Barebones: Light On Tech, Plus An Economical Powertrain
The Mazda5's interior is sparse. Its most advanced technology option is a USB port for playing MP3s from a flash drive. Needless to say, navigating music folders without an LCD display is absolutely terrible. The little readout above the center vents always shows the folder number first, before the folder name or track data. Even with 8 GB of music, you'll quickly get annoyed flipping through the folders and waiting to see what's playing. I simply can't imagine suffering through that experience with a larger library of songs.
However, the vehicle's basic technology package is why this is a perfect project car candidate. The head unit can be swapped out for something aftermarket compatible with the double DIN form factor, and the steering wheel controls are easily integrated with third-party adapters. Again, we have a couple of head unit reviews planned that'll drop into the Mazda5 as a reference platform.
Moving out of the cockpit and into the engine compartment, we find Mazda's corporate MZR 2.5 L inline-four engine powering the microvan. This motor did its duty in a lot of Mazda and Ford vehicles over the last decade. Ford's Duratec 2.5 L is identical, serving as the base motor in its Fusion, Transit Connect, and Escape. The powertrain is simple, and confers proven reliability. Gasoline direct injection is, unfortunately, not on the engine's list of features.
The MZR is rated at 157 hp and 163 lb-ft, which is pretty typical for an economy cars. Unlike the lighter second-generation Mazda3, the MZR has an extra 369 pounds to move around in the Mazda5. That weight is worth adding though, if only for the sliding doors. Mated to the motor is a six-speed manual transmission, one of the main reasons I chose the car.
As a manual wagon with sliding doors, our Mazda5 is essentially the automotive journalist and enthusiast special. Let’s be honest: the company probably sells very few Mazda5s set up like this to the general family car-buying public. Regardless, I love it for its uniqueness and fun factor.