2008 Mazda MAZDA5

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The Car Connection
The Car Connection

The Car Connection Expert Review

Martin Padgett Martin Padgett Editorial Director
July 6, 2008

Buying tip

The newly improved 2008 Mazda5 is better in its baser forms. With a lot of options, it encroaches on full-size minivan prices.

features & specs

4-Door Wgn Automatic Grand Touring
4-Door Wgn Automatic Sport
4-Door Wgn Automatic Touring
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Provided you don't expect too much of a zoom-zoom feel, the 2008 Mazda Mazda5 is one of the few good choices for buyers looking for minivan spaciousness in a vehicle that's especially fuel-efficient and maneuverable.

In assembling this review on the 2008 Mazda5, TheCarConnection.com's automotive experts read a number of critical reviews and included the most useful information from them. Then the editors at TheCarConnection.com brought their firsthand experience with the Mazda5 to this review to make it especially insightful.

The 2008 Mazda5 is a vehicle that's not closely rivaled in the U.S. market; it's a three-row, six-seat "sport minivan" that's slightly smaller than short-wheelbase versions of minivans, such as the Kia Sedona.

The 2008 Mazda5 shares its platform and powertrain with the Mazda3 sedan, and it promises especially good handling. That handling prowess is assured via MacPherson struts in the front and a multilink suspension in the rear, with 17-inch wheels and tires. Braking is provided by a surefooted four-wheel anti-lock disc system.

Nimble handling and excellent maneuverability distinguish the 2008 Mazda Mazda5 from other SUV and minivan possibilities on the road, but it's hindered by a 153-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that is only somewhat peppy with the standard five-speed manual (a rarity among minivans). With the available five-speed automatic transmission, the engine is barely adequate with a light load and completely overwhelmed when carrying around half of your kid's soccer team.

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The 2008 Mazda5 stands out among vehicles its size for its amazingly spacious interior, with seating for up to six people--although the rearmost two seats are kid's stuff only. "Theater-style" seating makes the most of those rear seats, although the front seats are skimpy in size for taller or larger people. A one-touch walk-in mechanism offers easy access to the third-row seats, and both the second- and third-row seats can fold down to create a virtually flat floor for transporting large objects. For more space in either the second or third row as needed, the second-row seats slide fore and aft. The Mazda5 rides well, too--smoothly but firmly and without much body motion.

Available in Sport or Touring trim levels, the 2008 Mazda5 includes a standard CD stereo, power windows and locks, and cruise control. Available equipment includes air conditioning, fog lamps, a CD changer, and a power moonroof. For 2008, the Mazda5 gets a touched-up exterior design, rear vents, an iPod input jack, and on some models, LED taillights. Grand Touring models also pick up standard alarm systems, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system, automatic headlights, heated sideview mirrors, and rain-sensing wipers.

Top options on the 2008 Mazda5 include a DVD-based navigation system, remote engine start, an overhead rear-seat DVD entertainment system, and Sirius Satellite Radio.

Four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes with electronic brake-force distribution are paired with stability control in the standard-features list, which also includes front side and side curtain airbags that cover all three rows of seating. The 2008 Mazda5 hasn't been crash-tested by either of the U.S. testing programs.


2008 Mazda MAZDA5


The 2008 Mazda Mazda5's chief visual attribute is its size: petite.

The 2008 Mazda Madza5 is variously called a mini-minivan, microvan, vanlette, and tall wagon. Whatever you call it, the Mazda5 looks sporty and offers room for six passengers in the footprint of one of Mazda's smallest vehicles.

Cars.com says the 2008 Mazda Mazda5 is "significantly smaller than traditional minivans," and Mother Proof notes it's "more than a foot and a half shorter and 8 inches narrower than most minivans." It would not be a stretch to call the Mazda5 a "sensibly sized wagon," in the words of ConsumerGuide, if you overlook its sliding rear doors. A good idea, the Mazda 2008 Mazda5's sliders "make loading passengers in tight parking spaces easy," reports Edmunds, which attributes the feature to the Mazda5's European roots. For 2008, Mazda has slightly refreshed the Mazda5's grille, headlights, bumper, color options, and tail. Also new are restyled 17-inch alloy wheels.

