What's New for 2008
The Mazda 5 mini minivan gets mildly freshened front and rear styling, and a revised center control panel for 2008. Electroluminescent gauges have been added, along with rear seat air vents and controls, additional passenger flip-down armrests and an auxiliary audio jack. A five-speed automatic replaces the old four-speed, and is now standard equipment on the Touring and Grand Touring trims. The five-speed manual remains standard on the base-trim Sport. The Grand Touring trim also gains additional features, while the optional navigation system benefits from a more user-friendly touchscreen design.
Soccer. David Hasselhoff. Speedo bathing suits. These are all things that are big in Europe. Add to that list small MPVs, practical family vehicles that look like minivans that have been run through a hot spin cycle. Because of the narrow streets found in Europe (and Japan for that matter), our typical "minivans" would be unwieldy beasts there -- too wide, too long, too heavy and providing far more utility than the average family requires. The European appreciation for sporty handling is also part of these vehicles' repertoire. If you share that appreciation and your lifestyle is more in line with that of urban-dwelling Continentals, buying a sporty mini minivan like the 2008 Mazda 5 makes a lot more sense than a lumbering minivan or crossover SUV.
Under the 5's skin resides a platform derived from the Mazda 3, a class-leading compact sedan that sets itself apart with razor-sharp handling. This sporting DNA has been handed down to the more homely Mazda 5, which despite being a tad top-heavy, manages to feel more athletic and winding-road capable than anything that has ever donned sliding doors. Its compact dimensions make maneuvering through traffic a snap and parking a much friendlier proposition. Although they may have been deemed uncool (certainly not by us), the 5's sliding side doors allow for much easier access to the rear quarters -- particularly in cramped parking lot spots.
Like other small minivans found in Europe and Japan, the Mazda 5's third-row seat is intended for children, and even then, only occasionally as cargo space drops to practically nil when the 50/50 third row is in place. There is a maximum capacity of six people, with two per row. The second row consists of two captain's chairs that slide fore and aft to provide the rearmost passengers with additional legroom. This is a setup that should work well for families with one or two small children who occasionally need to carry a few of their little friends. If you need space for two kids, Aunt Doris, a kayak and a week's worth of stuff on road trips to the Grand Canyon, the Mazda 5 is probably not the best choice.
To be sure, the 2008 Mazda 5 is a vehicle that should appeal to a narrow band of car buyers. However, with gas prices remaining high and consumers becoming more realistic about their vehicle needs, perhaps that narrow band will grow broader. Already, the similar Kia Rondo has been introduced, increasing this segment's participants to two (although these vehicles also certainly compete with compact SUVs and base-level minivans). As a sporty, fuel-efficient compact people carrier with plenty of standard and optional luxury features, the Mazda 5 definitely has some appeal here in the United States -- certainly more so than Speedos and David Hasselhoff.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Mazda 5 is a small six-passenger minivan available in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels. Standard on the Sport are 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, rear-seat air-conditioning vents and controls, full power accessories, a tilt-telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, fold-flat second- and third-row seats, a trip computer, electroluminescent gauges and a six-speaker stereo with CD player and auxiliary audio jack. The Touring trim adds foglights, a rear spoiler, a sunroof, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and an in-dash six-CD changer (optional on the Sport). The Grand Touring trim adds automatic xenon headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, leather upholstery, heated front seats and Bluetooth. The Grand Touring can be equipped with a touchscreen navigation system, while all Mazda 5s are pre-wired for satellite radio.
Powertrains and Performance
The Mazda 5 is powered by a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 153 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. The Touring and Grand Touring models come standard with a five-speed automatic. That transmission is optional on the base Sport model, which has a five-speed manual standard.
Four-wheel antilock disc brakes, front side airbags and three-row side curtain airbags are standard on every 2008 Mazda 5. Stability control is not available.
Interior Design and Special Features
Some might find sliding rear doors to be the perfect example of minivan uncoolness, but there's no denying that the Mazda 5's sliders make loading passengers in tight parking spaces easy. Plus, you'll never have to worry about the kids flinging the doors open into the innocent door of a neighboring vehicle. The 5's third row isn't terribly roomy, and is intended for children only, but space behind the two front seats is at least aided by the spacious second-row captain's chairs that slide fore and aft. Both rear rows conveniently fold flat, providing a 5-foot-long load floor and 44 cubic feet of cargo capacity.
Sharing its suspension design (including a multilink rear setup) with the athletic 3 means that the 5 possesses quick, precise handling and minimal body roll through the curves. The 5 also boasts sharp, communicative steering. In tighter turns, the 5 feels more top-heavy than the compact on which it's based, but that's expected. Overall, this minivan is quite entertaining to drive and lends credibility to Mazda's "zoom-zoom" marketing angle. A petite (34.8 feet) turning circle makes U-turns and parking maneuvers a breeze.
Again, if you need a minivan, but can't deal with the idea of driving something so unwieldy, the 2008 Mazda 5 should be your No. 1 choice.