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Mazda5: grazy smart: this people mover has the type of design not generally seen on vehicles that aren't all about o to 6o. This is about seating for six.

"Initially, the stamping engineers looked at us like we were crazy."

That's Ken Saward, design manager, Mazda North American Operations. He's talking about the reaction that the stamping engineers at Mazda back at HQ in Hiroshima had when they were shown the design for the body panels for what has become the 2012 Mazda5.

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"It is the first production car with Nagare styling," Saward says.

For those of you keeping score, you may recall the last-time you saw full-blown Nagare, it was on the 2008 Furai concept car (autofieldguide. com/articles/040801.html). Then with the current-generation Mazda3, introduced in 2009, there were Nagare elements abounding (autofieldguide. com/articles/060904.html). But here it is, with the Mazda5, in all of its edgy, wind-swept glory. On a car that is, arguably, a people mover.

Yet that was a deliberate move, Saward points out. "If we did this on a sports car, it wouldn't be noticed," he says, adding, "The 5 was the perfect opportunity." And he admits: "Mazda is the only company that would put this design on a people mover, a minivan. It is the kind of avant-garde design not seen on a Honda or Toyota."

As suggested by the reference to stamping, the body panels are made of steel, not some material that might seem to be more pliable, like a polymer. "We would not be able to get this level of detail in a plastic panel," Saward says, running his hand over the door.

One issue that had concerned the designers was how the shapes would appear in various colors; the car is offered in six: Metropolitan Gray, Clear Water Blue, Liquid Silver, Brilliant Black Charcoal, Copper Red, Crystal White Pearl. He explains that the development models are colored in silver, as it is a neutral color. But given the radical approach they were taking with the forms, they wanted to make sure that there would be no awful appearances predicated on the pallet. So they went to the stamping engineers and had them create actual panels that the design team then had painted so there would be physical evidence of how the vehicles would look. This is the first time, Saward says, that they'd gone this far.

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Another concern was that these vehicles, when they are out of the carefully controlled environment of the design studio, have to exist in the real world, where things like door dings and dents occur all too frequently. How, they wondered, would the panels lend themselves to repair? So they had engineering make an assessment of the reparability. In some regards they were surprised to learn that the creases added a benefit in that they provide repair people with a form to follow, and actually simplified repair.

As had been learned from the Furai on the racetrack, the Nagare language is not all show and no go. That is, they found that it actually helped improve the aerodynamics of the vehicle, which has a 0.3 coefficient of drag. Specific examples: They determined in wind tunnel testing that there is a benefit in the shape around the A-pillars and mirrors, as well as on the trailing edge of the hood. What's more, they discovered that the aero elements reduced wind noise in the vehicle, as well. Function follows form?

While Mazda designers and sculptors have the latest digital technologies at their disposal, the flowing lines on the Mazda5 were actually rendered by hand, not by computer-aided design program. Saward says that they had generated the shapes digitally but then determined that there was a "better sense of a human feel--better quality and more precision."

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The human touch matters.

RELATED ARTICLE: How It RunA

The 2012 Mazda5 is powered by a 2.5-liter MZR 14 engine. Mazda is nothing if not a company that deploys its resources in a smart way. This same engine-with some slight modifications--is the same one used in the Mazda3, Mazda6, and CX-7. The previous-generation Mazda5 used a 2.3-liter engine. The engine can be mated to a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic. Five speed? Yes, according to Robert Davis, senior vice president, Product Development and Quality. He cites the fact that there are issues of "cost and complexity" that are often overlooked by those who think purely in the context that the greater the number of gears the better. What's more, the five-speed uses the Mazda Active Adaptive Shift protocol, which is used on the Mazda RX-8 sports car. The system provides part-throttle downshifts synchronized with the pressing of the accelerator during passing maneuvers, as well as downshifting when there is aggressive braking, such as in a cornering situation.

RELATED ARTICLE: Mazda5 Numbers

The three-row vehicle has seating for six. The second row seats are captain's chairs. The third-row seats are split 50/50; if they are both folded down, there is 27.5-ft3 of cargo volume. The vehicle is 180.5-in. long, 68.9-in. wide, 63.6-in. high, and has a 108.3-in. wheelbase. There are three trim levels. The fuel economy for both the five-speed automatic and the six-speed manual versions are 21/28 mpg city/highway.

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The vehicle has an electronic hydraulic power-assist steering system. There are MacPherson struts in the front and multi-link suspension in the rear.

RELATED ARTICLE: The Five Elements of the Mazda5 Development

According to Hideki Matsuoka, Mazda5 program manager, there were five key values pursued in what he describes as "a new family mover for the global market that offers a smart solution to the user's every need by establishing a balance between diverse functionality and outstanding performance":

1. Smart and emotional design

2. Rational, easy-to-use functionality

3. Utmost quality

4. Refined, dynamic driving performance

5. Uncompromised environmental performance.

Gary S. Vasilas EDITORIAL DIRECTOR
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Title Annotation:FEATURE
Author:VaAilash, Gary S.
Publication:Automotive Design & Production
Date:May 1, 2011
Words:967
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