New era for the MAV
The first thing that springs to mind when you mention a "people carrier" is "competition", fierce competition!
Indeed, so intense is the rivalry in the sector these days that a new category had to be invented to cater for all of the emerging aspirants.
The acronym - "Sports Utility Vehicle" - used to cover a multitude until someone realised that not all those who use, or who are carried in, such vehicles are the sporty type.
Some of them might even be fat. Or just lazy. Or both and, therefore, travelling under false pretences.
So, because they had to have their own category, along came the MAV or, to flesh that out a bit for the uninitiated, the 'Multi Activity Vehicle'.
Now you'll be aware that both these types of chariots have a lot in common, principally that they are coveted by the likes of those who get up at six in the morning in winter and go out for a jog and generally revel in the great outdoors.
They're coveted, too, by those who like, or need, their space and especially sought-after by those who can't go anywhere without turning a Sunday afternoon spin into a tortuous family expedition.
Just as well, then, that most SUVs or MAVs worth their salt have seven seats and room to beat the band.
Some are a bit like a mixture of a kitchen and a living room on wheels, are sumptuously comfortable, lavishly sprinkled with nooks and crannies for knickknacks and whatnots (no fewer than 45 in the test car), have DVD screens lashed to headrests and an abundance of plastic tables that pop out of the back of seats.
But, is there any real difference between a MAV and an SUV? The answer to that is "not a lot really".
In fact, whether you are in the SUV or the MAV camp, you're someone who, from a comfort and safety point of view, loves the raised driving position, likes a superior level of creature comforts while on the road - and who adores forking out huge amounts of money on fuel and road tax!
Huh? Well not quite. While used to be the case, today, thanks to the development of super-efficient and economical engines - both petrol and diesel - and a sea change in the manner in which road tax is levied, it no longer costs an arm and a leg to run a people carrier.
However, be warned: if the cost of fuel continues to rise at its current alarming rate, it won't just be a matter of an arm and a leg where running costs are concerned, but a complete torso!
Take the latest version of the globally successful Mazda5, which has quite a lot to live up to given that the previous generation appealed to more than 500,000 buyers around the world.
The key ingredients of its re-incarnation are headed by the introduction of 1.6-litre (115ps) diesel engine with six-speed gearbox. For taxation purposes, it falls into Band B and a €160 annual charge thanks to a 13 per cent improvement in C0₂ emissions.
Meanwhile, combined fuel economy of 5.2L/100kms (54mpg) is, says Mazda, a 15 per cent improvement from the previous model’s two-litre diesel engine, whilst the six-speed gearbox is designed "to make for more refined motorway cruising".
Be that as it may, such technical achievements, worthy as indeed they are, are unlikely to stimulate the interest of passers-by as much as another key feature of the revised five: the rear sliding doors - or to be specific in the comprehensively-equipped top of the range test car - the Sport - the 'electrically- powered' rear sliding doors!
There are four models to choose from priced from the mid-20s up to €30,000. All versions are well equipped while additional 'goodies ' in the test car, the 1.6D Sport, apart from the powered doors included Bluetooth, climate control, rear parking sensors, cruise control, leather upholstery, 17” alloys and heated seats.
Interest in the sliding doors will be closely followed by another important and innovative feature of the car: its so-called Karakuri seat functionality, meaning that up to seven people can come along for the ride. However, if you regard seven a crowd, you can still put the car to good use - as a cargo carrier.
With the seven-seat configuration, second and third row seats can be folded with ease into a variety of seating configurations, including a flat 1,485 litre space for transporting bulky items.
Interior comfort levels have been enhanced - the benefit of the larger and wider seats was particularly appreciated during several lengthy test runs. In the light of so many positive improvements, though, the new dashboard looked appallingly dull.
From the outside, a new 'Mazda family face' has been introduced into the front of the car while, overall, it has a sportier look. Aerodynamics and the engine cooling system have also been improved, while, in terms of safety, side door impact beams with a double-hat shape adds greater strength.
Pedestrian safety measures have also been upgraded by enhancements to the bonnet and front bumper and safety features such as ABS Anti-Lock Braking System, EBD electronic brake force distribution, brake assist, traction control system, DSC Dynamic Stability Control, Emergency Stop Signal (ESS), front, side, and curtain airbags (for all 3 rows) are now standard.
Mazda has built its reputation over many years on sturdiness and reliability. In the new Mazda5, it can take an additional bow for useful innovation.
In its new guise, it's not, nor was it ever intended to be, an exciting car. However, it is eminently practical, especially for families, and comfortable to boot and it handles well on the open road.
The powered sliding doors are particularly advantageous in tight supermarket car parks, while they will also be appreciated by the elderly and the infirm for whom the task of accessing the rear is greatly eased.
If you’re in the market for a practical vehicle with a dash of luxury and above-average levels of comfort, take one for a test drive - you'd be MAV not to!