2006 Mazda5 GT
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Review and photos by Laurance Yap

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. It has four cylinders and five speeds, making for great gas mileage and a fun driving experience. It looks great – not very soccer-parent-ish at all – but is roomy and versatile when you need it to be. Who needs a minivan?

Since I first raved about the Mazda5 a few months ago, things have changed a little bit. For one thing, they stopped selling them for a while due to a problem with exhausts overheating when people left the automatic transmission in second gear at highway speeds (who would do that, anyway?). For another thing, the weather’s gotten a lot colder, and I’ve had a chance to spend a week behind the wheel. And while I still like the Mazda5 a lot – while it is indeed, one of the cleverer cars I’ve driven in a long time – I have managed to find some things about it that I didn’t notice during my first, sunny-day, ideal-conditions driving experience.

2006 Mazda5 GT
Click image to enlarge

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.

Such, I suppose, is the price you pay for having a minivan alternative that’s more engaging and entertaining to drive. 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. When you’re driving alone, you catch yourself driving the 5 pretty hard, leaning on the 17-inch tires in corners, executing heel-and-toe downshifts for the heck of it, and generally having more fun than you should in something that’s shaped like it is.

2006 Mazda5 GT
Click image to enlarge

Your passengers might not be having as much fun as you are. It’s not just that the 5 encourages vaguely hooliganistic driving; It’s also that, when performing traditional family-hauling duties, it’s kind of a busy 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. And the seatbelt buckles on the seats you’re not using tend to rattle against the sides of the cabin.

2006 Mazda5 GT
Click image to enlarge

For something as small as it is, though, the Mazda5 is amazingly spacious. While the back seat is best reserved for children, it’s habitable for adults during short trips (the small windows give it a bit of a claustrophobic feel). The front- and second-row seats are excellent, with great thigh support and lots of bolstering for when you hit the corners. Head- and legroom are generous, and because Mazda’s stuck to two-across seating in all three rows, there’s always lots of room for your elbows. Up front, the cabin also feels quite airy despite the only interior colour being black, thanks to an open design, large glass area (the second-row windows go down, just like in the MPV), and lighter-coloured plastics above the beltline.

And boy is it versatile. You can fold the rear seats flat into the floor individually, creating a usefully huge storage area.

2006 Mazda5 GT
Click image to enlarge

The second-row seats slide and fold, and there are numerous storage bins and cubbies scattered around the cabin in which to secure your family’s detritus (too bad they’re not lined with rubber or anything; their contents tend to rattle around). Up front, there are bottle holders in the doors, two centre-console bins and a glovebox that’s large enough to be useful for more than gloves. The sliding doors offer easy access to the cabin, and the rear hatch is surprisingly light, and has two detents, allowing you to open it easily in tight spaces.

With all this versatility, it’s easy to forgive some of the Mazda5’s flaws when you consider its pricing. For about the same money as a Toyota Matrix XR (which has similar equipment to a base 5), it’s more fun to drive, and gives you the option of a third row of seats, should you need them. Compared to larger, more traditional minivans like the short-wheelbase Chryslers, it’s more compact, more economical on gas, and less of a drag on your image, if you care about those kinds of things. While it may have its rough edges – especially, it seems, in the cold – the Mazda5 remains a really clever vehicle; the niche it occupies in the Canadian market is one that will likely appeal to a lot of buyers.

Technical Data: 2006 Mazda5 GT

Base price (GS) $19,995
Base price (GT) $22,795
Options $1,100 (air conditioning)
Freight $1,310
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $25,305 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Type 4-door, 6-passenger microvan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 2.3-litre 4-cylinder, DOHC, 16 valves
Horsepower 157 @ 6500 rpm
Torque 148 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission 5-speed manual (4-speed automatic)
Tires P205/50R17 all-season
Curb weight 1512 kg (3333 lbs)
Wheelbase 2750 mm (108.2 in.)
Length 4610 mm (181.4 in.)
Width 1755 mm (69.0 in.)
Height 1630 mm (64.1 in.)
Ground clearance 150 mm (5.9 in.)
Cargo capacity 1256 litres (44.3 litres)(3rd seat folded)
Fuel consumption City: 10.6 L/100 km (27 mpg Imperial)
  Hwy: 8.0 L/100 km (35 mpg Imperial)
Fuel type Regular unleaded
Warranty 3 yrs/ 80,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km
Assembly location Hiroshima, Japan

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