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Second-hand: 2006 Mazda5 

Canadians got the Mazda5 straight away: it was a four-cylinder multipurpose vehicle (MPV), and proves to be surprisingly sporty.

  • The beginning of morning rush hour, cars on the highway traveling to and from downtown

To introduce its tall-boy wagon to Americans, Mazda embarked on a co-branding exercise with sportswear maker Quiksilver, hoping that the clothing label had enough street cred to convince fickle youth to buy a $20,000 car. As if.

No need for a convoluted advertising campaign up here. Canadians got the Mazda5 straight away: it was a four-cylinder multipurpose vehicle (MPV), a segment that’s been growing in Europe since the Renault Espace debuted in 1984.

Dollar-a-litre gasoline helped goose sales.

The all-new 2006 Mazda5 came to rule the “microvan” class almost unchallenged in North America. The closest competitor was the Kia Rondo, although the South Korean bore conventional hinged doors rather than a pair of sliders.

What also set the Mazda5 apart was its fun-to-drive verve, exhibiting none of the buzzkill that other minivans inflict upon driving enthusiasts.

CONFIGURATION

Based on Ford’s global C1 platform, the front-drive Mazda5 had much in common with the Mazda3 sedan, including the same MacPherson struts up front and independent multi-link suspension in back.

That suspension was compact enough that it did not compromise interior space.

Destined to replace the slow-selling Mazda MPV, the 5 was smaller than a regular minivan – it was almost a half-ton lighter, too – and offered seating for six in three rows of two seats, the lone configuration.

The front seats were about 7 cm higher than in the Mazda3, while the second-row captain’s chairs were mounted even higher (theatre-style) and slid forward for access to the split-folding third row.

None of the chairs were removable, although they did offer some under-seat stowage. With all six seating positions occupied, there wasn’t much cargo room in back. Be prepared to buy an expensive rooftop carrier if four or five passengers are the norm.

While spacious for its size, some owners downsizing from a Grand Caravan or Honda Odyssey (the No. 1 trade-in) found the interior cramped.

“It is way too small. Can haul six people, or four with stuff, but not both,” complained one owner in an online review.

The lone engine was the Mazda3’s familiar all-aluminum DOHC 2.3 L four-cylinder, good for 157 hp and 148 lb.-ft. of torque.

It came mated to a five-speed manual transmission (no other van offered one) or optional four-speed automatic.

Standard equipment included antilock disc brakes all round, alloy wheels, front side airbags and three-row head-protecting side curtain airbags.

The Mazda5 received some subtle styling updates for 2008, including a new front fascia, grille, headlights and tail lights. The interior was upgraded with restyled gauges, centre console and, mercifully, more than one armrest.

It also got second-row air vents with a fan control to bring heated and cooled air more quickly to rear-seat passengers. And for the first time there was a second interior colour (sand) along with Henry Ford’s beloved black.

Mechanically, a new five-speed automatic transmission replaced the previously offered four-speed unit.

Ignore the three-row seating and sliding doors and, in almost every other way, the Mazda5 drives and handles like the sporty Mazda3 upon which it’s based.

ON THE ROAD

Generating 0.80 g of road stick on a circular skidpad, the 5 out-grips every minivan on the market. The electro-hydraulic rack-and-pinion steering is accurate and quick, while understeer is moderate and the turning circle delightfully small.

Where the 5 may disappoint, however, is its engine performance. Zero to 96 km/h comes up in 9.4 seconds with the automatic. But expect much longer times if it’s loaded with passengers and cargo.

Owners were generally pleased with the 5’s fuel-sipping character, but they noticed the Mazda was a little rough around the edges, especially on the highway.

“The road noise, harshness and vibration are pronounced. We used to have a ’05 Toyota Sienna and this (Mazda) is not even a mile close to the comfort of it,” wrote one driver.

WHAT OWNERS REPORTED

The Japanese-built Mazda5 has wowed drivers with its practical size, convenient sliding doors, cheap-to-keep running costs and high fun-to-drive quotient.

While many owners have reported no factory defects, we did come across a few niggling problems.

The most common is noisy, creaky suspension components, especially evident during the winter months.

“The vehicle’s suspension begins to moan and groan loudly in sub-zero weather. Both front and rear stabilizer bushings are replaced under warranty,” wrote one owner in a detailed blog post.

Trouble is, the noise can come back after replacement.

As if that’s not enough, some have reported leaky rear shocks relatively early in their service life. Is the 5 too portly for its econobox britches?

Other owners’ complaints include faulty door locks, engine hesitation, drained batteries, bent 17-inch rims and short-lived tires.

Overall, the Mazda5 is a unique and talented small-family hauler that has no real competition in North America – for now.

We would like to know about your ownership experience with these models: Mercedes-Benz C-class, Pontiac Grand Prix and Honda Accord (2003-07). Email: toljagic@ca.inter.net.

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