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Click to view picture gallery“Lots of people are
  saying lots of good
  things abo
ut Mazda —
  an interesting point
  to note if you’re in the
  market for a smart,
  practical mid-sized
  MPV. Better make
  sure the Mazda5 is
  on your list...”

MAZDA REALLY IS taking its Zoom-Zoom catchphrase to heart. Following Mazda Motors' record performance during 2006 — when it broke the 50,000 sales barrier for the first time and claimed a 2.11 per cent share of the UK market — official registration figures confirm that, over the past five years, Mazda has outgrown all other car brands in the UK. In that time, its annual sales volume has increased by more than 35,000 units. That reflects a growth rate of almost 250 per cent meaning that Mazda has Zoom-Zoomed to the highest growth rate for sales volume of any brand in the UK.

Lucky? No. Because behind Mazda's success in the UK are three key contributory factors: Product, Dealer Development and Investment in Marketing. Mazda has, over the past few years, completely renewed its product line-up — kick-starting the change in perception of the brand with the hugely-popular Mazda6, introduced in 2002. Since then, every model in Mazda's range has been replaced. In addition, the Mazda RX-8 four-door sports coupe appeared to take them into a completely new segment.

Mazda UK dealer network, which has grown from 100 in 2001 to 160 today, has also been completely reinvigorated. Further growth over
the next couple of years will primarily be product led. For 2007, there are two exciting models arriving in Mazda showrooms: the Mazda3
MPS superhatch and the Mazda MX-5 Roadster Coupe. These will be followed later in the year by the launch of the all-new Mazda CX-7 crossover SUV, which looks set to win Mazda further conquest sales. Mazda will start producing the all-new Japanese-built B-segment model in the summer.

More good news for the brand is that Mazda vehicles have claimed the top place in one of the world's largest ever studies into car reliability. The study — conducted by independent automotive warranty special-ists, Warranty Direct — looked at the reliability of more than 450,000 vehicles from 33 manufacturers across the UK and USA. Almost 92 per cent of the Mazda cars surveyed — aged between three and nine years old — suffered no mechanical failure whatsoever, outperforming all other brands. Mazda was rated number one, with a failure rate of just 8.04 per cent of all vehicles aged between three and nine years old. At the opposite extreme, famous 4x4 brands Land Rover and Jeep scored 44.21 and 46.35 per cent failure rates to fill the last two places in the survey.

Reliability is one of the key qualities ranked highest by family buyers likely to be considering Multi Activity/Multi Purpose vehicles, such as the Mazda5. Trademark sweeping headlamps, a rakish bonnet and low roofline add a jauntiness to the Mazda5's hatchback-esque styling that singles it out from many of its rivals. Another essential selling point is its seven-seat configuration. Dubbed '6+One', the Mazda5's cabin lay-out comprises three rows of two seats. The 'One' — the seventh seat — is a smaller, fold-out chair between the second row's two outer seats. Adding advantageous functionality are the sliding rear side doors. While some manufacturers offer electric operation, Mazda have opted for manual control. Not only are they lightweight enough for youngsters to open and close easily, there's no likelihood of hugely expensive repair bills should they go wrong. Not that that's likely to happen to a Mazda!

While petrol engines are readily available with a choice of 1.8-litre and 2.0-litre units, it's the diesels that have the strongest appeal — delivering, as they do, better fuel economy. The single 2.0-litre diesel unit can be specified in two flavours: 109 or 141bhp. We tried the
more powerful version which comes with a 6-speed manual gearbox as standard. Both, incidentally, offer 173g/km CO2 emissions, Euro IV compliance, a Diesel Particulate Filter and 45mpg.

The Mazda5's neatly-proportioned 5-door body is far more accommod-ating that it appears from outside. Within its 4,505mm long, 1,755mm wide and 1,665mm tall dimensions is a spacious interior with a seven-seater capacity that can be reconfigured in seconds by folding the seats. You don't even need to remove them.

Equipment levels are good across the line-up, with the range-topping Sport tested here offering a lot for your money. Highlights include climate control A/C, power windows front and rear with one-touch auto up/down on all four (many of Mazda's rivals are not so generous), privacy glass for second and third rows, powered and heated door mirrors, auto lights, auto rain-sensing wipers, trip computer, leather covered steering with remote audio controls, built-in 6-CD autochanger and CD player/radio with six speakers, black roof rails, 17-inch alumin-ium wheels shod with 205/50 Dunlop SP Sports and a subtle rear roof spoiler. A further 1,650 will upgrade your Sport to Sport Nav spec with standard DVD satellite navigation and rear view parking camera.

Safety equipment is also comprehensive: ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist, Dynamic Stability Control with Traction Control, front driver and passenger airbags, front side airbags and curtain airbags for all three rows as well as seven
3-point seatbelts. The driver and front passenger also get height-adjustable seat belts. The Mazda5 also comes with a Euro NCAP 5-star rating. Adding to the active safety is strong lighting from both dipped and main beams after dark.

