First drive: Mazda 5

Following hot on the heels of the new Ford Grand C-Max and the heavily revised Volkswagen Touran, Mazda has just launched its own reinvigorated solution to the compact MPV class – the Mazda 5.

The Japanese manufacturer has treated the car to a completely restyled body, a retuned chassis, improved interior and an all-new 2.0-litre petrol engine.
The 5's new design marks the debut of Mazda's new design language, which is apparently inspired by the flowing elements found in nature. The sharp contours are possibly a little too delicate for an MPV's robust profile, but aside from the drab rear end, the fresh look is reasonably effective.

Inside the car inherits its predecessor's seating arrangement, which eschews a full size central seat in the second row for a smaller version that can be adapted into different storage solutions depending on the users' requirements.

It's a novel system, and you can see why it has its fans, but doubtless some family buyers will still baulk at the loss of a traditional third seat. Especially as with all compact MPVs, the 5's third row is strictly for small children only.

Trim materials have been given a bump throughout the cabin, and the dash refreshed, but that doesn't disguise the fact that there's an awful lot of cheap plastic in front of the driver.

Getting in and out certainly isn't a problem though; the car retains the twin sliding rear doors of the original, with the electrically powered version standard on the top-spec Sport model.

The news behind the wheel isn't bad either. Mazda claims it has worked towards achieving a harmonised dynamic driving feel - which is a complicated way of saying they've increased chassis stiffness and retuned the dampers – meaning the 5's already fairly decent handling gets a smidgen more responsive without any significant loss of comfort.

The marginal improvements are augmented by the manufacturer's new MZR 2.0-litre petrol engine. It's no barnstormer, but the 148bhp direct injection lump is a significant improvement over the revised 112bhp 1.8-litre unit that joins it in the range from launch, and is capable of 40mpg while emitting 159g/km of CO2. A diesel engine is sorely missing from the range, with Mazda delaying its 1.6-litre oil burner until 2011.

The 5 will hit the showrooms in Mazda's now familiar trim levels of TS, TS2 and Sport. Standard equipment will include six airbags, traction control, two ISOFIX child seat anchor points, air conditioning, cruise control, six-speaker stereo and alloy wheels.

Despite being surrounded by high profile competitors the Mazda 5 remains a solid choice towards the lower end of the market. While the manufacturer's upgrades have not made the MPV a significantly better car, and its pricing places it perilously close to the superior Ford, it is still worthy of a place on the family transport shortlist.
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