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.

Powering the Mazda5 is the same 2.3L inline-four as in many Mazda products. The engine had been down in power from the original powerplant found in the Mazda3, and unfortunately, power is down again this year, now at 153 hp from 157. Torque remains the same at 148 lb-ft. We weren't particularly impressed with the power of the last Mazda5 we tested, so losing more won't help any. The power change hasn't affected fuel economy, however, which remains at 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway with the five-speed manual and 21/27 with the new five-speed automatic. What did impress us, though, was the Mazda5's handling. Weighing in at an relatively svelte 3417 lb and riding on the same MacPherson-strut front and multilink rear suspension as the Mazda3, the Mazda5 felt rather sporty on windy roads during our 2006 test, while the beefed-up anti-roll bars result in surprisingly little body roll. The power steering has been enhanced to compensate for the additional weight. In emergency situations, the Mazda5 comes with ABS, as well as Electronic Brake Distribution, to keep brake force balanced front and rear, and Emergency Brake Assist to boost braking power in emergency stops. All Mazda5s ride on 17-in. wheels and a new-for-2008 Tire Pressure Monitoring System.

Standard options on the 2008 Mazda5 are power everything, cruise control, A/C with a pollen filter, rear wiper with washer, second-row air vents and fan controls, second-row under-seat storage, second-row foldout table with storage space and cupholders, remote keyless entry, the Tire Pressure Monitoring System, driver and passenger front airbags and side curtain airbags for all, and an in-dash CD player with auxiliary inputs, steering-wheel-mounted controls and six speakers. Accessories include an in-dash six-CD changer, Sirius Satellite Radio with six-month subscription, an overhead DVD entertainment system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and Homelink, interior cargo cover, cargo net, all-weather floormats and a moonroof wind deflector.

Opt for the Touring package and you'll get a leather-wrapped steering wheel, standard in-dash six-CD changer, foglamps, black bezels for head- and taillights, LED taillights, a spoiler on the liftgate, side-sill extensions, and a tilt-and-slide moonroof.

Go big with the Grand Touring model and you'll also get heated leather-trimmed seats, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, an alarm, rain-sensing wipers, heated mirrors, and automatic HID headlights. A voice-activated DVD satellite navigation system is optional.

All models get 24-hour roadside assistance, a comprehensive 3-year/36,000-mile warranty, a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty, and a 5-year/unlimited-mile corrosion warranty.

Starting at $17,995 for the Sport base model and $22,515 for the Grand Touring, the Mazda5 packs a lot of features in a reasonably priced package. It's not often you'll find a minivan, micro or otherwise, that comes at a good price with a lot of comfort and good handling, so if you're in the market, the Mazda5 is a good place to look.


2008 Mazda5
Base Price $17,995-$22,515
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD, 5-7-pass, 4-door Mini-van
Engine 2.3L/153-hp/148-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 5-speed manual; 5-speed automatic
Curb weight (dist f/r) 3417-3475 (mfr)
Wheelbase 108.3 in
Length x width x height 181.5 x 69.1 x 64.2 in
Headroom, f/m/r 40.7/39.4/37.1 in
Legroom, f/m/r 40.7/35.2/30.7 in
Shoulder room, f/m/r 55.5/55.6/49.2 in
Cargo volume 70.9 cu ft
Weight dist., f/r 56/44 manual, 57/43 automatic
EPA City/Hwy Econ 21-22/27-28 mpg
CO2 Emissions 0.80-0.83 lb/mile

Below is the offical press release from Mazda for the 2008 Mazda5.

2008 MAZDA5: REDESIGN, MORE STANDARD FEATURES RESULT IN THE ULTIMATE MULTI-ACTIVITY VEHICLE

Only Mazda would have the engineering ingenuity to merge two automotive functions - a large sport utility vehicle (SUV) and a fun-to-drive sports car. Mazda demonstrates its infusion of stylish, insightful and energetic vehicles with the MAZDA5 , three-row, six-passenger multi-activity sports vehicle infused with sports car inspiration. But, unlike most sports cars, the MAZDA5 easily and efficiently transports six people and the equipment that goes with their busy lives. There truly is nothing like it on the market today.

The 2008 MAZDA5 gets a makeover, with new front fascia, grille, headlights and taillights design. These new features give MAZDA5 a sophisticated look and feel beyond its price point.

Just as much attention was paid to the interior, making the driving journey even better for both driver and passengers. The entire front of the vehicle has been updated, with new shift panel and center console designs. Electroluminescent gauges have been added along with second row cool air vents with fan-speed controls, front passenger inboard armrests and second row passenger outboard armrests, audio auxiliary input jack and new Sand interior color option. In addition, all models receive a 5-speed automatic transmission (5MT is still available on Sport models; GT and Touring are equipped with 5AT as standard), which results in better fuel economy, Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) and five new exterior color options.

2008 MAZDA5 Grand Touring models add security alarm, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, leather-wrapped shift knob, auto on/off headlights, LED taillights, heated door mirrors and rain-sensing wipers.

