While Mazda has had its share of minivans in the past (mostly rebadged Fords), it didn't really jive with the company's "Zoom-Zoom" image. So a couple years ago, Mazda decided to design its own vision of a people hauler with some panache. The result was the Mazda5, a micro-minivan billed as a "multi-activity vehicle." We found the Mazda5 to be a surprisingly fun to drive for a minivan when we last had one in for a test spin.

The 2008 Mazda5 gets some fresh new looks to update the 2006 design and more modern creature comforts to keep up with the latest technology. Mazda has given the Mazda5 a new grille and front fascia, along with new headlights and taillights to complete the look. 2008 Mazda5s get more color options as well, including Copper Red, Golden Sand, Stormy Blue, Sunlight Silver, and Crystal White Pearl. Mazda has worked hard to make the Mazda5 look as tight and compact as possible, making it appear smaller than it actually is in an effort to lend it a sportier stance.

Inside, a new shifter and center console update the dash, and electroluminescent gauges make the cluster more visually appealing. Second-row occupants pick up cooling vents and their own fan controls. Mazda stays with the vehicle's unique 2+2+2 design, which gives up seven-passenger seating in favor of more individual room. The arrangement provides the folks in the back a good amount of space and good legroom. Front-seat passengers get inboard armrests, and second-row passengers get outboard armrests for added comfort. The second-row also gets sliding and reclining seats. Theater seating gives all occupants a good view, though, as always, taller people should watch their heads in the rearmost seats. The 50/50 split third-row seats and the second-row captain's seats fold flat, yielding 44.4 cu ft of space with four passengers and nearly double that with only two passengers up front.

The Mazda5's standout feature has been and continues to be its easy access. Sliding doors on both sides of the van open wider than those on the automaker's MPV minivan, and the second-row seats fold flat and scoot as far forward as possible with one tug of the lever for easy third-row access. In the back, the liftgate has two stops, one for people of average height and a higher stop for taller folks, making it easier to reach for people of any height.

Safety was a top priority for the Mazda5 team. All six occupants get three-point seatbelts, as well as side-curtain airbags running the length of the vehicle standard to protect all passengers. Front-seat passengers also get standard front airbags that measure the driver's weight, distance from the dash, and the severity of the crash before deploying. Second-row seats get LATCH mounting points and straps for child seats.