April 4, 2008

Test Drive: 2008 Mazda5 GT,
with five-speed manual transmission
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT. Click image to enlarge

Competitors


First Drive: 2009 Dodge Journey

Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Kia Rondo

Manufacturer’s web site


Mazda Canada

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Discuss this story in the forum at CarTalkCanada

Find this vehicle in CanadianDriver’s Classified Ads

Photo Gallery:
2008 Mazda5 GT

North Vancouver, British Columbia – Freshened exterior styling aside (new front and rear bumpers, front grille, LED taillights, and new alloy wheels) the important changes to the Mazda5 micro-van for 2008 are under the hood and inside the cabin. Though its 153-hp 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine remains the same, a new optional five-speed automatic transmission replaces last year’s four-speed automatic. This helps improve the Mazda5’s fuel economy by up to 15%, according to Mazda’s published fuel consumption figures.

2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT. Click image to enlarge

Safety and comfort upgrades are numerous: base Mazda5 GS models receive new standard side and curtain airbags; new standard auxiliary audio input jack for music players; new gauges and controls with white illumination replacing green backlighting; new folding inboard armrest for the front passenger; new outboard armrests for second row passengers; new air vents and fan speed control (with A/C) for second row passengers (optional GS, standard GT); and new “Black” and “Sand” colour interior options (cloth in GS, leather in GT).

In addition, uplevel GT models now have standard air conditioning with automatic climate control and outside temperature indicator; standard Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity; and a new optional navigation system with centre touch screen and a six-disc in-dash CD changer.

2008 base prices have gone up slightly, but less than the value of the added features: 2008 GS models are now $20,795 (up from $19,995) while GT models are now $24,815 (up from $22,895). These price increases can be attributed mainly to the addition of standard side and curtain airbags in GS models and standard automatic climate control and rear fan in the GT model.

Interior impressions

Though it’s only 125 mm longer than a Mazda3, the six-passenger Mazda5 has three rows of seats, two front buckets, two centre buckets, and a split two-person third row bench seat. Cloth seats are standard but GT models can be ordered with optional leather seats with front seat heaters for an extra $1,130. Unfortunately, the cloth seats can’t be ordered with seat warmers.

Considering the Mazda5’s compact exterior dimensions, it’s quite roomy inside, but of course, not as roomy as a minivan. In particular, the third row is best suited for small people. Adults will find the third row’s short backrest and high floor creates an uncomfortable seating position. Still, there is adequate legroom if the second and first row seats are pushed forwards, and headroom is adequate too.

The front seats are very comfortable, and the driver’s seat includes height and lumbar adjusters – and in my test vehicle, seat heaters. But with one temperature setting, it’s best to warm up your posterior, then turn it off before it gets too hot.

2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT. Click image to enlarge

The standard tilt/telescoping, leather-wrapped steering wheel looks very sporty, and includes controls for audio and cruise on the spokes. New for 2008, the round gauges and dash controls are backlit in white at night, a change from the green backlighting of previous Mazda5 controls. At the top of the centre stack is an illuminated green and black LCD display showing the time, radio station/CD track, heater ventilation mode and heater temperature. The optional centre touch-screen is surrounded by buttons for screen navigation and stereo functions, while the screen itself contains a navigation menu, and some stereo and setup functions.

The three large dials for the heating and ventilation system are easy to operate. Should you want to turn on the rear fan, a new button located under the round dials will turn it on or off.

The new folding armrests on the inside front passenger seat and outboard second row seats are a welcome addition, turning them into comfortable Captain’s chairs. The individual second row seats recline and slide backwards and forwards increasing legroom when there are no third row passengers. A second row bench seat is not offered in the Mazda5.

A storage tray hidden under the right-side second row seat cushion can be flipped over to create a centre storage tray with cupholders between the second row seats. Both second row seats have hidden storage areas under the seat cushions – with the second row seat cushions flipped up, these plastic wells can be used to store milk jugs and grocery bags that might otherwise roll around in the trunk.

Speaking of the trunk, the cargo area behind the third row seat is tiny – you won’t be driving five hockey players and their gear to the rink. But the third row seatbacks do fold down in a 50/50 split and both second row seatbacks will fold flat once the seat cushions are pulled up. With all the seatbacks folded flat, there is a very roomy box-shaped cargo area with a carpeted floor and plastic side walls.

Another new feature for 2008 – air vents and a fan speed control at the rear of the centre console – helps cool down or warm up the rear passenger area more quickly. As well, the Mazda5 has roll-down windows in its sliding rear doors for passengers who want some outside air. The sliding rear side doors are surprisingly easy to open and close, and GT models include a power cinching mechanism that pulls them closed in the last inch of travel. These sliding side doors are a great idea when getting in and out in a crowded parking lot. While traditional swing-out doors are awkward to open when parked next to another car, the sliding doors eliminate that problem. And you’ll no longer have to worry about your kids swinging open the rear doors and hitting the next car.

