Mazda has been on quite a roll over the last few years with an exciting lineup of cars like the new MX-5 roadster, thrilling RX-8 sports car, slick Mazda3 compact, and sporty Mazda6 sedan. Well, now Mazda is expanding its driving prowess into people-movers, with this 2006 Mazda5. Let’s see if this compact crossover fits the speedy American family lifestyle.

In Europe and Japan, where there’s little room or tolerance for big SUVs, compact crossover utility vehicles are very popular. Now Mazda hopes to spread that same space-saver, crossover philosophy to American families with the 2006 Mazda5. Built on a stretched front-drive platform drawn from the Mazda3 compact car lineup, the Mazda5 rides on a 4.4-inch longer 108.3-inch wheelbase.

Aimed squarely at young families, its wedge-shaped wagon looks are clean, sharp, and decidedly sporty. But with its manual sliding side doors and rear hatch it still has the versatility of a small minivan.

And contrary to its name, the cabin holds not five, but six passengers. That’s thanks to individual second row seats and a surprisingly spacious split folding third row bench. This also makes for a very flexible cargo area. Fold the split third row seats into the floor, and you get a substantial 44.4 cubic feet of carriage space. Drop the second row seat backs, and the Mazda5 can easily accommodate loads over 5-feet long. Plus items such as a computer case can be hidden in a cavity in each second row seat. When the second row seats are used for passengers, they will find they slide and recline, offering SUV size head and leg room. Touring trim adds this handy Honda-style second row folding table.

All front seats are supportive with standard height adjustment for the driver. Theater style seating, with each row higher than the one in front of it, makes for maximum passenger visibility.

Facing the front seats is a clean, straightforward, three section dash, and a healthy load of standard features. Sport trim includes full power accessories, cruise control, and a CD stereo. Our Touring tester adds automatic climate controls, outside temperature, and tilt and slide power moon roof. Plus a 6-disc CD changer with satellite controls on the leather wrapped steering wheel. An unexpected option is the voice command DVD satellite navigation system, while unexpected standard features are the front side impact and 3-row side curtain airbags.

Motivating the Mazda5 is the same 2.3-liter dual-overhead-cam 4-cylinder that powers the Mazda3. It yields 157 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque.

It’s controlled by a 5-speed manual transmission, or our car’s optional 4-speed automatic with manual shift mode, and turns standard 17-inch alloy wheels wearing all-season tires.

Take it all to the road, and you’ll find the Mazda5 to be a very pleasing little people mover. The 2.3-liter engine is smooth and quiet for a 4-banger, though a few more ponies would be a big help with a full load of passengers or cargo.

Wet and dry road handling is composed and competent, fitting reasonably well with Mazda’s sporty brand image. The MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension delivers far better agility than any minivan, but also with a bit more body roll than some larger crossovers.

There is a bit of front push in tight corners, but less than a family hauler weighing 3,389 pounds usually delivers. The electro-hydraulic, engine-speed-sensitive rack-and-pinion steering is light and fairly quick with decent feedback, while the 4-wheel disc brakes with standard ABS and Electronic Brake Force Distribution deliver respectable power and a solid pedal feel.

Another surprise was fuel economy. EPA mileage ratings for the Mazda5 are 22 city/27 highway for the manual, and 21 city/26 highway for the automatic. Our automatic outstripped them all with 31 miles-per-gallon in mixed driving. That’s outstanding, and it’s not a hybrid.

Prices for the Mazda5 are outstanding, too: $17,995 for the base Sport, with our Touring at $19,510. Options pushed that up to a still very reasonable $22,410.

We came away far more impressed with the Mazda5 than we were prepared to be. It’s not only an affordable, able mover for more active people, but an excellent exercise in the use of interior space that requires only modest amounts of fuel to move it. For young families on the go, the 2006 Mazda 5 is a lifestyle vehicle that will fit their lives just right, and a lesson for all ages that bigger is not always better.


  • Engine: 2.3-Liter Dual-overhead-cam 4-Cylinder
  • Horsepower: 157
  • Torque: 148 Lb Feet
  • EPA: 21 MPG City/26 MPG Highway
  • Mixed Loop: 31 MPG