Drivers will be pleased to find a car-like feel to the driving position that is made better by a tilt- and height-adjustable steering wheel, com-fortably trimmed in soft leather perforated at the ten-to-two 'work' areas. The uncluttered dash and silver-finish centre stack are nice to look at, and the readings of the three large dials — rev-counter, central speedometer and fuel/temp gauge — are effortlessly taken in at a glance. Column stalks are sturdy, and all the controls work positively, particularly the climate control knobs. Also convenient is the digital information bar along the top edge of the centre stack that displays A/C, trip and audio information.

The gearlever, mounted high in the centre console, is conveniently close to the driver's left hand for quick changes through the six-speed manual 'box. We also liked the hazard switch set on top of the fascia where it's close to the driver's left hand. The seats offer good back support and the driver gets seat height adjustment, a fold-away driver's armrest and lumbar support. The cabin is trimmed throughout with a good mix of plastics and fabrics. An attractive two-tone, 3D-effect, metallic-look material is used for the upholstery and door trims.

We've already mentioned the smoothly sliding doors that require only finger-light pressure and can be easily opened and closed with one hand. They also allow excellent access to the rear cabin's five seats with the added advantage that passengers can step in and out in tight parking spaces without any trouble. The second row consists of two individual sliding and reclining chairs that convert in seconds into a
3-person bench. The 'bridging' seat cushion is stored within the left-hand side seat base when not in use. Folded out, it frees up useful under-seat storage space. The corresponding backrest can be folded to provide both a large central armrest for second row passengers or rotated 90 degrees to allow access to the third row of 50:50 split seats or to accommodate long, thin loads.

There is loads of headroom — as well as elbow, shoulder and legroom — for both front seat and second row passengers. All but the driver's seat can fold flat to create a cavernous cargo bay. With all seven seats in use there's a handy 112-litre 'boot'. Fold away the two third row seats and space expands to 426 litres. Fold all but the front two seats and you'll have a large, flat load bay of 857 litres. The rear bumper is also set low, making loading/unloading easy work. Additional storage includes a generous two-section 11-litre glovebox, underfloor boot storage box, decent door pockets and a sunglasses holder in the overhead console. Plus there are pop-up picnic tables on the backs of the front seats. Glass areas are large enough to ensure an airy interior and there are good views out from all seats, including the rearmost pair. It's also easy to place and park. Another thoughtful touch is the front door's quarterlight panel that enhances side vision when travelling forward or manoeuvring.

Fire-up the top-end oil-burner and the first thing you notice is that it's very quiet at tick-over. With an impressive 266lb ft of torque on tap from 2,000rpm, the 2.0-litre diesel is perfectly suited to the engine room of this mid-size people carrier, providing more than enough Zoom-Zoom to haul the Mazda5 along with purposeful acceleration in all of the six gears. Thanks to strong pick-up in any gear — including the top two — it's also an adept and comfortable motorway cruiser and one that's particularly quiet. In fact, it's quite easy to forget to change
up from fourth as it just lopes along — the legal limit calls only for 2,000rpm. Mazda's engineers have clearly done a good job of minimising NVH — noise, vibration and harshness — because at speed, the only noise is not from under the bonnet but some occasional wind flutter around the A-pillars. And only then if it's a windy day.

Official performance figures are 122mph and 0-62mph acceleration in 10.4 seconds. What these paper figures don't tell you is just how eagerly the 141bhp unit tackles steep hills. Keep the pedal hard down and it will surge up severe gradients, and you'll quickly find yourself going far faster than you thought. Take it easy, however, and you'll
be rewarded with some very comforting fuel consumption figures. The official Urban, Combined and Touring figures are respectively, 38.7, 44.9 and 49.6mpg. Our overall test average worked out at a plastic-preserving 36mpg.

But the Mazda5 is not all about family appeal. The car-like driving position is matched by the Mazda5's eagerness to please on the move. If you're thinking that MPVs can't deliver driving enjoyment, go out and test drive a Mazda5. Handling is superb and there's an unlooked-for focus through corners. The electro-hydraulic power steering provides decent feedback and clean turn-in. And although the suspension set-up is soft enough to ensure everyday comfort, there's enough ability built-in to encourage some 'hustle'.

Honest roadholding and good grip make pressing on entertaining — far more so than its 'Multi Purpose' looks would lead you to believe. The ride will appeal to passengers as well as drivers and it smoothes out rough surfaces with ease. Now you know all of this, you won't be surprised to learn that the Mazda5 shares its underpinnings with Ford's C-Max — another mid-sized MPV that is genuinely enjoyable to drive. The brakes of the Mazda5 — 300mm discs ventilated at the front — are noticeably powerful and bite with little pedal travel, stopping the car without any fuss. Around town they really do pull you up suddenly and without any noticeable effort. Comforting when driving near schools, as no doubt many Mazda5s will be.

The Mazda5 definitely hits the mark in terms of sheer practicality and
is a stylish, versatile and competitively-priced people carrier for five, six or even seven. It's also an honest all-rounder that, in diesel guise, agreeably blends performance, refinement and economy. More than enough, in fact, to earn the Mazda5 a very high place on any family's shopping list.

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Mazda5 Sport 2.0 Diesel | 18,150
Maximum speed: 122mph | 0-62mph: 10.4seconds
Test MPG: 36mpg | Power: 141bhp | Torque: 266lb ft

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---------------------------------------------------------------------- Mazda5 Sport