2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT. Click image to enlarge

My test vehicle was equipped with the optional Navigation package ($2,900) which consists of GPS locator, DVD map, voice-activated operation, six-disc CD/MP3 in-dash changer, and a colour touch screen that can display a map with you current location, destination options, radio/CD controls, and screen setup functions like brightness and volume. Each time the car is started, a message appears asking the driver to agree to drive without being distracted by the screen, which I found rather annoying. The navigation system is fairly intuitive and offers audible directions to your destination so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road. At $2,900, it’s a pricey option but it’s the only way you can get a six-disc CD/MP3 changer.

As a family vehicle, the addition of new standard side airbags for first row occupants and side curtain airbags for all three rows of passengers to base GS models is a welcome feature. As well, the Mazda5 includes child-proof door locks on the sliding side doors, child seat anchor brackets, whiplash-reducing height-adjustable front seat head restraints, height adjustable head restraints at all six seating positions, and three point safety belts at all six positions.

Neither the National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) nor the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has crash-tested the Mazda5, but crash tests of the smaller Mazda3 show a “Good” result in frontal offset tests and a “Poor” result in side impact tests without side airbags. Typically, the addition of side airbags in small cars improves their side impact scores dramatically.

Driving impressions

Though it’s based on the Mazda3 platform, the Mazda5 is longer, taller and heavier which affects acceleration and handling. With just the driver on board, 0 to 100 km/h takes 9.3 seconds with the manual five-speed transmission, according to acceleration tests conducted by AJAC (www.ajac.ca). That’s acceptable for a vehicle of this size, but of course, it would be slower when loaded up with passengers and cargo. Still, the Mazda5 is not meant to be a performance vehicle, and for its intended use of grocery shopping, shuttling kids to school and music lessons, the daily commute to work, or weekend getaways, the Mazda5 is entirely adequate. There aren’t many six-passenger vehicles that can offer this combination of interior space, performance and fuel economy.

2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT
2008 Mazda5 GT. Click image to enlarge

Speaking of fuel economy, the Mazda5’s official city/highway fuel economy numbers have improved from 10.6/8.0 last year to 9.6/7.1 (manual transmission), and 11.2/8.3 (4-spd auto) to 9.9/7.2 (5-spd auto). Part of that improvement can be explained by the extra gear in the automatic transmission but the gains in the manual transmission model must be due to engine tuning, different gear ratios, or a combination of both. In any event, it’s good to see improved fuel economy numbers.

Like the Mazda3 Sport, the 5 has a fully independent suspension and four wheel disc brakes with ABS as standard equipment. For a six-passenger family hauler, handling is surprisingly sporting, particularly in the GT model with its standard 205/50R17-inch tires. The ride is comfortable but perhaps a tad firm over rough pavement. Braking from 100 km/h to 0 takes just over 40 metres, according to AJAC braking tests, a shorter stopping distance than some sports cars. The Mazda5’s electro-hydraulic rack and pinion steering provides good turn-in response and stability at highway speeds while offering minimal effort when parking. Its tight 10.6-metre turning diameter makes it very manoeuvrable in the city, and its relatively short overall length and narrow width make parking easier than in a traditional minivan.

My test vehicle had the standard five-speed manual transmission with its shifter mounted high on the centre console for easy reach. I found shifting from gear to gear quite easy, clutch pedal effort light, and clutch take-up quite smooth. The engine lets out a dull buzz when accelerating, but is otherwise reasonably quiet. However, an engine speed of 3,000 r.p.m. at 100 km/h in fifth gear is relatively high contributing to more noise and fuel consumption than is really necessary, in my opinion.

The driver’s visibility is good in all directions except for a small blind spot in the right rear corner. A standard rear wiper/washer and defroster keeps the rear window clean in bad weather.

Verdict

The changes made to the Mazda5 for 2008 have improved safety, comfort, and performance making this six-passenger people-mover is an even better vehicle for young families.

Pricing: 2008 Mazda5 GT

Base price: $24,815

Options: $4,030 (Leather package, $1,130; Navigation system package, $2,900)

A/C tax: $100

Freight: $1,390

Price as tested: $30,335
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

Specifications
  • Specifications: 2008 Mazda5

    Related articles on CanadianDriver

    Test Drives

  • 2007 Mazda5, by Greg Wilson

    2007 Minivan Challenge

  • 2007 Mazda5, by Dave and Carolyn

    Competitors
  • First Drive: 2009 Dodge Journey
  • Buyer’s Guide: 2008 Kia Rondo

    Manufacturer’s web site
  • Mazda Canada

    Crash test results
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
  • Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)
  • More Test Drives

    Greg Wilson is a Vancouver-based automotive journalist and editor of CanadianDriver

    Connect with Autos.ca