Walking around our NYC neighborhood we noticed that someone... hell, everyone, has taken the "mini" out of minivans.
In fact, comparing the original Dodge Caravan of 1984, today's minivan has grown significantly from its humble beginnings to quite a big vehicle capable of towing and hauling up to eight people in quite a bit of comfort.
From being able to carry seven in semi comfort, today's minivan will carry up to eight in significantly nicer quarters. From multi-zone climate system, to multiple sunroofs to multi-screen entertainment systems, today's minivan has it all. But you pay for it, even if you don't need as much space. Face it, unless you just keep making babies, it's hard to justify the size of today's minivan even though a sedan might be a bit small for a family of four.
But the minivan has grown more than just size -- a loaded minivan by today's leaders (Honda, Toyota) runs near $40k. Compare that to just $15,500 for Dodge Grand Caravan LE from 1988*. Now, granted, the minivan of today comes with a lot more features and power, but comparing top-of-the-line to top-of-the-line is fair and it's an example of what was the best at the time. Anyway, $15,500 in 1988 is about $25,150** in today's dollars so can you get anything for $25k? Sure, but it's far from top of the line.
So, where are we going with this? Is there a minivan that's still mini and has a topped out price around $25k? Yes. The Mazda5.
This vehicle, while familiar to Europeans, is new to U.S. shores. We've read Mazda is hoping to sell 15,000*** a year here and so far Mazda's sold 14,465 though Oct 2006. And sales gains are in a good place for the Mazda5--up over 370% from Oct 05.
What is it about this model that's ringing true with consumers? Our main attraction to it is its size (which, duh, maybe that's everyone's attraction) because we're in the city and parking is scarcer than a good public school.
We haven't tested one yet, so we gathered up some recent reviews to see what the consensus is. Are the experts are Diggin' It, Lukewarm or Be Hatin'.
Given that one of Mazda's strong points in recent years has been well-tuned chassis dynamics (zoom-zoom), handling, braking, and steering are not at all surprisingly good. ...This seemed to be a fair, yet un-passionate review. And we'll cut some slack because it is a minivan and how passionate can you really get about one?
The nicely turned out instrument panel has its center section raised for easy visibility and reach to HVAC, audio, and other frequently used controls. Fits and materials throughout are as good as anything in its price range and better than most. The large manual rear doors slide open and closed with remarkably low effort for easy access to the middle-row seats, which flip forward with a single motion for third-row ingress and egress. ...
We've saved powertrain for last because it may be the only weak link in what is otherwise a very attractive, versatile and enjoyable vehicle. Calibrated to trade three of the Mazda3's 160 horses for a flatter torque curve, the same 2.3-liter 16-valve DOHC four that seems so lively in the 2800-pound Mazda3 seems a bit overwhelmed by the Mazda5's 500-plus additional pounds. We sampled it with both five-speed manual and optional four-speed automatic transaxles with two normal-sized adults and no cargo on board and found it, well, slow. Informal 0-60 runs with the automatic were 11 seconds plus.
The Mazda5 is like a mini minivan or a short puffy wagon, no mater what its nomenclature it was a great car for me.Talk about gushing! Reporter Bob Gordon didn't once mention the issue of engine power (or lack thereof). This dude started out happy and ended happier.
Over the years of test driving new cars in the New York area I have never received an admiring second look, but this time I received many compliments and questions about the car I was driving … the phantom blue 2007 Mazda5 Touring.
This car turned heads and softened hearts of New Yawkers…the parking lot attendant who sees and drive thousands of cars each week and has no time for nuttin’ took time to compliment the car and actually spent his valuable minutes taking a stem to stern look at my attractive car...the engine compartment, the interior and then even opening the rear gate and examining the very rear seats...
The Mazda5 handled nimbley yet felt big and solid and more than safe enough to traverse the L.I.E., the Garden State, and did really well on the East and West Side…and all around the town, it's big enough to carry 6 passengers yet small enough to easily parallel park.
You feel so smug driving a Mazda5. It's just so clever. It has six seats and decent cargo room, but only takes up a little more space than a small hatchback. ...This was a very fair review and, despite a bit of a hoon (we're guessing), Mr. Yap was certainly diggin' this vehicle.
