2006 Mazda5 New Car Test Drive
As GM marches forward with its plans to create specific identities for its various divisions and model lines, Pontiac is fortunate to already have a clear image for its models, and the big Bonneville is no exception. There's just no mistaking the Bonneville for something other than a Pontiac.
A large American sedan and sporty driving don't usually go together, but the Bonneville manages to pull off this unlikely combination. It delivers quick acceleration, responsive handling, a comfortable ride, plenty of passenger space and sporty styling. The definition of the American muscle car centers on lots of performance for not much money. Big engines, driving the rear wheels, in swoopy 2-door bodies. And of all these fairly affordable muscle cars that once poured off the American industry's assembly lines, the General Motors F-body cousins--the Pontiac Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro--are the only two that have offered, year in and year out, an unbroken line of performance of this uniquely American recipe.
Some diehard sentimentalists moan the passing of what they remember as truly fast cars, but they ought to open their eyes. The current Firebird and Camaro are far faster than their ancestors ever thought about being, and they're better in every other way, too. At the top you'll find the Firebird Formula and Trans Am, available with GM's familiar 5.7-liter V8 rated at 285 hp. With the optional WS6 Ram Air package, horsepower is upped to a remarkable 305, zero-60 mph will take less than six seconds and the top speed will nudge 160.
But there's something even more surprising than that--and with more real-world significance, as well. The base Firebird--and its Camaro cousin--is fitted with GM's 3800 Series II, a 3.8-liter V6 that's been massaged and polished to 200 hp and 225 lb.-ft. of torque, and it will go to 6000 rpm. It doesn't require elephantine memory to remember when V8 Firebirds didn't have 200 horsepower.
What you have with the V6 Firebird is V8-level performance, 6-cyl. economy, a total price under $20,000 and a car your insurance agent probably won't notice unless you get giddy and tell him. Sporty looks. Competent performance. Competitive price. That's what made Pontiac Grand Am the seventh best-selling car in the country last year.
Pontiac has spent millions to establish itself as General Motor's high-performance 'excitement' division, and the Grand Am certainly has that aggressive attitude from its fog lamps to its spoiler. Even though the basic look is more than a decade old, the Grand Am still stands out in a crowd of far more mundane looking family sedans.
You might be a little disappointed once you get a Grand Am out on the road. The car's fetching exterior promises more of an exhilarating performance than the Grand Am actually delivers. But its suspension and powertrain are perfectly acceptable and the ride is quiet and pleasant enough.
While the Grand Am may not out-perform most of the cars in its class, you can't ignore its price. This Pontiac will get around with some flair for a couple of thousand dollars less than a comparably equipped Honda Accord or Toyota Camry.
So while we suspect a lot of folks are initially smitten with the Grand Am's sporty appearance, common sense tells them to buy because its a good deal. Minivans are passe. Station wagons are so outdated. But families still exist, and couples young and old still enjoy getting out and about. And, of course, gas prices continue to climb, or show little or no sign of returning to levels U.S. drivers consider normal.
What to do? Why, buy a crossover, or what some used to call a hybrid: a car that's more than a car, but isn't really a minivan or a station wagon, either. Whatever they're called, they fit somewhere in between those two, socially dated vehicles, trying to blend the best of both without mixing in any of the downsides of either.
The newest iterations are about the size of a car, but slightly taller, and often share underpinnings with cars. They use the same powertrains, albeit tuned to motivate generally slightly heavier and bulkier packages. But they find room inside for a minimum of six people, sometimes seven. There's generally not much cargo space. But hey, something has to give.
Into this ballooning fray enters the 2006 Mazda5, a six-passenger vehicle built, believe it or not, on the foundation underlying the company's smaller sedan, the Mazda3. Granted, it has been stretched this way and that, and beefed up here and there, but the lion's share of the mechanicals source directly from that car. Equally telling, the Mazda5 weighs about the same as the Mazda6, but it's more compact than the largest of Mazda's five-passenger sedans. See how the game's played?
The result is one of those esoteric truisms, where the total is better than the sum of its parts. Not great, mind you, but better. Just like a minivan, the Mazda5 really will accommodate six adults, although a couple might have to make some less-than-comfortable adaptations, again, not unlike with some minivans. With the back two rows of seats folded, it'll hold as much or more than a station wagon. And it drives better than either a wagon or a minivan.
The base Mazda5 Sport starts at $17,435, the Touring at $18,350. Tricked out with every available factory option, the Touring lists at less than $22,500. Looked at this way, there's no competition.
Mazda is building the 2006 Mazda5 in one body style, a four-door, six-passenger, small minivan-cum-station wagon. The only engine is a 157-horsepower, 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, a four-speed automatic optional ($900).
The Mazda5 Sport ($17,435) comes with numerous creature comforts provided at no extra cost. Among them: air conditioning; power windows and central locking; four-speaker, multi-source stereo; steering wheel-mounted speed and sound controls; inboard armrests on the middle-row seats; four passenger assist grips; and carpeted floor mats. Cruise control, a tilt-and-telescope steering wheel, power outside mirrors and a six-way adjustable driver's seat with inboard armrest facilitate driver-to-car interfacing. An attractive and durable-looking fabric covers seats and door panels with seat side bolsters and insets wearing contrasting textures. Options include a power moonroof ($700), a moonroof wind deflector ($50), an MP3 player/CD changer ($500), and fog lamps ($250). One option package is offered, comprising an in-dash, six-disc CD changer, rear liftgate spoiler, and side sill extensions ($490).
Mazda5 Touring ($18,950) upgrades include automatic air conditioning; two more speakers and an in-dash, six-disc CD changer; power sliding moonroof; leather cover for the steering wheel; and a combination fold-out table and cargo net bin for the center row of seats. Externally, the mirrors get body-color paint, and the side sill extensions, liftgate spoiler and fog lamps are added. The moonroof wind deflector is still an option ($50). Exclusive to the Touring is an optional DVD-based navigation system ($2,000).
Options across the two-model line include a pearl paint finish ($200), cargo net ($40), heavy duty all-weather floor mats ($60), retractable cargo cover ($40) and wheel locks ($40).
Safety features that come standard on all models include the required dual-action frontal airbags, plus front seat-mounted side-impact airbags for torso protection, and head-protecting side air curtains for all three rows of seats. Also, every seating position gets a three-point seatbelt and an adjustable head restraint. Be sure your passengers use those seatbelts as they're your first line of defense in a crash. The middle and rear seats have child safety seat anchors (LATCH). Antilock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) come standard.