For Mazda, 2008's interior design of the Mazda5 can be summed up as "sensible." A large speedometer dominates the three-gauge cluster, and the gearshift is mounted on a center panel. Cars.com confirms this, writing of the 2008 Mazda that "controls are sensibly arranged." Electroluminescent gauges (those that are lit day and night) are favorites of Mazda; 2008’s Mazda5 now features them "along with rear sear air vents and controls [and] additional passenger flip-down armrests," according to Edmunds. New this year is the optional navigation screen that no longer pops up out of the dash but now adorns a prominent position at the top of the center console. Mother Proof thinks it's "huge."

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2008 Mazda MAZDA5


The 2008 Mazda Mazda5 has responsive steering, a firm but comfortable ride, and a choice of two transmissions, but its engine is undersized for the task.

Nimble handling and excellent maneuverability distinguish the 2008 Mazda Mazda5 from other SUV and minivan possibilities on the road, but it's hindered by a 153-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. Car and Driver tested the Mazda5's 0-60 mph acceleration, clocking it at a "ho-hum 9.4 seconds." Loaded with passengers and/or cargo, "performance suffers," says Edmunds. Cars.com finds the Mazda5's engine is "smooth-revving"; they also claim it "can sound buzzy at higher rpm," but also contradict themselves when they write the engine is "strong enough for its purposes" and, later, "it wouldn't be hard for the...Mazda5 to be underpowered."

The 2008 Mazda Mazda5 is only somewhat peppy with the standard five-speed manual (a rarity among minivans). The base Sport is only available with a five-speed manual transmission that ConsumerGuide calls "slick [and] easy-shifting." The Mazda 2008 Touring and Grand Touring trims have as standard a new five-speed automatic. With the available five-speed automatic transmission, the engine is barely adequate with a light load and completely overwhelmed when carrying around half of your kid's soccer team. Car and Driver claims "just five percent [of buyers] opt to shift for themselves" but feels "the new auto tranny preserves enough of the fun quotient for most drivers." The auto transmission's shifts are "smooth," writes Cars.com "and it features a clutchless-manual mode" for those drivers who only occasionally want to shift for themselves.

The 2008 Mazda Mazda5's fuel economy reflects the small engine's power output. Fueleconomy.gov reports that manual-equipped Mazda5s achieve 22 mpg city/28 mpg highway, while automatic-equipped units achieve 21/27 mpg. In testing an automatic version, ConsumerGuide "achieved 21.4 mpg." They add, "the 5 uses regular-grade gas." Mother Proof also tested an automatic, reporting, "The Mazda5 got about 20 mpg in [a] hilly neighborhood."

Introduced in 2006 by Mazda, 2008’s Mazda5 still shares the suspension and underbody with the automaker's compact Mazda3. Consisting of MacPherson struts up front and a multilink rear suspension, the Mazda5's handling, steering, and ride garnered praise in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. ConsumerGuide gushes, "The Mazda5 is surprisingly sporty. Grip is good and body lean is modest." At 0.80 g, the Mazda5 "outgripped...full-sizers on the skidpad," finds Car and Driver. Cars.com feels the Mazda5's steering "is designed to engage the driver" and that a turn of the wheel "delivers a quick change of direction [with] a fair amount of feedback." They also assert that while the suspension is "on the firm side...it provides a tolerable ride."

All models are equipped with ABS with electronic brake-force distribution and brake assist that, says Cars.com, "stops the Mazda5 easily and pedal feel is natural, which is a plus."

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2008 Mazda MAZDA5

Comfort & Quality

The versatile 2008 Mazda Mazda5 has space for six, but it’s a stretch.

As a mini-minivan, there's not much room behind the 2008 Mazda5's three seating rows, but clever engineering makes good use of what space is available.

The 2008 Mazda Mazda5 is equipped with two captain's chairs in the first two rows and a 50/50-split bench in the third. As Cars.com reports, "the second-row seats can slide and recline," and the front seats "leave you feeling good even after hours at the wheel [though] they're fairly snug and may not be comfortable for all types." Very tall drivers "wanted longer cushions and more rearward travel," according to ConsumerGuide, who also find the second row to have "good legroom...abetted by the slide and recline adjustments."

Cars.com explains the appeal lies in the Mazda5's ability to "offer surprising utility in a package that's not as mundane as many small cars." They state "there's very limited space behind the third row...when those six seats are occupied," but the "measly cargo area can be expanded to 44 cubic feet by folding the third row down." With the second row folded down, too, the Mazda5 yields 79 cubic feet of cargo room, with enough length to fit a five-foot two-by-four. The rear door is a liftgate, and as such, it "barely clears six-footer heads," but the low floor aids loading. In addition, the sliding doors "provide outstanding entry and exit to the 2nd row but not to the 3rd row, which requires serious contortions," says ConsumerGuide.

