Take a wagon, raise the roof, and add sliding rear doors (or just make a typical U.S. minivan at seven-eighths scale), and that's the 2009 Mazda Mazda5--a vehicle not closely rivaled in the U.S. market. Slightly smaller than short-wheelbase versions of minivans, such as the Kia Sedona, it's a three-row, six-seat "sport minivan."
As it's based on the compact Mazda3 hatchback/sedan, nimble handling and excellent maneuverability distinguish the 2009 Mazda5 from other SUV and minivan possibilities on the road. That handling prowess is assured via MacPherson struts in the front and a multilink suspension in the rear, with 17-inch wheels and tires. Braking is provided by a surefooted four-wheel anti-lock disc system.
The Mazda5 rides well, too--smoothly but firmly and without much body motion. But it's hindered by a 153-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that is only somewhat peppy with the standard (on Sport trims) five-speed manual (a rarity among minivans). With the available (standard on Touring and Grand touring trims) five-speed automatic transmission, the engine is barely adequate with a light load and completely overwhelmed when carrying around half of your kid's soccer team. Urban dwellers will be more suited to the Mazda5 than suburban exiles.
The 2009 Mazda Mazda5 impresses us by its surprisingly spacious interior, with seating for up to six people--although the rearmost two seats are kid's stuff only. Theater-style seating makes the most of those rear seats, although the front seats are skimpy in size for taller or larger people. A one-touch walk-in mechanism offers easy access to the third-row seats, and both the second- and third-row seats can fold down to create a virtually flat floor for transporting large objects. For more space in either the second or third row as needed, the second-row seats slide fore and aft. The rear liftgate has two detents for drivers of different heights, though if you're over six feet tall, you'll have to duck.
While not as big and heavy as most family minivans or SUVs, the 2009 Mazda5 scores high marks in NHTSA impact protection tests, though it lacks an important feature, electronic stability control. Driver, front passenger, and side front impact protection scores the highest--five stars; and rear side impact protection and rollover resistance score four stars. Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are paired in the standard-features list, which also includes front side and side curtain airbags that cover all three rows of seating. But life-saving electronic stability control--now standard on virtually all minivans and people-haulers its size--is nowhere to be found on the features list.
In Sport or Touring trim levels, the 2009 Mazda Mazda5 includes a standard CD stereo, power windows and locks, and cruise control. Available equipment includes air conditioning, fog lamps, a CD changer, and a power moonroof. For 2009, the Mazda5 gets a new exterior color (Liquid Silver), and the "Sand" interior theme is available with the black and dark blue exterior colors. Grand Touring models also pick up standard alarm systems, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, automatic headlights, heated sideview mirrors, and rain-sensing wipers.
Top options on the 2009 Mazda5 include a DVD-based navigation system, remote engine start, an overhead rear-seat DVD entertainment system, and Sirius Satellite Radio.
The Bottom Line:
The 2009 Mazda5 is one of the few good choices for buyers looking for minivan spaciousness in a vehicle that's fuel-efficient, maneuverable, and plenty practical.