Drive away from home on a cold morning, and it will sound like your Mazda5 is broken. My tester - which admittedly was the same one used for track testing at Shannonville Motorsport Park last October during AJAC's Car of the Year event - groaned and creaked on cold mornings, trim pieces rubbing up against each other and graunching noises coming from the cold suspension parts rubbing up and down. After a few minutes - having had a chance to warm up - all was well, and silence and refinement were for the most part restored. Interestingly, this is a trait I've noticed on the Mazda3 as well, but its smaller, tighter shape is less of an echo chamber's than the 5's, and the effect is therefore a little less disconcerting. ...
While its power output may be fairly low (especially if you've loaded up all six of its seats), the 5's 2.3-litre engine revs smoothly to its redline, and sounds terrific doing so. The gearbox, once it's warmed up, is slick, with well-defined gates and precise engagement. The brakes are powerful and easy to modulate. And the steering has a liveliness to it that reminds you less of a minivan than of Mazda's own MX-5 sports car. ...
The ride, which feels so taut and sporty, can seem a little bit harsh, especially when the car's loaded down with people and gear. There's a fair amount of wind and road noise that work their way into the cabin. It's sensitive to crosswinds, and is light enough that it gets blown around a fair bit.
In a world where paradigms shift with the speed of an SMG gearbox and tomorrow's vision becomes yesterday's news just as quickly, it takes guts to step out onto the automotive equivalent of a narrow ledge. Hardly surprising, then, to find the firm that brought us the rotary engine--twice, no less--again pushing the envelope of convention. Its latest leap of faith is the Mazda5. ...We think Mazda's good reputation helped the Mazda5 start off this review on a positive note even before the testers got behind the wheel.
Two more key Mazda5 assets are easy entry and outstanding versatility. It starts with low-effort, sliding rear-side doors that open four inches wider than those on an MPV. Step in, and adult-scale second-row buckets provide four inches of fore/aft travel, plus a one-touch mechanism that simplifies access to the third-tier 50/50-split bench. ...
Driving dynamics and ride compliance of this unconventional troop carrier still have Mazda written all over them. The underlying chassis bits, ABS, and electrohydraulic power steering system are recalibrated for a demanding duty cycle and feel equally capable of challenging rush-hour traffic or a twisty two-lane.
Just like a minivan, the Mazda5 really will accommodate six adults, although a couple might have to make some less-than-comfortable adaptations, again, not unlike with some minivans. With the back two rows of seats folded, it'll hold as much or more than a station wagon. And it drives better than either a wagon or a minivan. ...OK, another fair review. We don't get the impression the reporter would buy one, however.
Seats are, well, adequate, best in the front row, then losing both comfort and support as you move to the third row. Seat bottoms could be deeper, and bolsters could be more substantive. The driver's seat height adjustment is manual and pivots on the front of the seat bottom. Thus, the higher it's ratcheted, the less leg room it leaves. ...
Visibility is good, as expected in a minivan-type transporter. The outside mirrors could be farther forward, as the reason for those faux wind wings is so the track for the front door windows can be far enough back that they'll roll all the way down. The view forward from the second and third row seats is surprisingly unobstructed, thanks to each row being two inches higher than the row in front, and to the positioning of the third row closer to the centerline than either of the front rows. ...
The 2006 Mazda5 is more utilitarian than fun. That said, it's a pleasant car that in some ways delivers more than expected, although coming up a bit short in a few.
Just using the Mazda5 is the best part. It tucks into tight parking spaces, thanks in no small part to a turning circle that bests all the competition by several feet, including the five-passenger Mazda6. Everyday errands are run with a reasonably clear conscience, and without requiring a home equity loan, thanks to miles-per-gallon ratings ranging from the low to mid-20s.
From behind the wheel, the Mazda5 is an OK driver. Steering isn't especially precise, but it has good on-center feel and directional stability. For such a relatively tall car, there's little buffeting from crosswinds or passing trucks. Brakes are solid, with communicative pedal feedback. Throttle tip in can be a bit quicker than expected, especially when accelerating from a stop around a corner. But for the most part, engine response is easily managed.
This is the kind of vehicle that will find its way into American hearts as quickly as a sad-eyed puppy.The reviewer gushed and gushed about the Mazda5. Which makes us wonder if we'll see more manufacturers making these kinds of vehicles.
The first thing about the Mazda5 that catches your eye is the styling. You're hooked on its looks even before you find out that it has all this room and versatility. Then you notice the wide sliding doors on each side, minivan style, to make it easier to enter and exit in tight parking lots. ...
ust like its older brother, the Mazda3, the steering is sharp and direct with no lost motion. You feel that the car will go exactly where you want and obey your every command. Throttle response was lively and brake feel was powerful providing smooth, easily controllable stops with little fanfare. ...
