, with more on the way.

Ford Focus C-MAX (a rebel with only 5 seats)

Chevrolet Vivant (older, still 5-seats)

Lada Nadezhda

Toyota Corolla Verso

VW Touran

Mitsubishi Dion

Opel Zafira

Renault Grand Scenic

Nissan Lafesta (seen on test in the US, but apparently dropped from plans)

Mazda5

Kia Rondo (coming to the US soon)

Toyota Wish

(Peugeot and Honda have 7-seat 3-row station wagons in this size class)

Edited by thegriffon
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As a Mazda3 owner I had the 5 for a couple of days while my baby was getting some warranty work done and I was mightily impressed .. the chasis was a lot stffer than I expected and the resduction of fun from the lower lighter 3 was not very noticeable ... I loved it very much ...

as said in an earlier post .. if I had any need for 3rd row seats - Mazda5 would be on top of my list .

Igor

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Can you take out the 3rd row?  So many 3-row vehicles have a totally useless third row, and the 5 appears to be one of them.

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Well, the 3rd row in the Mazda is actually arguably more useful than in the Tahoe.

Specs: headroom/legroom/shoulder room/hip room

07 Tahoe: 37.9 / 25.6 / 61.7 / 49.1

06 Mazda5: 37.1 / 30.7 / 49.2 / 40.9

(keep in mind Mazda says the 3rd row seats 2, Chevy says it seats 3)

the bench in the Mazda, also folds flat to the floor ....

you actually want the seats in there and up, if you only have a couple bags of croceries in the boot - otherwise you have the contents flying around the cargo area and the car itself.

EDIT: I had legroom and headroom switched ... sorry.

Igor

Edited by Igor2
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Okay Igor. 25.6 inches of headroom in the Tahoe? That's definitely a kid or dog seat, bleh. My problem is also, like those old 3-seat wagons, it seems unsafe to put kids that close to the rear end in case of accident. And they are easier to tend to from the front if they're in the second row. I'd rather have a larger cargo area (with hooks for grocery bags, and a net to secure small things) than a seat in the way that would never get used.

I actually like the 5, except for the massive, trendy taillights. I really like the fact that a good percentage I've seen on the lot are 5 speeds. I like the interior. I just happen to like the HHR more. 175hp is a nice, round number, and with the addition of black as an interior color option for '07, that kind of clinches it for me. My "build & price" object d'amour right now is an HHR 2LT, Imperial Blue with Ebony leather, polished wheels, roof rails, and sunroof.

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I actually like it in idea, but not in this particular application. Take a look at gas prices. Now downsize a minivan and boost the gas mileage. It's a great idea. A shortened minivan would sacrifice some interior space, no question - but I think in today's gasoline-price-climate, I would think that there would be a market for something like this (if done right).

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Okay Igor.  25.6 inches of headroom in the Tahoe?  That's definitely a kid or dog seat, bleh.  My problem is also, like those old 3-seat wagons, it seems unsafe to put kids that close to the rear end in case of accident.  And they are easier to tend to from the front if they're in the second row.  I'd rather have a larger cargo area (with hooks for grocery bags, and a net to secure small things) than a seat in the way that would never get used.

I actually like the 5, except for the massive, trendy taillights.  I really like the fact that a good percentage I've seen on the lot are 5 speeds.  I like the interior.  I just happen to like the HHR more.  175hp is a nice, round number, and with the addition of black as an interior color option for '07, that kind of clinches it for me.  My "build & price" object d'amour right now is an HHR 2LT, Imperial Blue with Ebony leather, polished wheels, roof rails, and sunroof.

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OCNBLU .. I had headroom and legroom switched in my numbers..

and I copletely understand your position.. I do not have kids, so such though do not float around my head ;).... also as a Mazda3 owner and a huge fan of FoMoCo handling, I am simply biased ... ;) ... HHR looks nice, but it is not a type of car I would like to be seen in - it is simply not my cup of coffee...

Cheers.

Igor

Edited by Igor2
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Let me ask everybody something:

If Chevrolet took the HHR:

1) Re-worked the retro-front-end styling into something modern (think GM's new CUV's)

2) Replaced the existing rear-doors with sliding-minivan-type-doors

3) Kept the price/power/mpg in the same neighborhood as the HHR (and perhaps offering the 260hp DI 2.0 turbo as an option)

Would that be an attractive combination?

Edited by cmattson
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Let me ask everybody something:

If Chevrolet took the HHR:

1) Re-worked the retro-front-end styling into something modern (think GM's new CUV's)

2) Replaced the existing rear-doors with sliding-minivan-type-doors

3) Kept the price/power/mpg in the same neighborhood as the HHR (and perhaps offering the 260hp DI 2.0 turbo as an option)

Would that be an attractive combination?

173364[/snapback]

HHR's too small/space-inefficient inside.

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It does have a tall greenhouse (it's a van, not a wagon), but the floorspace is crowded with seats, at least that's how it seems to me when I look inside. Edited by ocnblu
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I actually like it in idea, but not in this particular application. Take a look at gas prices.  Now downsize a minivan and boost the gas mileage.  It's a great idea.  A shortened minivan would sacrifice some interior space, no question - but I think in today's gasoline-price-climate, I would think that there would be a market for something like this (if done right).

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I'm with you. I liked the "5" until I looked at the EPA ratings on the window sticker. Jeez, it doesn't do hardly any better than my current larger, heavier & more powerful Caravan. But at least it has far less interior room.

If they could somehow keep the interior volume maximized AND give fuel economy at least as good as the current Malibu V6 (21/32 MPG), I might bite.

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