In this Mazda, 2008 brings abundant small-item storage hidden beneath seats and below the floor. Mother Proof details them: "plastic storage bins under both of the second-row seats...a table with two cupholders on the passenger side that folds out into the aisle between the seats...the table surface pops out to reveal a [nifty] toy net...[and] there's another bin hiding under the floor of the rear cargo area."

Build quality is a "pro," according to ConsumerGuide, who explain "hard-plastic surfaces are tempered somewhat by rich graining and good overall assemble quality." The windows aft of the front row are tinted.

Cabin noise is an issue in the Mazda5. Cars.com notes that the "cabin gets a bit loud when going [fast], with both wind and road noise contributing to the din." Mother Proof characterizes the noise as "annoying" and "ever-persistent." They surmise the Mazda 2008 warranted no additional noise insulation "[in order] to provide an economic package." ConsumerGuide notes, "coarse pavement induces audible tire thrum that resonates through the large, open interior."

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2008 Mazda MAZDA5


The lack of traction control and stability control on the 2008 Mazda Mazda5 are minuses for a family vehicle.

Except for traction control and stability control, the 2008 Mazda Mazda5 offers a full complement of standard safety features. Unfortunately, no crash-test data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) exists. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not tested the Mazda5, either.

Standard safety features on this Mazda 2008 include side impact airbags for the front seats, side curtain airbags for all three rows, anti-lock brakes, and a tire pressure monitoring system. Cars.com notes, regarding child car seat anchors (LATCH points), that the second row has upper and lower anchors, but the third row has only upper anchors.

Mother Proof seems perturbed about the safety feature built in the optional navigation system: "[It's] easy to use...but the car has to be stopped to program in a destination...it means a passenger can't work the system if the car is in gear. I appreciate the effort to guard me from my own stupidity, but...there are limits." Other manufacturers implement this feature, too.

Also standard are electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and brake assist (BA). J.D. Power explains, "EBD automatically balances front-to-rear braking forces to optimize stopping power...BA provides full braking power in emergency braking situations."

Visibility is good, as it should be, considering the amount of glass. Passengers sit up high in the Mazda. For 2008, drivers "[have] a commanding outlook over...the instrument panel," writes Kelley Blue Book. There is no backup assist camera available on this 2008 Mazda, and an anti-theft alarm system is available only on the top-of-the-line Grand Touring trim as standard.


2008 Mazda MAZDA5


The 2008 Mazda Mazda5 has a good features list, but if you want one with a manual transmission, leather, and a navigation system, you’re out of luck.

For fans of Mazda, 2008’s Mazda5 offers many popular features that should satisfy most families.

There are three trim levels for the 2008 Mazda Mazda5: Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring (GT).

The base 2008 Mazda5 Sport is equipped with the five-speed manual transmission, 17-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, rear-seat air conditioning with separate controls, full power accessories, a tilt and telescoping steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, a trip computer, and a six-speaker sound system with CD and an auxiliary audio jack, reports Edmunds.

The 2008 Mazda Mazda5 Touring trim adds the five-speed automatic, fog lights, a rear spoiler, moonroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and an in-dash six-CD changer. The Grand Touring trim of the Mazda 2008 piles on automatic xenon headlights, rain-sensing wipers, leather upholstery, heated front seats, and Bluetooth, according to Edmunds, who add that "all Mazda 5s are pre-wired for [Sirius] satellite radio." Remote illuminated keyless entry is standard on all 2008 Mazda 5 trims, too, according to Mother Proof.

A DVD entertainment system, a HomeLink universal garage/gate opener, and a cargo cover are available on all trims. Options on the 2008 Mazda5 Sport trim include the moonroof and a rear spoiler but only with the five-speed auto transmission; it's odd that the sporty rear spoiler cannot be had with the sportscar-like manual transmission. Remote start is optional on the Touring and Grand Touring trims, but the DVD-navigation system with touchscreen is optional only on the Grand Touring trim, according to various reviews read by TheCarConnection.com. Mother Proof notes, "Leather is only available on the [top-of-the-line] Grand Touring trim."

To keep weight and cost down in this Mazda, 2008 Mazda5s do not have a power driver seat. They do, however, feature a pump lever to adjust seat height. On all trims, "a console emerges from under the second-row passenger seat and contains cupholders for both middle-row passengers and an ingenious net catch-all for odds and ends," describes Kelley Blue Book.

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