REVIEW DATE: 07 Feb 2008
The Mazda5 is an alternative many mini-MPV buyers are guilty of forgetting about. With a useful package of recent changes, there's less excuse than ever for ignoring it. Jonathan Crouch reports
As the only mini-MPV with twin-sliding side doors, the seven-seater Mazda5 always had a lot to recommend it. Now, with a refreshed design, power sliding doors, more advanced automatic transmission options, a plusher interior, extra comfort and convenience, better handling, improved fuel economy, lower CO2 emissions, it's better set than ever.
It was always going to take Mazda a little while to get established in the mini-MPV sector. The design of their original offering, the Premacy, wasn't too much of a step forward from that of a conventional family hatch-based estate. Its replacement, the Mazda5, arrived in 2005 with the job of moving things forward quite substantially. Those who bothered to look at one quickly concluded that it did.
As the only mini-MPV in the sector to offer twin-sliding rear doors on both sides of the vehicle (previously the preserve of larger MPVs), the '5' had an immediate advantage over its rivals, even if its dealers couldn't match the discounts being offered on seven-seater competitors like Vauxhall's Zafira and Renault's Grand Scenic. They still can't, but they can offer a much improved product with a refreshed design, power sliding doors, more advanced automatic transmission options, a plusher interior, extra comfort and convenience, better handling, improved fuel economy and lower CO2 emissions.
Let's get this into perspective. You don't buy a car like this to throw it round the lanes. Yet you might have to the next time you're running late for junior's school play. At which point, your mini-MPV has to handle competently enough to get you there without sending all your passengers green at the gills. Such a task is well within the Mazda5's compass, especially since the adoption of revised suspension settings for this latest version.
The more refined suspension improves ride comfort while reducing body roll, particularly when fully laden. The brakes are more responsive too, as is the 2.0-litre MZR petrol engine that a surprising number of customers choose. It now has an electric throttle with sequential valve timing (S-VT), for extra pulling power in every gear that still can't match that of the more sensible (but pricier) diesel versions. Transmissions are now more up to date, with the choice of a six-speed manual or a five-speed auto.
"Better late than never, Mazda have finally propelled the '5' into a position where it can trade blows with the class best."
Although there's ample room on the inside with three rows of two seats, the Mazda5 isn't superstretch limo long. In fact at 4,505mm in length, it measures just 85mm longer than the Mazda3 family hatch whilst the width is identical, so there won't be any horrors when manoeuvring this wagon into a crowded multi storey car park.
Though this is billed as a '7-seater', it's more accurately a '6+1' seater since the middle seat in the middle row is suitable only for midgets. The unique twin-sliding side doors are now designed to include electrical power operation and make good sense because they don't swing out in the manner of conventional side-hinged doors. How many times have you been forced to sheepishly apologise when the kids whack their doors into the flanks of a parked car in a supermarket car park? The Mazda5 solves that particular problem.
These doors slide backward to create an opening of fully 700mm, Mazda deeming this wide enough for a parent carrying an infant. The plastic tailgate is another product of extensive testing. Mazda discovered that the tailgate mechanisms of many MPVs and 4x4 vehicles were becoming so heavy and cumbersome that they were difficult for lighter weight operators to close. With a two-step mechanism built in, the tailgate of the Mazda5 is light and smooth in its action.
The second and third rows of seats can be arranged in a number of configurations. In addition to their sliding adjustment and reclining functions, the second row also features a double-fold mechanism. Folding down the second and third row seatbacks creates a virtually flat floor for the luggage compartment. The space between the second row of seats can be assigned to either a utility box or a 'karakuri' occasional seat.
If you owned an original Mazda5, then you should recognise the revisions made to this latest version. These include re-styled front and rear bumpers, revised front and rear light clusters, a smarter front grille, plus snazzier 16-inch and 17-inch alloy wheels. Inside, there are improved navigation and audio systems, plus better sound insulation so you can hear them more easily.
Four engines continue to be offered on the UK market. The most popular are the 2.0-litre diesel units, offered in either standard 109bhp guise or a high power 141bhp variant. Both are fully compliant with the latest Euro IV emissions regulations. A 1.8-litre petrol unit marks the entry level and is good for 113bhp while the improved and now much zippier 2.0-litre petrol powerplant of 143bhp rounds out the line up. Mazda haven't skimped on safety systems either, developing a curtain airbag that covers all three rows of seats. Anti lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution are augmented by a manual brake assist booster. Dynamic Stability Control aims to keep things ship shape.
Every model in the latest Mazda5 line-up delivers improved fuel consumption and CO2 levels which are lowered by between 8 and 11g/km - depending on model - moving the 1.8 petrol and all diesel models down one Road Fund Licence band, producing (say Mazda) annual savings of up to £40. The best option if you can stretch to it is the 141bhp diesel, which is so efficient that it returns pretty much the same fuel economy figures as those achieved by the regular 109bhp diesel version - an average of around 46mpg. Insurance groupings are competitive too - between 6 and 8. Pence per mile running cost figures vary between 39.5ppm and 47.1ppm for the petrols and 39.3ppm to 47.1ppm for the diesels.
Bear in mind that those clever electrically operated sliding doors that your dealer will probably have on his demonstrator are an extra-cost option. They'd be nice to have though, opening and closing in less than five seconds and able to stop automatically if obstructed. They are operated by a button from the driver's seat, by the door handles or by the remote control key. Other extra cost features include an in-dash, 6-CD changer for hours of non-stop music. While for those who need to stay in touch while driving, a Bluetooth mobile phone system with steering wheel-mounted controls is available.
So, it's smarter, quieter, cleverer and better equipped. The car retains its unique selling point (those doors) and improves upon its previously unremarkable handling. You couldn't really ask for much more at this point in the car's development. Yet, despite all this work, the Mazda5 may continue to have a tough time disrupting the current clutch of mini-MPV bestsellers. Nevertheless, if you want something a little different to every school run mum, that features a little 'zoom zoom' in its personality and which feels as if a lot of thought has gone into its conception, this car makes a sound bet.
Better late than never, Mazda have finally propelled the '5' into a position where it can trade blows with the class best. Whether anybody will take notice is another matter entirely. Time to flex some marketing muscle.
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