For Great Minivan Style Mazda Went to Nature

If you were an automotive designer how would you create a family vehicle that is a blend of minivan and wagon, has three-row seating, gets good gas mileage and starts at under $20,000? Maybe you would look to the 2012 Mazda5 for inspiration.

Years ago, Mazda had a vision that it translated into futuristic concept cars. These models were based on the laws of nature inspired by everything from ocean waves and Japanese gardens to sand dunes.

Bringing these elements to car design was a matter of analyzing how forces like wind and water move in nature. The designers looked at these natural flow lines and started to incorporate them into the surfaces, textures and proportions of concept cars. “Nagare,” a Japanese word for flow, is used in Mazda’s latest iteration of the family wagon, the 2012 Mazda5.

The Mazda5 is the perfect version of Nagare styling. This full-sized six-passenger family mover incorporates the stylized, Japanese inspired shaping to manage the airflow of the vehicle for reduced wind noise and achieve gas mileage returns of 21 miles per gallon city and 28 mpg highway.

“Consumers don’t want to be labeled as soccer moms,” explains Ken Saward, Mazda’s manager of design. “We wanted to bring more emotion to this vehicle so we took the language of Nagare and brought it to the market.

“On the front end, we spent a lot of time massaging it between the size of grille and relationship to headlamps,” he says, noting how the company wanted to visually lower the vehicle and streamline its airflow. Engineers also added a larger corner radius for improved sight lines.

“In the rear area, we adopted horizontal taillights to give a wide, stable stance,” he adds. “Overall, a strong grille, strong front fender and strong lines from front to back make the Mazda5 look lower and more stable.”

Hands down the Nagare DNA is most evident in the side body shapes that look like they were scooped out of sand. Lots of thought was given to this approach. For example, Mazda had stamping engineers create test models and look at light metallic colors like sea spray green and champagne gold, as well as high contrast colors like copper red and brilliant black to see how the highlights and shadows played. Interestingly, the sea spray green didn’t make the cut for exterior color.

On the inside, the flowing design initiative takes precedence with a more driver-oriented cockpit, a raised information display and wider seats for front passengers. Cues from customers resulted in a higher-quality interior with touches such as more intuitive switches and gauges with added illumination.

Improved chrome plating and trim materials on the controls create an all-around feel good texture; raised air-conditioning vents and larger blowers enable greater air-flow to the rear. More storage space has been added to the instrument panel with smaller cubbies for iPods and cellphones. Second-row seat cushions have been lengthened and enhanced with denser foam for more comfort. Seating has also taken on a lively touch, now available in a creamy beige or black with red stitching. The only thing the designers left out was a navigation system. Mazda realized this and said they were working on it.

But even beautifully designed shapes must move through space. That’s where the engineering comes in. A 2.5-liter MZR four-cylinder engine, similar in most details to those found in the Mazda3, Mazda6 and CX-7, powers the vehicle. The MZR 2.5-liter produces 157 horsepower and delivers 163 lb.-ft. of torque with a sixth gear for more refined cruising. Tetsu Nakazawa, vehicle line manager for the 2012 Mazda5, put it all into perspective with his witty one-liner, “It’s a little cliche-ish but it’s got to have zoom-zoom!” — Holly Reich, Motor Matters


Manufacturer photo: The new 2012 Mazda5 is designed for families, yet suits active lifestyles with the combination of flexible seat arrangements, sliding doors, stylish design, fuel efficiency and high level of safety.
Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011

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