"Mazda's forte is creating spirited vehicles that target a very specific driver. Our designers and engineers set out to build a vehicle that offers superb comfort for six, and the versatility to complement the active family lifestyle; their efforts resulted in the MAZDA5," said Jeff Horne, MAZDA5 vehicle line manager. "The new 2008 MAZDA5 offers the same 'go anywhere, do anything' personality for the active family, but with added levels of sophistication, refinement and features found in vehicles twice its cost."

REFINED EXTERIOR AND INTERIOR STYLING
MAZDA5 offers a distinctive image, led by its advanced design concept. The combination of a long 108-inch wheelbase and manageable overall length of 181.5 gives the MAZDA5 enhanced stability and handling, and a longer interior with plenty of cargo room - yet short front and rear overhangs for good maneuverability. MAZDA5's design starts with its wide stance, with the body gesture following from the tire sidewalls up. The headlights are straightforward but powerful, the hood bold yet refined. The sheer A-pillar design calls attention to the tight, tailored precision of the upper body.

New for 2008 is an attractive, flowing grille and a new front bumper fascia design that is more aggressive than the previous version. The headlights and rear combination taillights have been redesigned.

Five new exterior colors are available on the 2008 MAZDA5- Copper Red, Golden Sand, Stormy Blue, Sunlight Silver and Crystal White Pearl.

Despite the sharp looks, the MAZDA5 has been designed from the inside out - like all the best multi-function vehicles. So no matter whether you want to carry people or sporting equipment, the MAZDA5delivers.

Step one was to make the cabin as spacious and comfortable as possible. Three features contribute to the MAZDA5's roomy interior: a low profile fuel tank, a compact multi-link rear suspension, and a stepped floor. The latter permits excellent legroom for all - especially those sitting in rows two and three. Even in the back row, legroom is a generous 30.7 inches. In row two, legroom is a comfortable 35.2 inches.

The ingeniously flexible interior takes convenience and versatility to a whole new level. The second row has separate individual seats for big-car levels of comfort. They slide and recline and can be folded flat without removing their headrests. They feature a one-touch lever that automatically tips the seatback forward and slides the cushion to its front-most position to allow access to the third row.

The third row seats are split 50:50. They can be tipped forward individually and folded flat to create a flat load area, ideal for carrying mountain bikes or bulky sports equipment. With the rear-most seats folded flat, carrying capacity is an enormous 44.4 cubic feet. Fold the second row and the load floor area is over 63 inches long.

Interior storage space includes many ingenious compartments, including a vast, illuminated glovebox and half-liter bottle holders in each front door pocket.

The MAZDA5 features 'theater-style' seating. The stepped floor referred to earlier means each row is mounted a little higher than the one in front to improve visibility for all. The driver, too, benefits from excellent visibility, improving primary safety as well as making driving more enjoyable. Additionally, three-point seat belts and head restraints are offered for all six seats.

Safety is further improved by advanced front air bags that use sensors to measure seat occupants' weight, severity of the impact and distance from seat to dash, before deploying. Side airbags also are standard, as are curtain airbags that run the full length of the cabin to protect occupants in all three rows of seats. LATCH-style rear child safety seat anchors and tethers are fitted to the second row seats.

DRIVER-FOCUSED POWERTRAIN
MAZDA5 is powered by a 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine, good for 153 horsepower at 4,500 rpm and a gutsy 148 lb-ft of torque at 3,500 rpm. Similar to the MZR-series engine in the MAZDA3 , MAZDA6, MX-5, Tribute and B-Series, the engine has 16-valves, double overhead camshafts and utilizes an aluminum block and head for light weight, which in turn improves handling by minimizing weight over the front axle. Lightweight pistons help improve smoothness, throttle response and the engine's ability to rev, while variable induction mixes good low-end torque with strong high-revving power. The power goes to the road through a short-shift, fast-moving, five-speed manual gearbox.

A sophisticated five-speed electronically controlled automatic gearbox has been added for the 2008 model year, resulting in an improved fuel economy of 22 mpg city/ 28 mpg highway, for manual transmission models, and 21 mpg city/ 27 mpg highway, for automatic transmission models.

The suspension is fully independent, as on the best sports cars. Anti-roll bars are fitted front and rear for flat handling, minimal body roll and great driver feedback. Steering is by a precise and responsive rack-and-pinion setup. Its variable ratio electro-hydraulic power assistance provides low-speed parking ease and great high-speed feedback.

Large disc brakes are fitted front and rear, and the fronts are ventilated for extra cooling and better stopping power in tough conditions, such as repeated braking on long downhill sections of road. An Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) prevents lock-up and aids in maintaining steering control even when braking heavily.

Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) and Emergency Brake Assist (EBA) further enhance braking performance when you're in a hurry to stop fast. EBD ensures correct balance between front and rear braking in an emergency, irrespective of the vehicle's load, while EBA gives added boost to the braking power in an emergency stop. Added for 2008 is a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS).

Attractive 17-inch alloy wheels, similar to those used on Mazda sports cars, are standard. It is also a light vehicle. At just 3,417 lbs., the MAZDA5's light weight contributes to its high performance, responsive handling and exceptional gas mileage.

