A great idea that comes up a little short in execution.
Still, the dimensions make the front-wheel-drive Mazda5 a snug fit, with decent but not lavish leg, head and arm room for second-row occupants. Not even that for those in the third row.
Second-row passengers can move their seat fore or aft, depending on whether anyone is sentenced to sit behind. Nice touch are the bucket seats in row two, with a small aisle between. Lower the seatbacks, and second-row seats also slide forward to create a small aisle to steerage.
Mazda5's short length makes it easy to slip into a parking space or whatever room is in the garage. But it greatly limits cargo space unless you fold the third row seats flat — in an instant when you pull the release straps.
Too bad the seats for driver/front passenger don't have longer tracks to slide farther from the steering column and dash. And front seats need longer bottom cushions for thigh support. No traveling long distances in comfort either, with the sparsely cushioned seats front-to-back and headrests that feel like bricks in rows two and three.
But hats off to whoever came up with the idea for the second-row seat bottoms that serve as hiding places. Lift the bottom on the passenger side to reveal a removable tray with dual cupholders that slips between the buckets to hold snacks and beverages. And the seat bottom on the driver's side lifts to reveal a space for a small purse or a few other items.
Mazda's DNA is zoom, but this machine acts like a distant relative. The 2.3-liter, 153-horsepower 4-cylinder lacks zip when leaving the stoplight, pulling into the passing lane or climbing inclines on the interstate. Of course, with a 21 mpg city/27 highway rating and the ability to hold six people, it's not meant to be a sprinter.
While an economy vehicle, handling is surprisingly well mannered. Stability and traction control help, along with good grip from the 17-inch all-season radials. though uneven road surfaces can make the Mazda5 a bit jumpy.
While controls are easy to see and reach, it could use a few more places to store things. The holder between the seats has an open top, as does the coin holder at the bottom of the dash to the right of the wheel and what appeared to be the cell phone and/or iPod holder to the left. A power plug and auxiliary plug are behind the gearshift along the floor.
Mazda calls this a multifunction vehicle rather than a crossover, wagon or minivan. Though the sliding side doors scream minivan, they are nice because they allow easy loading/unloading when someone parks too close.
Its two main attractions are mileage and price, with the Mazda5 starting at $21,250, yet blessed with a healthy list of standard equipment, including automatic climate control, power windows/locks/mirrors, AM/FM sound system with six-disc CD changer, power moonroof, rear-window defogger, anti-lock brakes and side-curtain air bags for all three rows.
The next-generation Mazda5 will bow in the U.S. at the Los Angeles Auto Show in December before going on sale early next year, though no word yet on whether a 2011 or 2012 model.
The Mazda5 needs a little more room, a little more power and a little more foam rubber in seatbacks and bottoms. Hopefully, those are on the "to do" list next year.
Read Jim Mateja Sunday in Rides. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.