CORONADO, Calif. -- We're streaking along Silver Strand Boulevard, pitched on the Coronado sand strip separating tranquil water in San Diego Bay from turbulent Pacific surf, while steering a rather sporty rendition of a miniature minivan from Mazda, that "Zoom-Zoom" brand steeped in the production of fun-to-drive cars.
Labeled as the Mazda5 (the digit represents the summation of cabin portals including two swing-out doors for front seats, two side sliders plus a hatchback lid at the tail), Mazda's mini-minivan in new generational format for 2012 is marketed as a multi-activity vehicle (MAV).
The compact platform of Mazda's pavement-hugging and curve-craving Mazda3 four-door sedan supports the wedge-shaped structure of a tall little wagon rigged with the sliding side doors of a minivan and a long cabin lined with three pairs of adjustable flip-and-fold seats with 16 different configurations for a capacity of anywhere from two to six passengers.
The new mini-minivan rolls on sporty 17-inch alloy wheels and rides on a chassis of exceptional rigidity with a broad track and extended wheelbase for stability.
Mazda5 stocks hardware which promotes sporty handling, such as a suspension system that's independent at each wheel -- MacPherson struts in front and a rear multi-link -- with anti-roll bars fore and aft to check body roll.
Steering uses a rack and pinion device controlled by electro-hydraulic power assistance and brakes consist of ventilated discs up front and solid discs in back.
And there's a high-revving four-cylinder engine under the hood which produces a surprising kick through a short-stick manual six-speed transmission or a smooth five-speed automatic with manual shift mode (MSM).
The 2.5-liter aluminum in-line-four engine with dual cams and variable valve timing (VVT) nets 157 hp at 6000 rpm with 163 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm.
Mazda5 the MAV seems like a shrink-wrapped variation of a conventional minivan.
Rising tall and stretching long due to the 108-inch wheelbase length, Mazda's mini-minivan looks sleek with a windswept prow etched by twin creases which flow up from monochromatic grille slats over a crimped nose to corners of the severely raked windshield.
New narrow cat-eye halogen headlamps wedge into front corners and flank a wide-mouth grille traversed by black-out bar, with a pair of trapezoidal foglamps prominent in the air dam of top-trim versions.
Shapely sides in a monochromic treatment break for round wheelwells as side doors blend into the panels due to blackened roof pillars on each side which disguise the four-door format and make the minivan seem like a sporty little wagon with tapering roofline.
Sporty ground effects work all around, with front fascia housing a broad air intake and sill extensions tucking low on each side.
At the tail, a row of clear-lens taillights stack high on rear corners and an optional spoiler crowns the roof atop the hatchback door. The liftgate stretches down into the back bumper, its bottom edge aligning with the floor of a rear cargo bay.
The cabin of Mazda5 '12 scored a re-do for increased passenger comfort and more storage space.
Styling in the cabin is minimalist cool with metallic-like plastic touches on the dash and shift console which protrudes rearward at the bottom of the center stack.
The layout manages to fit three tiers of seats -- 2+2+2 -- into a condensed cabin which benefits from the wheelbase stretch and a tall arching ceiling.
Seats do tricks.
Middle-row buckets slide back and forth, as the seatbacks recline or fold forward to a flat plane without having to remove headrests.
Each has a one-touch lever mechanism which tips the seatback forward and slides the cushion way forward to make room for accessing the third row. There are hidden storage spots beneath the buckets, plus a fold-out tray table that tucks between the two chairs.
The back row splits in half to form two separate seats. Each tips forward individually and folds down to form a flat cargo floor.
Stow space is surprising, with 27.5 cubic feet available with third-row seats down and 55.4 cubic feet with middle-row and third-row seats folded.
Mazda5 trims out in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring editions.
The standard wheel package for Mazda5 Sport consists of 16-inch alloy wheels with 205/55R16 all-season radials by Toyo or Bridgestone.
The Touring and Grand Touring models roll on 17-inch aluminum alloy wheels ringed by 205/50R17 all-season radials by Toyo.
Mazda5 Sport for $19,195 offers the six-speed manual transmission or the five-speed automatic.
Mazda5 Touring with the five-speed automatic lists for $21,195, while the Mazda5 Grand Touring begins at $23,875.