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New models - Mazda - Premacy - 5-dr people-mover

Premacy: premier people-mover

Versatile: Mazda's Premacy offers spacious accommodation for up to five adults without sacrificing small-car manoeuvrability.

Mazda has fired its opening salvo in the growing mini MPV segment with the 323-based Premacy

16 Feb 2001

MAZDA Australia is anticipating unprecedented growth in the Australian appetite for spacious and versatile five-door hatches with the launch today of its Premacy mini people-mover.

While the Kia Carens and Daewoo Tacuma have averaged just 48 and 72 monthly sales respectively, Mazda expects to take a stranglehold of the burgeoning market by luring up to 250 customers each month into its flexible new-age wagon.

It has identified career women juggling a professional and family life as the primary target.

Priced from $27,690, the five-seater Premacy is essentially a 323 Astina pulled and stretched into a shape that bridges the gap between a traditional hatch and a people mover.

Based on the 323 platform and using the same 92kW 1.8-litre four-cylinder engine as the popular hatch, Premacy rests on a 50mm longer wheelbase and gains much in the way of overall height (160mm) and weight (170kg in manual form).

The big deal is cleverness. Like the MPV, the Premacy has three lightweight bucket seats across the rear seat, each of which folds, tumbles and can be removed to increase cargo room.

The front passenger seatback also tilts forward, enabling items of up to 2.6m in length to fit inside.

Mazda has typically found a good blend of safety and attention-grabbing equipment to justify the premium pricetag, including air-conditioning, anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution, remote locking, single-slot CD stereo, dual airbags, electric mirrors and windows, velour seat trim, rear security blind and three-point seatbelts and headrests for all occupants.

A four-speed automatic is available for $1950 over the standard five-speed manual transmission.

Suspension is by MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link configuration at the rear. The steering is an engine-speed sensing power-assisted rack and pinion system.

Despite the compact packaging, a full-size 15-inch spare wheel is also provided.

DRIVE IMPRESSIONS Mazda executives admit there will be a certain number of Astina buyers keen to trade in their traditional hatch for one with more space and flexibility.

The headroom is enormous, the areas of glass expansive, visibility from the driver's seat excellent and the seating arrangements certainly smarter than your average five-door.

But 323 buyers would be fooling themselves if they expected the same passenger car quality in the driving experience.

Developing 92kW of power at 6000rpm and 163Nm of torque at 4000rpm, the 1.8-litre engine is hamstrung by the heftier kerb weight.

It will rev cleanly to its redline but shows little evidence of life under 3500 rpm and requires gearchanges at frequent intervals if the driver is to avoid mashing the right foot into the firewall.

We reckon Holden was right to wait for a 2.2-litre engine for its forthcoming - and wonderfully flexible - seven-seat Zafira.

The lightweight steering is fine around town and low-speed manoeuvres, aided by a good 10.8m turning circle, are a breeze.

However the steering lacks feedback and precision at higher speeds and will throw up a fair bit of kickback through the wheel if it hits ripples in a corner.

The ride is comfortable and absorbent, and relatively quiet save for wind noise off the front mirrors at freeway speed.

The handling properties are also good up to a point, though a degree of body movement through corners is always apparent.

The controls are user-friendly, storage spots plentiful, child seat anchorage points conveniently positioned behind the rear seats and the boot space useful, even when all seats are in place.

This is quite simply the best mini people-mover on the market - for now.

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