Difficult isn’t it? It was an MPV that included anonymity in the specification list and in the past few years has been sitting quietly in the background while the newest members of the Mazda family, particularly the 6 and 3, have taken the limelight.
During 2004, before it slipped from the listings without notice this year, it sold a mere 1,515 units.
By contrast, its replacement the Mazda5 is expected to be another shining star in the expanding Mazda galaxy, with potential to increase demand to 4,000 units a year, twice what the Premacy achieved in its prime.
Executives claim the car was designed from the inside out, but walking up to it for the first time, it seems the designers spent an equal amount of time on the body panels. The front end leans more to the dainty than the aggressive, but it certainly has more presence than the outgoing model.
As it is based on the Mazda3, a platform also used for the Ford Focus, it shares a common heritage with the Focus C-MAX, which is a very good pedigree to start with. Yet unlike many platform-sharing initiatives of late that have left vehicles almost identical apart from their badges, the Mazda5 sets itself apart from its sibling, particularly when you look at the side profile of the car.
Instead of traditional rear doors, the 5 offers twin sliding doors that move back far enough to create a gaping hole that even the chubbiest relative should make it through without any embarrassing struggling or pushing.
This first-in-class design isn’t the only feature that helps it stand out. Once you look inside, there are three rows of seats, with a standard six-seat layout and a foldaway seventh seat for the middle row.
The rear two rows also fold flat and give a huge variety of seating alternatives, offering luggage space from a measly 112 litres with all the seats in place to 426 litres with just two rows and 857 litres with two rows folded flat.
It is hugely versatile and explains why the C-segment multi-activity vehicle sector accounted for 1.4 million European sales in 2004.
In the front, there is a more traditional set-up, with a high-mounted gearlever and car-like driving position. However, there is little to lift the sombre mood of the plastics apart from the central console, although all the dials have a quality feel and are positioned intuitively.
When the launch is complete, there will be an eight-strong model range with a choice of four powertrains – 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre petrol and two 2.0-litre diesels with standard and high power options – and four equipment levels. Trim levels follow the traditional line-up of TS, TS2, Sport and a new one, SportNav, with prices starting at £14,300 for the entry-level 1.8 TS, with the TS2 costing £800 more. The 2.0-litre costs £16,300 in Sport trim and £17,950 in SportNav spec.
The two diesel models will follow later in the year, priced from £15,900 for either 109bhp or 142bhp versions.
Standard equipment includes manual air conditioning, CD player, electric front windows, electric/heated door mirrors, an alarm, six airbags, ABS, electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist.
TS2 models gain foldaway picnic tables on the rear of the front seats, steering wheel-mounted stereo controls, roof rails and leather trimmed steering wheel, while Sport gets dynamic stability control, traction control, six CD-autochanger, climate control, 17-inch wheels, fog lights, privacy glass and a spoiler.
SportNav, as its name suggests, gets DVD satellite navigation and a rear parking camera.
Behind the wheel
AS Mazda spent its efforts designing the Mazda5 from the inside out, it was fortuitous (for the Japanese manufacturer, at least) that persistent rain during part of the launch in Scotland meant prolonged stays in the car’s interior.
And Mazda’s new mini-MPV provides more than adequate accommodation. A quick reshuffle of the Mazda5’s rear seats creates a spacious dining area for car park cuisine, using folding trays on the rear of the front seats. Access to the back is easy through the sliding doors.
The Karakuri seating system, that hides the seventh seat cushion under the adjoining one, is an excellent idea, with the armrest changing to a backrest, although this is strictly for short journeys and short people.
Comfort in all the other seats is good and raising and lowering them is the simple matter of pulling a level or tag and the whole thing folds flat.
There is even space for a very comfortable rest, lying full length behind the front seats, which isn’t something you can do in many mini-MPVs.
On the move along the northern tip of Scotland, the 2.0-litre Sport model on test proved an eager performer. Figures suggest it will reach 60mph in 10.8 seconds.
However, above that speed, wind and road noise is intrusive and the engine is buzzy.
You don’t mind this particularly during press-on driving – when it seems impossible to find the engine’s rev limit – but on motorway cruises it can be quite tiring.
The suspension is more composed. It soaked up the rough, undulating Scottish roads and was happy at high speed on the long test run back to Aberdeen’s airport.
But on winding passes, the electric power steering lacked feel. This makes it very light at parking speeds, while on fast corners, you can’t be certain how the front wheels are gripping and whether the car is about to plough straight on instead of following the line you want, especially on wet Tarmac.
However, if you had all seven seats fully occupied, this sort of spirited approach wouldn’t be possible.
Claimed fuel economy for the 2.0-litre Sport model is 34.5mpg and that looked achievable during our 400-mile test, although the trip computer can only tell you how you are doing in litres per 100 miles – you need a calculator to make miles per gallon sense of this.
That’s a quirk of all Mazdas that I hope will be tackled at the earliest opportunity.
THE Mazda5 has a lot going for it. In addition to the competitive pricing, smart styling and clever use of sliding doors, the interior is one of the most versatile on the market. When the diesel engines arrive later this year, it will be an even stronger contender for fleet attentions.
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||115/5,300||145/6,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||122/4,000||136/4,500|
|Max speed (mph):||113||122|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||35.8||34.5|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||190||198|
|Price (OTR):||Petrol £14,300-£17,950;||diesel £15,900-£19,550|