2009 Mazda Mazda5

Downsizing the minivan

2009 Mazda Mazda5
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It’s confession time; I own a Mazda5. In one sense this means that I already like the vehicle and think it’s a great buy. In another sense, I am intimately familiar with its shortcomings.

FAST FACTS

1. All Mazda5 models come with a 2.3-liter 4-cyl engine with 153hp and 148 ft-lbs of torque.

2. Fuel economy is rated at 21/27 mpg for the automatic or 22/28 mpg with the standard manual transmission (yes, you can get a van with a manual transmission).

3. The Mazda5 is priced like a compact car at just 18,665 (including the $670 delivery fee) to start.

My own vehicle is a first generation Touring model; as compared to the second-generation base (Sport) model I recently tested.

While different in man ways, there is something both my car and this one have – a five-speed manual transmission. I know Mazda probably sells as many manual transmission Mazda5s as they do Miatas to heterosexual men under the age of 40, but its honestly one of the main reasons I bought the thing.

Not only do I prefer driving a manual (as does my wife, who is the primary driver of the car), but a vehicle with a manual transmission costs roughly $1,000 less to purchase initially, allows for better fuel economy (or better performance depending upon your mood), breaks less often and if it does need maintenance is far less expensive to fix than an automatic transmission.

A TRULY AFFORDABLE PEOPLE MOVER

My GS tester, being almost as base a model as they come, is an appropriate vehicle for the times. It costs just $18,665 ($20,495 CDN), including the $670 delivery fee

For those who insist on the automatic transmission (that would be 99.9 percent of you), the entry level cost is $19,105 ($21,595 CDN) – still an impressively low number for a vehicle that seats six.

LONG LIST OF STANDARD EQUIPMENT

Included in that number is a healthy list of options, such as automatic climate control, power door locks and windows, remote keyless entry, arm rests for first and second row seats, a tilt and telescopic steering wheel with cruise control and redundant audio controls, as well as an AM/FM/CD audio system with an auxiliary input and six speakers.

Again, considering the price, the interior materials are of a high quality, with excellent seat fabric, nice faux-metal accents and an overall sporty design. And those who do opt for the manual transmission will definitely enjoy its location, sticking out of the dash in a sporty and convenient place, much like on the old van-like 2002 Civic Si – very European!

SECOND ROW CAPTAIN’S CHAIRS, PLUS THIRD ROW BENCH

The second row of the Mazda5 features two captain’s chairs, with a third row two-seater bench. The second row also gets rear cool air vents, which while nice, aren’t exactly climate control.

At first it appears as though there are no cup holders in the second row, however, they are located in a tray that folds out of the driver’s side 2nd row seat. Folding the tray out also creates a storage compartment, much like the one under the seat cushion of the passenger-side second row seat.

Entering an exiting the 2nd row is made easy through typical minivan-style sliding doors. (Interestingly absent on U.S. models is the power easy-close option available in Canada, where the sliding doors only need to come close to closing and then are shut electronically).

As for the third row, it’s quite cramped, although easy to access thanks to one-touch second row seats that fold forward. It will do for most children and that is, after all, why you’d buy a vehicle like this.

GOOD CARGO ROOM BUT ONLY WITH THE THIRD ROW FOLDED FLAT

Mazda doesn’t even list the cargo space behind the 3rd row, which is a telling sign. It’s not exactly spacious back there, but can handle a half load of groceries. The 3rd row is a 50/50 split configuration and the seats drop down flat with a simple pull on one of the tethers in the trunk. This expands cargo room to 44.4 cubic feet – which is about half of what you might find in a full-sized minivan.

GOOD SAFETY RECORD BUT STILL NO STABILITY CONTROL

As this is a family vehicle, safety is of the utmost concern to potential buyers. The Mazda5 is well equipped in this area with front airbags, driver and passenger side airbags and side curtain airbags for all three rows. All models come with four-wheel disc brakes with ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and Emergency Brake Assist. A LATCH child-seat anchor system is also included as is a tire pressure monitoring system. All that’s missing (curiously so) is a stability control system, which, considering the tremendous safety advantage stability control provides, is actually a good reason to pass the Mazda5 by. It’s actually shocking that Mazda built a family vehicle without this life-saving technology.

Still, the Mazda5 manages to rate highly in crash testing with a 5 star front, 5 star front-side and 4 star rear-side rating from the NHTSA.

A VAN BUILT FOR DRIVERS?

Driving the Mazda5 is a definite joy, thanks to its Mazda3-based platform and long wheelbase. The overhangs on the 5 are incredibly short and the overall center of gravity is quite low. The 2.3-liter four-cylinder makes 153hp and 148 ft-lbs of torque but due to the 5’s small size has reasonable get-up-and-go. When loaded-up auto tranny models feel labored but manual transmission cars almost always have good acceleration (although highway passing is significantly more difficult with a full car).

The 5 corners pretty much like a car, thanks in part to the now standard 17-inch wheels and 205/50/17 tires. The steering is direct and precise and the seating position is half way between a car and a crossover.

The gas pedal is a bit touchy, which no doubt is a result of its more performance-oriented application on the Mazda3. I also, surprisingly, have a gripe with the manual transmission, which is geared too low – no doubt an intentional move to help increase performance when used in cars like the 3, but I’d rather trade some of that performance for fuel economy in the 5.

4-CYLINDER FUEL ECONOMY

The Mazda5 gets reasonable fuel economy rating of 22/28 mpg (city/highway) with the manual, or 21/27 mpg with the five-speed automatic (which is an improvement over the first-generation 5). Mazda says this is best in class fuel economy, but considering how few competitors there are for this car (Kia Rondo and Dodge Journey) that isn’t really saying much. I just can’t help but wonder how much better it could get with longer gears or even a sixth gear – for both the manual and auto.

While the 5 is well equipped, many will want to opt for the pricier Touring or Grand Touring models. Touring versions get a leather wrapped steering wheel, power moonroof, side skirts, a rear spoiler and LED taillights. GT models add to that with full leather interior, Bluetooth, heated mirrors and rain-sensing wipers, as well as HID headlights.

Additional options include an auto-dimming mirror with a built-in compass and Homelink as well as a DVD navigation system for the GT model.

In the overly subjective style department I have to give the Mazda5 top marks – especially with the added bodywork on the Touring model. The new design, which debuted on 2008 models, is even better than the original and the 5 somehow manages to look sporty. Yup, a stylish looking van.

THE VERDICT

In essence the Mazda5 is a European-style vehicle with all the advantages of a European package – stylish and functional with a relatively small exterior and a spacious interior – without the drawbacks… like a diesel engine. And it even comes with that manual transmission, adding just a touch more sporting edge and knocking off $1,200.

The Mazda5 is the perfect car for a young family, especially in times like these. It’s a genuine alternative to the typical crossover or the minivan segment, which has grown over the years into the maxi-van segment with huge dimensions and 4.0-liter V6 engines. Apparently downsizing isn’t all bad.

PLUS

Bargain price for a 6-seater van
Car like driving dynamics
4-cylinder fuel economy

MINUS

No stability control
Could use longer gears or sixth-gear for even better fuel-economy

RELATED READING:

2008 Kia Rondo Review
2009 Dodge Journey SE Review

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