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First drive: Mazda5 - on sale July 22



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Just how big are families expected to be these days? Considering 2.4 children is the norm, why do manufacturers continue to make mini-MPVs with seven seats?

Designers of the Mazda5 have realized that it’s rare for an MPV to carry a full compliment of passengers and have created a new seating system: Karakuri. No, it doesn’t mean taking turns singing the hits from Grease. Karakuri means something unexpected, or a trick, relating to the Mazda5’s 6+1 layout of three rows of two seats, with a fold-out seventh seat hidden inside the second row.

In normal use, the two seats in the second row are separated by a central space that provides access to the rear bench. Lifting the nearside seat reveals the seventh one, or a table inside the offside, either of which can bridge the space as required.

Access to the middle and rear rows is easy via large sliding doors that are lightweight and simple to open with one hand, as is the tailgate, which has a two-stage opening. All the rear seats can be folded individually to create a flat floor area with maximum capacity of 1,566 litres. There are 45 storage areas, including 10 cup holders.

The Mazda5 will be offered in three trim levels: basic TS specification, the more expensive TS2 model, and the range-topping Sport.

There is a range of optional extras including a DVD sat-nav system with pop-up screen, which works with a rear-mounted camera to aid reversing and parking, and a roof-mounted 7in LCD screen and DVD player.

Two petrol engines will initially be available, revised versions of the Mazda6’s 1.8 and 2.0.

Consumers wanting a turbodiesel Mazda5 must wait six to nine months and pay a £1,600 premium for the 2.0 MZR-CD unit. This will be in standard 108bhp or high power 141bhp form, both with a six-speed manual ’box.

The launch has been brought forward to July 22 from September 1. This is due to earlier-than-expected production of right-hand drive petrol models, according to Mazda Motors UK marketing director Jeremy Thomson. Yet, coincidentally, that’s the same weekend that Vauxhall is launching its new Zafira.

Mazda’s UK network has been set a 4,500 unit full-year target, split 70% petrol/30% turbodiesel. Thomson says most of the Mazda5’s sales will be to retail customers and user-choosers, and he expects it to gain Mazda a three per cent share of the mini-MPV segment.

Thomson has a web-based marketing campaign ready to go online next month as a precursor to TV advertising, starting August 1. Thomson won’t reveal details, but says: “The advert has to be shown after the 9pm watershed. It will certainly emphasize the fun and thrill of owning and driving the Mazda5.”

Fun and versatility is Mazda’s theme: sales staff from its dealerships will be taken to Disneyland Paris later this month for product training.

Strengths: Easy-to-use seating system, well laid-out driver controls, stylish looks
Weaknesses: Petrol engines lack torque, no diesel for six months and will have £1,600 price premium
Opportunity: Parents, grandparents and minicab drivers will love it
Threat: Zafira is cheaper, late diesel launch could clash with 2006
benefit-in-kind taxation levy
USP: Sliding doors are unique to the mini-MPV segment
Prices: £14,300-£16,500
Engines: 1.8 16V: 113bhp; 2.016V: 143bhp
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Performance: 0-62mph: 10.8-11.4sec; top speed: 113-121mph
Efficiency: 34.4-35.7mpg combined; 190-198g/km CO2
Servicing: 12,000 miles
Rivals: Ford C-Max, Vauxhall Zafira, Renault Grand Scenic, Fiat Multipla

Behind the wheel

The good-looking Mazda5 is based on the Mazda6’s capable platform. Interior trim has a solid, quality feel, while the positioning of controls on the dashboard and elevated centre console is well thought-out.

Driver comfort is good thanks to a moveable steering column and a height and slide adjustable seat, although this lacks support during hard cornering. The second row of seats can also slide forward by up to 270mm to provide more legroom to the third row.

Wind and road noise is kept low by a sector-leading drag coefficient of just 0.29 and ample sound insulation. However, the petrol engines are quite revvy at motorway speed. We expect the lower-revving turbodiesels to be the more competent cruisers.

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