The Mazda5 proves that a practical vehicle does not have to be a dull vehicle. This little wagon is fun to look at, fun to drive, and fun to show off to your friends. It will appeal to a growing family as easily as it might appeal to a young college-bound coed with lots of friends or even her empty-nester parents. And making papa proud of his sensible daughter is a win-win bonus.
Oh, like we need yet another vehicle category. Sedan, coupe, truck, SUV, minivan, roadster, convertible... enough! OK, let's add one more: compact minivan. I know! What's that about? Think Honda gets together with Mini and makes a bouncing baby minivan. Why those two? Because this is one smart bugger and it's a blast to drive. ...Man, did Colin like this ride. Colin's a small-car kinda guy, so this was going to appeal to him even before he turned the key. But he's still pretty critical, so we included the review.
I've yet to find where they cut the product to get the price down to the level it's at. You really don't get the impression they cheaped out on anything with the 5. ...
With ample elbow, leg and head room, the 5's second row is a very comfortable place to be during a trip. Two adults will have no complaints. There's even a folding "coffee" table between the second row seats. How homey! The second and third row seats are slightly elevated for good forward visibility. That third row folds into the floor when not in use. ...
My test 5 came with a 157hp (148 lb-ft of torque) of the highly adaptable 2.3L, inline-4 with variable valve timing. You can forget all that lingo, however, since this is the only engine available in North America. So whatever it is, it's there and you don't have to think about it. With the standard 5-speed manual, acceleration is more than adequate in all speed ranges. A 4-speed auto with overdrive is also available. ...
Oh, one other thing about those bigger vehicles (SUVs and big minivans): They're no fun to drive (unless you think driving around in your living room is fun). Even if you forget the Mazda5's affordability and adaptability, it's still a hoot to drive -- and it's a brilliant car.
Is it a car? Is it a minivan? Is it a mini-minivan? Who cares? When a vehicle works as well as the 2006 Mazda5 Touring, such distinctions are meaningless. ...Again, we know Jason and we totally know he's a not a minivan kinda guy. He's not even a mini kinda guy, so the fact that he praised it at all is pretty impressive. He didn't mention his doggy, though. :(
The seats fold down quickly and easily for great cargo space, and there are some nifty features, like a fold out table/storage/cupholder that hinges up from under the captain's seat. There's plenty of cubby storage and several power outlets around the cabin. It's not luxurious, but incredibly clean and functional, with enough flexibility in design for a family's needs. ...
Load up your Mazda5 with a few monkeys and a few crates of bananas, and you'll have to chug to the zoo in the slow lane. If you hit any curvy stretches, though, you'll be pleased with the Mazda5's handling. Surprisingly nimble and free of body roll, the Mazda5 delivers a good measure of driving satisfaction, along with good braking feel. Four-wheel independent suspension and front-wheel drive deliver a good ride. ...
I'm not a minivan guy, but I could easily see living with the Mazda5's convenience, flexibility and practicality. The Mazda5 might just be the minivan for people who hate minivans.
OK, here's the deal:
Diggin' It: 5
Wow, this is a loved vehicle. We're pretty warm towards Mazda since the Mazda3 hatch is pretty friggin' slick, the Mazda6 comes as a sedan, hatch, and wagon (that's pretty cool to us), the and MX-5 now has a hardtop. And all the while keeping style a high priority. We thought the whole zoom-zoom campaign was a bit disingenuous until the Mazdaspeed models came out -- then we shut up.
So, what's our take on this model? We think, assuming Mazda doesn't have horrible quality control issue, that the Mazda5 will exceed sales every year it is available. As we went to post this, we found out that the '07 model now has leather seating as an option and also has a DVD entertainment system. So a really loaded Mazda5 now tips the scales at $25k. Still, very reasonable for what you get. We'd really like to see a bit more power and a 6-speed automatic transmission standard with the thing -- regardless of trim level. Come on, Mazda. How about a bit more zoom?
*That's the most reliable data we could find.
**The calculator we used only had data through 2005 which is fine because 2006 isn't over yet. :)
***Yeah, this seems pretty low to us, too. But if we were missing a zero in that estimate of 15,000 we'd have to conclude the thing was a total failure and since we haven't read that we're guessing Mazda did a good job with the estimation of sales.
****We work for About.com.
Sorry the pictures are so typical. Mazda's press site blows. It's really bad. In fact, the dudes who made the Mazda5 should get reassigned to the press site so we can get some real pics. The pics here are from the consumer site which is far, far superior.