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Car reviews - Mazda - Premacy - 5-dr people-mover

Our Opinion

We like
Style, versatility, ergonomics, equipment
Room for improvement
Engine performance, rear seat room

Mazda logo17 Aug 2001

By MARTON PETTENDY and TERRY MARTIN

THE small four-wheel drive insurgence might be in full swing - but a counter-revolution is just around the corner.

It will come when the rank and file finally realise that what they've actually been fighting for these past few years is a clever vehicle that suits their suburban, not mountain climbing, needs.

Helped along by queer import rules for four-wheel drives, recreational vehicles as we currently know them have sated the Australian appetite for tall, compact, versatile, spacious and, most importantly, visually appealing transport.

But we now have the Mazda Premacy, a fine example of the new breed of RVs that satisfy all those requirements - and more - without the butch and bush pretentiousness.

While a couple of pre-emptive Korean strikes have failed to make an impact, pennies are about to start dropping and loyalties dividing as the Premacy and forthcoming rivals like the Holden Zafira and Renault Scenic mount their respective campaigns.

Priced from less than $28,000 at launch, the Premacy is essentially a 323 Astina 1.8 pulled and stretched into a shape that bridges the gap between traditional hatch and people-mover.

The result is a (shock, horror) stylish little five-seater harbouring loads of interior space, great ergonomics and clever seating arrangements, thanks in no small part to a long 2670mm wheelbase, a tall 1570mm overall height and a heritage in both driver-friendly and family-friendly interior design.

Cruise control didn't make it into the package, nor did alloy wheels or intermittent wipers. Yet Mazda has typically found a good blend of safety and attention-grabbing features to give the Premacy package widespread appeal.

Air-conditioning, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, remote locking, dual airbags, roof rails, single-slot CD stereo, electric mirrors and windows, rear security blind and power socket, velour seat trim, and headrests and three-point seatbelts for all occupants made the cut.

But what separates the Premacy from traditional hatches and wagons is its terrific use of space and versatility.

Instead of a standard rear bench seat, the Premacy has lightweight, individual pews that neatly fold, tumble and are easily removed to significantly increase upon the (already palatial) luggage space.

The front passenger seatback also tilts forward, enabling items of up to 2.6 metres in length to fit inside, and the high roofline allows tall objects such as bicycles to slot in from the large rear tailgate aperture.

The interior doesn't come without its limitations. With the (1705mm) overall width kept to 323 proportions, rear shoulder room becomes restrictive when all three seats are occupied and burly passengers will find the 435mm (outboard) seat width too narrow and the doors too close for comfort.

The centre rear seat is even tighter at 390mm and blighted by an awkward key-release seatbelt mechanism, while the absence of rear seat fore/aft adjustment means legroom will be a problem for many adults.

Other disappointments include the lack of a genuine walk-though from the front seats, the room taken up by the rear suspension (maximum cargo width drops from 1330mm to 960mm) and the failure to provide a flat floor when the rear seats are removed. Mazda Australia lost the latter feature when it specified a full-size spare wheel (a seven-seat version is available in other markets, however).

None of the above is terribly troubling from the driver's seat, where huge glass areas ensure good driver visibility, major controls are large in size and well presented, seats are comfortable (though lacking support) and storage facilities, including a deep centre console bin and a tray under the front passenger seat, are readily found.

The stereo in particular is a model for user-friendliness and a stalk attached to the steering column makes for even easier audio operation.

On the flipside, Premacy is the first Mazda in living memory with a left-hand indicator - and that can be annoying.

Power comes from the same 1.8-litre 16-valve four-cylinder engine found in the upper-grade 323 models, which produces 92kW at 6000rpm and 153Nm at 4000rpm.

Output isn't a problem on the 323, but the Premacy is forced to shift more than 1300kg in five-speed manual transmission form and performance slips from okay to average to poor as each additional passenger is bundled in.

With a small family on-board, the Premacy frequently calls upon the driver to use the light manual gearshift and keep the engine spinning well above 3000rpm. Fuel economy and interior refinement suffer as a result, but if ignored the engine will struggle under the weight, especially when travelling uphill.

Otherwise, the Premacy drive is a largely enjoyable one. The lightweight steering and useful 10.8-metre turning circle make for easy manoeuvring around the 'burbs, though the steering lacks feedback and precision at higher speeds and will throw up kickback through the wheel if the vehicle encounters ripples mid-corner.

Such conditions will also expose a degree of bodyroll and a lack of grip from the standard 15-inch Toyo tyres, while the open road reveals an inordinate amount of tyre and wind noise.

Yet we'd never expect driving dynamics to be the highlight of the Premacy package.

More to the point, this flexible new-age wagon is cute, clever, clearly defined and a product of our times. The first step toward the imminent counter-revolution.

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