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08/03/2005: "driving the phoenix"

The other night, my wife pleasantly surprised me. She said that she wants to test drive the Mazda5, and that she'd rather make it work that go for a full-blown minivan, new or used. It's cheaper (new) than regular minivans, and is way more fuel efficient. Plus, it's the only one that comes with a 5-speed. I was quite happy to hear that she'd prefer that over a true minivan.

So, just when I thought it was dead to us, we took a Madza5 out for a test drive last night.

We showed up to the dealership fully loaded: all four of us were in the car, plus we had two grocery bins with us and our stroller. We needed to determine exactly how much stuff this nanovan would actually hold.

At this point let me say that I'm really not all that impressed with the salesperson we're dealing with. Although it sounds like he's been working there for many many years, he really doesn't give off an air of credibility, or even true competence. Everything seems off-the-cuff, sometimes to his detriment, and other times it means he just keeps on talking long after he should shut up. For example, before we were able to take the nanovan out for a test drive he checked it for gas. Well, the gas light was on. I nearly offered to take $10 cash and go fill it myself, but instead he managed to find a jerry can and put a couple more litres of gas in the tank - but not without spilling a bunch on the ground and on the vehicle itself. Extremely sloppy, on a number of fronts.

In any case, back to the test drive. While our salesperson was floundering about for gas and a plate, we opened the back up to fit our stuff in. With the exception of a gap between the two middle seats, keeping the rear seats folded flat would provide a very decent cargo area for the times that we only have four people in the vehicle. With all six seats available, our grocery bins simply don't fit in the remaining cargo area, although some bags would. Surprisingly, our stroller DOES fit in the remaining space, although it's a tight fit. Tight or not, I managed to close the rear hatch with the stroller in and the seats upright.

The test drive was really only half a test drive, as they only had an automatic model on the lot last night. We'll come back to drive the 5-speed at some point, but this at least gave us an idea how it felt on the streets and highways. (The automatic does have a manual shift feature, which is kind of fun, but a distant cry from a real manual transmission.) Power seemed good, as was visibility. It will take a little bit of getting used to the rear visibility, as the rear window is smaller than the field of vision in the rearview mirror. That gives the feeling of the view being boxed in, even though you have full rear vision. Seating is comfortable, and the chassis seems to be fairly rigid (after testing out some oversized speed bumps). All in all, a nice vehicle. I'll look forward to testing a 5-speed for longer than 10 minutes next time.

At this point, we're trying to figure out what we can afford, and what our options with our current vehicle are. I think we might be in a slight positive position in terms of the car's value and it's buy-out, which would be nice. As much as we'd like to get the top-end GT version, price may simply dictate that we go for the base GS. However, Mazda lease rates are currently 5.9%, which seems really high. If we can find some other place with more reasonable rates, that could bring the monthly payment down much quicker than any hard bargaining on my part could.

Now I have to call my stepbrother and see if he can sell us a Mazda, and talk to my falther-in-law to see if his Ford discount applies to Mazdas (a subsidiary of Ford). Meanwhile, I can enthusiastically recommend the Mazda5 to anyone needing more than what a car can offer, but is loathe to do the real minivan thing. It has two sliding doors and six seats, but it drives like a mid-size car. Me likey.

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August 2005

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