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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Sun, Oct 9, 2005

By: The LACar Editorial Staff


Wow. If this is what the current state of under-$20,000 new cars has become, then we are all in for a good time. The 2006 Mazda5 impresses on many levels. This is essentially a mini-mini van with seating for six and little else or seating for four and a decent load or seating for two and room enough left over for six months of Costco runs. Flexibility abounds with well thought out folding rear seats. Easily manipulated, the cargo area readily morphs into any number of configurations. The cargo deck is flat when all rear seats are folded, making loading and unloading a snap.

Two sliding side doors ensure ease of access for the rear passengers. Combined with a rear liftgate, the entire interior is within reach with your feet still on the ground. Our test vehicle came fully equipped with independent suspension, cloth seats, power moonroof leather steering wheel, power windows, alloy wheels, and a host of other items that are typically added on. With the Mazda5, they are all standard. The only two options on our car were an intuitive navigation system and four-speed over drive automatic transmission.

Power comes from a 2.3-liter inline four rated at 157 horsepower. In real terms, this translates to a peppy little car that can get you around town and back in fine fashion. Throttle response and steering/braking are better than expected and make it fun to drive while behaving yourself. Anyone can thrash a car into the fun zone, but the familiar "Zoom Zoom" slogan actually means something when it comes to the Mazda5 while performing daily driving duties. Make no mistake, the Mazda 5 is a small car. Six people can fit inside with relative comfort, but this would not be a good choice for a full load on a Vegas run. To it's credit though, the Mazda 5 does not pretend to be anything other than what it is. There are no frills for frills sake. The entire car is well thought out, practical for everyday use and interesting to drive.

The optional navigation system was as simple to use as anything I've come across thus far. When the system gets more complicated than folding a map, it's time to opt out. This one worked great. I do question whether it is worth adding 10 percent to the cost of a car for any given option (let alone a navigation system) but that's an individual choice. Two unpleasant surprises lurked under the hood. First, the automatic transmission had trouble deciding which gear to be in while climbing grades. It didn't matter if we were at freeway or neighborhood speeds. I suppose I could have used the clutchless manual and shifted myself, but that then defeats the purpose of an automatic. The second adventure lies in fuel mileage. EPA estimates puts the Mazda5 at 21 city and 26 highway. For such a small car, I expected more. The low gearing that makes it get up so well comes with the trade off of fuel usage. The transmission shifted to fourth around 35 mph every time. Maybe the five-speed manual would be better. Alas, I did not get to put enough miles on the test car to get my own mileage figures. I certainly would have enjoyed every mile of it.

Not yet available at your local Mazda dealer at the time of our testing, the car caught the eye of several folks on the street. Ours had stylish looks that belie its utilitarian purpose. Minivans have a purpose, but how many minivan drivers actually like to look at (or drive) them? That will not be a problem for Mazda5 owners. SIDEBAR COMMENT Aside from the handful of cars that offer six-speed automatics or the Audi DSG dual-clutch gearbox, I find few automatic transmissions that provide satisfactory shift points under all conditions. I give Mazda credit for even having a Tiptronic-style manu-matic shift gate on this under $20,000 people-hauler. My suggestion: Use the manu-matic option when climbing grades. It's a helluva lot more fun to boot. - Roy Nakano SUMMARY JUDGMENT Mazda-style zoom in an under-$20,000 microvan.

For more information on Mazda products, go to SPECIFICATIONS

Name of vehicle: 2006 Mazda 5 Touring Price: Base $18,950, as tested $22,410 options include: Automatic Transmission $900, Navigation system $2000. Engine type: 2.3L DOHC 16-valve I-4 Horsepower: 157 @ 6500 rpm Torque: 148 lb.-ft @ 3500 rpm Drive configuration: Front engine / front wheel drive Transmission type: 4-speed semi-automatic overdrive Suspension: Independent front/rear suspension Wheels and tires: 17-inch alloy wheels, 205/50R/17 All Season BSW tires Brakes: 4-wheel discs with ABS variable assist power steering EPA mileage estimates City/ Highway: 21/26

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