All-new for 2006, the Mazda5 opens a new niche in the North American market: the microvan. Although it is only marginally larger than the Mazda3 Sport hatchback upon which it’s based, the Mazda5 can seat six adult passengers in three rows of seats.

The Mazda5 is powered by the same 2.3-litre four-cylinder found in the Mazda3. Rear-seat passengers enter via two sliding doors that open wider than on a full-size Mazda MPV minivan; entry to the rear seat is made easier by second-row seats that fold and slide forward. Although they can’t be removed entirely, the second and third row seats can be folded to form a flat cargo floor. While they’re not entirely electric, the sliding doors on the GT model feature an “easy-close” system that uses a motor to pull the doors in once they’re manually closed most of the way.

The Mazda5 is sold in two trim lines, starting with the base GS, which includes a five-speed manual transmission, 16-inch alloy wheels, power mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlamps, intermittent rear wiper, CD player with four speakers and wheel-mounted controls, power locks with keyless entry, power windows and floor mats.

The GT adds 17-inch alloy wheels, heated mirrors, fog lights, rear spoiler, six speakers, cruise control, easy-close sliding doors, power sunroof, side and curtain airbags, theft alarm, leather-wrapped wheel and centre row fold-out table.

Two options are available for both models: air conditioning ($1,100) and a four-speed automatic transmission with Sport mode ($1,000).

Smaller than a minivan, but with more seating capacity than a sedan, the Mazda5 strikes a perfect compromise for those who want mobility without mass. It’s easy to park and manoeuvre, and its fuel economy ratings undercut every 2005 minivan listed in government ratings for city driving. The third row is less cramped than in many larger vehicles, and while children will be happiest back there, larger passengers will be fine on short jaunts. The Mazda5 doesn’t have the full cargo room of larger minivans, but it should be a good fit for smaller families, carpoolers or those who get called upon to take the grandchildren for a ride. The add-on air conditioning is an annoying marketing ploy to keep the advertised price down, but even so, only a base Chevrolet Uplander is less expensive than a fully-loaded GT. With most minivans easily topping the $30,000 mark, the Mazda5 is a very viable option.

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