My local Mazda dealer is showing off a 2006 Mazda5, ahead of the official August roll-out. I stopped in today to take a look at it, and I was blown away.
The Mazda5 is somewhere in between tall wagon and minivan. You might call it a "microvan", except that it is not that much smaller than the MPV minivan. Like a minivan, it has third row seats, and sliding rear doors. Unlike a minivan, you can get it with a manual transmission (yes!!!).
Image from Edmunds.com
I wasn't able to test drive the car, but I did crawl around it a bit, and here are some quick impressions:
The overall length of the vehicle is about the same as a Mazda6. It is much taller, though, and is within a few inches in height of the MPV.
It has an attractive wedge shaped design, which makes it look more like a tall wagon than a minivan. The wheels are proportionally large, and pushed towards the corners, for relatively low overhangs. The rear of the vehicle has a slightly down-sloping roofline, which combined with a up-swept beltline, and a rounded tailgate, gives it a more wagon-like rear.
Image from Edmunds.com
Sitting in the driver seat, you are sitting fairly high, but not perched on captains chairs like in a minivan. The seating position is closer to a Mazda3 or Ford Focus. The shifter is located on a pod coming out of the dash, rather than on the floor, which is a good place for it--it is within easy reach, and you get some space open on the floor. If you opt for the DVD nav system, there are nav controls right next to the shifter. The ergonomics are great. A tilt/telescope steering wheel is standard.
Sitting in the second row, I was pleased that there was plenty of room for me. A critical test is the "can you sit behind yourself" test. I am 6' tall, and in many cars, I can not comfortably sit behind myself; in the Mazda5, I did not have a problem. The 2nd row seats slide forward and back and recline. They also have seat cushions that pop up, revealing a storage space. A console with cupholders folds out of the passenger side seat cushion, and can be stowed in the under-cushion storage space.
The real surprise was the third row. It actually has room for 2 adults. It isn't hard to get into, because the 2nd row seats slide and tilt forward. Once I was back there, I was less squashed than I expected, although my head was grazing the roof. The head restraints are usable, offering whiplash protection. You are forced to use them, because if you don't they annoyingly poke you in the upper back.
If you aren't using the 3rd row seats, they fold down into a flat floor, offering about 3 linear feet of space from the liftgate to the 2nd row seatbacks. Behind the 3rd row of seats, there is about a foot of space, with a covered tray under the carpet. If you fold down the 2nd row seats, you have a nearly flat floor that is about 5 feet long.
The only engine offered is the 2.3L I-4, with 157HP @6500 RPM, and 148 ft*lbs @3500 RPM. The standard transmission is a 5 speed manual (!). Given a weight of 3333lbs, it should have similar performance to the Mazda6 2.3L wagon (~3300lbs), so I would expect a 0-60 run of about 10s--I would call this underpowered. The plus side to being under-powered, however, is that the estimated fuel economy is 22 city/27 highway.
If Mazda is smart, they will offer a Mazdaspeed upgrade in the future, such as the the Mazdaspeed6 turbocharged 2.3L powerplant, yielding 270HP @5500RPM and 280 ft*lbs @3000RPM.
I suspect most of the zoom-zoom in this car will be in on the handling side--I would expect solid road feel, and good cornering, considering the Mazda3 underpinnings. The Mazda5 uses electrically powered hydraulic power steering, which is said to have a speed-sensitive boost.
Some important safety equipment is standard: 4 wheel disc brakes + ABS; side airbags and side curtains. All-wheel-drive is not available. A mistake, in my opinion.
I think the Mazda5 is going to be a hit. The packaging is fantastic, like an automotive example of origami. It is not a sports car, but should be a fun-to-drive alternative to the minivan, in a handier and more fuel efficient size.