CREATIVE SLIDING DOORS MAKES INGRESS/EGRESS A SNAP
Superbly practical manual-sliding rear side doors can be operated with one finger. They hug the sides of the vehicle when open, and create a wide opening for easy entry and exit to the rear seats - even for the third row of passengers. The opening is 27.5 inches wide and 42.6 inches high. This not only provides far superior access compared with conventional front-hinged doors, it also is a boon in tight parking spaces because they require little side clearance when open.

Furthermore, the tailgate is easy to use. Its two-stage opening mechanism has its first stop at a height most can easily reach. The second fully open stop is three inches higher to accommodate taller people. The low sill height makes for easy loading.

Such large side openings, and the large tailgate, could have compromised structural rigidity - a key quality on any car designed to satisfy sporty drivers. Mazda has avoided this problem by developing an immensely strong all-steel unibody construction. Unibody construction is typical on sedans and sports cars - but not on SUVs, nor some minivans. The stiff bodyshell has enormous benefits for the vehicle's handling, crash safety, refinement and noise, vibration and harshness (NVH). It contributes to the vehicle's quietness, which reduces driver and passenger fatigue.

The stiff body is mated to a suspension specially designed to resist body roll. It also provides a fine balance between precise road feedback for maximum driving fun, and the cushioned stability needed for a comfortable ride with up to six people on board.

The MacPherson strut front suspension and rear multi-link system give superior road holding and also cope superbly with the broad range in weights of passengers and luggage that will be possible in the six-seat MAZDA5.

The advanced electro-hydraulic power steering also helps the car's dynamic qualities and ease of driving (not to mention the fun of driving!). The hydraulic steering pump is driven electrically, rather than by the engine. Mazda engineers have chosen this set-up over pure hydraulic power steering because it uses less energy and is more fuel efficient.

The precision engineering of the vehicle is obvious from the quality and feel of the hardware, such as the door handles. This is a car that speaks quality, wherever you look or touch.

But while carrying capacity and ease-of-use may be impressive, the MAZDA5 also is built very much around the driver. New electroluminescent gauges face the driver. Visibility is excellent, and controls are all within easy reach. They envelop you, providing a cockpit-feel more than a mere cabin. The center console has been redesigned and is raised to position the controls, including the manual or automatic shift lever, as close as possible to the driver, to improve visibility and operation.

Like a premium import, the MAZDA5 uses superior trim and fabrics. More refined, metallic finishers are used in the interior. The fabric is soft and the black or sand upholstery muted and tasteful. Comfort is further enhanced by the superb ride quality, a result of the fully independent coil-sprung suspension and generous cushioning of all six seats.

WELL EQUIPPED, AS YOU'D EXPECT FROM MAZDA
The MAZDA5 comes very well equipped. All models get 17-inch alloy wheels, body-color power remote door mirrors and rear wiper with washer. Standard interior fittings include automatic air conditioning with pollen filter and second row cool air vents with fan speed controls, electroluminescent gauges, power door locks and windows, second row under-seat storage, a second-row foldout table with cargo storage and dual cupholders, and remote keyless entry. TPMS and cruise control also are standard, and the controls are steering wheel-mounted for superior ergonomics. Also standard are steering wheel-mounted supplemental audio controls, which regulate the standard AM/FM/CD stereo with audio auxiliary input connection and six speakers.

The Touring model adds a leather-wrapped steering wheel, an in-dash six-disc CD changer, a tilt-and-slide electric moonroof, fog lamps, black headlight and taillight bezels, LED taillights, a rear liftgate spoiler and side sill extensions.

The top-range Grand Touring models give MAZDA5 owners a little more style and sophistication with heated leather-trimmed seats, security alarm, Bluetooth hands-free phone system, auto on/off headlights, heated door mirrors and rain-sensing wipers and Xenon/High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights with manual leveling. Optional for the Grand Touring model is a voice-command DVD satellite navigation system.

Key accessories include In-Dash 6-Disc CD changer, DVD Entertainment System (overhead style), Sirius satellite radio with 6-month subscription, Compass Auto-dimming mirror with Homelink(r), interior cargo cover, cargo net, all-weather floor mats and a moonroof wind deflector.

All 2008 Mazdas come with a roadside assistance program. With a call to a toll-free number, owners can access roadside assistance 24 hours a day, 365 days a year throughout the United States and Canada. In addition, a comprehensive three-year/36,000-mile warranty covers every part on the vehicle except those subject to normal wear. Also, all 2008 models receive a five-year/60,000 mile powertrain warranty and a five-year/unlimited-mileage corrosion warranty.

Headquartered in Irvine, Calif., Mazda North American Operations oversees the sales, marketing, parts and customer service support of Mazda vehicles in the United States, Canada and Mexico through nearly 900 dealers. Operations in Canada are managed by Mazda Canada, Inc., located in Ontario, Canada, and in Mexico by Mazda Motor de Mexico in Mexico City.usamedia.com.

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