Mazda 5 Facelift 2008 Road Test

Thu, 07 Feb 2008

There wasn’t much wrong with the original 2005 Mazda 5: Sliding side doors, decent diesels, six-and-a-half seats with a sliding centre row so legroom can be shared.

Foldaway centre half seats, rearmost seats commit ‘karakuri’ and fold away at the pull of a tab, a fine handling focus-based floorpan, and a 1,678 litre load capacity with the seats all folded. 

But there were a few niggles. No automatic, for one. Happily I’m now able to report that this serious shortcoming has been addressed with a useful 5-speeder that pulls a reasonably relaxed 27.5mph in 5th and has a manual shifter designed by a physicist rather than a German (forward to change down, back to change up).

Another criticism was fast and unevenly wearing tyres. Mazda had already partly overcome this by specifying just one special type of tyre: Dunlop SP Sport 2050s.

But now, according to project leader Kenichi Fukanaga, the entire rear suspension has been redesigned, ostensibly to “optimise stability on motorways and curves.” But really to eliminate once and for all the bugbear of excess tyre wear. To make absolutely sure, new, much stronger alloy wheels are also fitted.

Satnav used to pop up like a carbuncle on top of the dash, but now has been pleasingly integrated and works by voice command, by toggle switch or by touch screen and still turns into the screen for a reversing camera when parking.

The petrol engines have been given a touch more torque at low revs by means of en electronic throttle valve and sequential valve timing. The diesels emit slightly less CO2, pulling them down a tax band and are marginally more economical.

There’s better soundproofing. Better brakes. Air intake damping to cut the noise from that. The dials now glow white on a black background making them easier to read. The CD player is MP3 compatible and has an AUX jack. And on some versions, the rear side doors are now electric so you can open or close them with buttons on the key or on the dash as well as by the handles.

As if that wasn’t enough, on ‘Sports’ versions you now get a ‘Sports Appearance Pack’ that adds a winged grille design, new front bumper with spoiler, pointed foglights, sports side sills and white rear lamp clusters with LED turn and stop lights. And you can go for an extra cost Luxury pack that brings you the aforementioned electric sliding rear side doors, xenon headlights and black leather trim, for a slightly eye-popping £1,750 (but remember, that’s for six and a half leather seats). All get new look headlights and tail lights and five new paint finishes.

We drove the automatic and the higher-powered diesel.

As before, the 6 + 1 seating plan involves a gap between the two centre row seats into which either a narrow centre seat base can be swung from inside the left seat base, or a console tray with a suspended oddments bag from inside the right seat base. Behind these seats is another pair that can be easily accessed by levers that slide each centre seat forward.

But that’s not all. The centre row centre seatback can be folded down as an armrest or folded and twisted to poke things like surfboards or skis through. Both the front and centre row seats slide, so legroom can be fairly distributed for all three rows. The front seatbacks can be folded right down to meet the rear seat squabs so they can become beds. The centre seatbacks also recline, making it more comfortable to sleep on a journey. And the centre row can be quickly re-convoluted to create a flat load floor, admittedly with a small hole in it. So Kenichi Fukanaga’s team has genuinely made the interior as versatile as it possibly could be.

The sliding side doors not only make entry and egress easier in confined spaces like multi-story carparks, they also allow the ‘bum first’ entry method favoured by anyone with a stiff back. And, of course, they make it easier for a disabled driver to sling a wheelchair in behind him.

The suspension changes have made the ride and handling better, but it would take me 20,000 miles to tell you the effect on the tyres. The auto pulls about 27.5mph per 1,000rpm in 5th, while the much more relaxed diesel gives you 35mph, so a 70mph cruise is at a leisurely 2,000rpm. But fierce acceleration on 2nd gear corners seemed to spin the clutch. It pulls decently from around 1,500rpm in 3rd on an incline, so there is more lag than on more modern piezo injected 2.0 litre diesels like the new Audi A4 B6.

Testing the original Mazda 5 two and a half years ago I wrote, “Rather than think of the Mazda 5 as an MPV that drives like a good car, it’s probably better to think of it as a good car with the versatility of a very good MPV. If you like driving and you have a family but only want one car, then it does both jobs better than anything else.”

That’s not true any more because the Ford S-Max drives and handles better. But the S-Max isn’t as versatile as the Mazda 5, and doesn’t have those sliding side doors so useful in multi-storey carparks or for dropping off kids at school.

So the Mazda 5 still has aces up its sleeve. And with its few faults fixed it’s still exactly the right MPV for some people. Compare it with the others very carefully and you may well find it suits you perfectly.

Pix of interior seat folding arrangements in the original test at: www.honestjohn.co.uk/road_tests/index.htm?id=177

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