The Mazda5 combines the space of a small minivan with the agility of a sports sedan. It's not often you can get seating for six in a package that is small enough to be efficient, large enough to be useful and still reasonably fun to drive.
With a starting price of $17,995, this scaled-down people mover is affordable. It comes in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring models. The Grand Touring model adds a security alarm, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, leather-wrapped shift knob, automatic headlights, LED taillights, heated door mirrors and rain-sensing wipers. Anti-lock brakes are standard on all models.
I drove a Touring model whose sticker price was $21,725.
The Mazda5 has a 108.3-inch wheelbase and an overall length that is only four inches longer than the compact Mazda3.
Small people movers are extremely popular in Europe, and I suspect the rising price of gasoline will make them more popular in this country.
For 2008, the Mazda5's exterior receives a redesigned grille, a new front fascia, different headlights and new taillights. The overall look is the same, but the changes create a fresher face.
Electroluminescent gauges have been added along with second-row cool-air vents with fan-speed controls, front passenger inboard armrests and second-row passenger outboard armrests. There's also a tire-pressure monitoring system and an input jack for an MP3 player.
The interior has undergone numerous changes as well. The instrument panel has new gauges and a new center console. Cool air outlets have been added for second-row passengers.
Power for the Mazda5 comes from a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine that has 153 horsepower. The Sport model is available with a five-speed manual transmission, while the GT and Touring come with a standard automatic.
The four-cylinder engine accelerates smartly and acquits itself well in city driving. It cruises easily on the highway.
With the automatic transmission, the Mazda5's fuel economy is rated at 21 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway.
Road imperfections can be felt through the front suspension, but otherwise the Mazda5 handles without a lot of body roll in turns.
Sliding side doors and an interior that can be configured for a variety of uses makes the Mazda5 useful, especially to young families who need space for carpooling one day and soccer equipment the next.
Three features contribute to the vehicle's roomy interior: a low profile fuel tank, a compact multilink rear suspension and a stepped floor. The stepped floor permits excellent legroom. Legroom is 35.2 inches in the second row and 30.7 in the third.
The second row has individual seats for greater comfort. They slide, recline and can be folded flat without having the headrests removed. A one-touch lever automatically tips the seatback forward and slides the cushion forward for access to the third row.
The third-row seats are split 50/50. They can be tipped forward individually or folded to create a flat load floor.
When both the second and third seats are folded, the cargo space is 63 inches long. That's a lot of space for a vehicle with a 108-inch wheelbase.
Front and side airbags are standard, as are side-curtain airbags for all three rows of seats.
The base price of the test car was $20,610. Satellite radio and destination charges brought the sticker price to $21,725.
Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty.