GENEVA -- The redesigned Mazda5 compact minivan is the first production iteration of Mazda's "Nagare" styling philosophy, and Mazda hopes the swoopy styling will take some of the sting out of the capitulatory purchase of a family-hauler.
Intriguingly, while most vehicles get larger with a redesign, the Mazda5 is slightly smaller in most dimensions.
The seven-passenger Mazda5, introduced at the auto show here, is an illustration of smart, cost-saving engineering. Although the vehicle looks new inside and out, many of the underpinnings are carryover, borrowed or re-engineered, not redesigned. For instance, the center console's information display is pulled straight from the Mazda3 and CX-7.
For the U.S. market, Mazda will replace the former 153-hp, 2.3-liter four-cylinder with a more powerful, 167-hp 2.5-liter borrowed from the Mazda3. The bigger jump is in torque, which leaps from 148 pounds-feet to an estimated 168.
Buyers in the United States will get a choice of a five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual. Mazda also performed substantial suspension retuning for better ride and handling, said Robert Davis, senior vice president of product development and quality at Mazda North American Operations.
Because the Mazda5 is a bigger seller in Japan and Europe, those markets will get the vehicle this year. It will arrive in the United States in the first quarter of 2011, Davis said.
The first U.S. launch, in 2005, was not approached with confidence, as the segment traditionally has been a nonstarter in the United States. Mazda hardly put any marketing muscle behind it. But when gasoline prices increased, so did Mazda5 sales.
U.S. sales of the Mazda5 peaked at a modest 22,021 units in 2008, but executives are confident the new model will sell more. No estimates for the United States were given.
"Other than the Kia [Rondo], we're the only player in this segment," said Jim O'Sullivan, CEO of Mazda North American Operations. "Every time gas prices go up, people come to this car."