Retrospective

Pretty or pretty ugly? 60 years of Mazda family cars and vans

Mazda has made a number of people haulers over the years, including this model, a concept van.

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Though the best cars often are described as drool-worthy models with abundant power and high price tags, there's something to be said for the competent family hauler. For the last 60 years, Mazda has been making vehicles that prioritize seating capacity and cargo space above style and performance. The last one on the list, however, fights that trend.

Take a look back at some of those family cars that put the brand on the map.

1964 Mazda Familia

Mazda Familia Wagon, 1963

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Mazda's first go at a true family car in the 1960s was the 1963 Mazda Familia. The wagon version, seen here, joined the lineup for the 1964 model year and was better-appoinnted than the Familia van.

1966 Mazda Bongo

1966 Mazda Bongo

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The Mazda Bongo debuted as a 1966 model (shown here). It was powered by a rear-mounted 782 cc water-cooled four-stroke engine. The Bongo was named after the animal by the same name.

1971 Mazda 818/Gran Familia

1971 Mazda 818/Gran Familia

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Mazda's 818/Gran Familia model was also sold as the Mazda 808 in Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. It was only offered as a four-cylinder but came in a variety of body styles. The model shown above is a 1971 edition.

1976 Mazda RX-4/Luce

1976 Mazda RX-4 Luce

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Mazda exported the Luce as the RX-4 through 1977. It was marketed as being a sporty and luxurious personal car. The wagon variant launched in 1973, replacing the Savanna Wagon. The '76 Mazda RX-4/Luce is shown here.

1977 Mazda 818/Gran Familia

1977 Mazda 818/Gran Familia

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The Mazda 818/Gran Familia has a short seven-year lifespan. The 1977 model in the photo above has rectangular taillights that set it apart from previous years' versions of the car.

1978 Mazda Capella/626 1800

1978 Mazda Capella/626 1800

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

This midsize car was manufactured by Mazda from 1970 to 2002. It is shown here as a 1978 model, the first year of its second generation.

1979 Mazda 323/Familia

1979 Mazda 323

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

For the 1979 model year, Mazda gave the 323/Familia a facelift. The car's round headlights were done away with in favor of rectangular ones. Those lights now were part of a single unit with the grille. The '79 wagon version is shown above.

1984 Mazda Bongo/Traveller

1984 Mazda Bongo Traveller

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Mazda sold the third-generation Bongo as the Traveller in Australia. Rebadged versions of the van were sold as the Ford Econovan and Ford Spectron. Shown here are 1984 versions of the model.

1980 Mazda 929/Luce 2000

1980 Mazda 929/ Luce 2000

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The LA4 series of the Mazda 929/Luce debuted in 1977. In this new iteration, Mazda still delivered the large car experience to customers. This generation of the sedan was not sold in North America. The 1980 model is shown here.

1985 Mazda Bongo Brawny Sky Lounge Concept

1985 Mazda Bongo Brawny Sky Lounge Concept

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

This unique concept model pushed the envelope as far as Mazda luxury vans go. Presented in 1985, the Mazda Bongo Brawny Sky Lounge Concept, seen above, has a host of amenities including an oven, mobile telephone, and VCR. The floor between the passenger seats rose when the vehicle was moving.

1991 Mazda MPV 4WD

1991 Mazda MPV 4WD

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Mazda launched its multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) minivan in 1988. The seven-seater Mazda MPV (shown above) featured a four-wheel drive option and, when it arrived in Europe in the mid-1990s, a fuel-efficient turbodiesel as well as a rear door on the driver's side. The first generation lasted 10 years. Pictured here is the 1991 model.

1995 Mazda CU-X Concept

1995 Mazda CU-X Concept

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The Mazda CU-X concept car (pictured above) was first shown in 1995. That same year, Mazda showed the RX-01 concept car.

1997 Mazda MV-X Concept

1997 Mazda MV-X Concept

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

Mazda moved closer to its modern SUV lineup with the Mazda MV-X Concept (seen above). The concept car was shown at the Geneva and Tokyo auto shows that year.

1998 Mazda 626/Capella Hydrogen Vehicle

1998 Mazda 626/Capella Hydrogen Vehicle

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

In Japan, Mazda offered the world's first electric-hybrid version of the 626/Capella though a leasing program. The model featured a rotary engine that could run on hydrogen or petrol.

1999 Mazda Premacy

1999 Mazda Premacy

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The Mazda Premacy, shown here as a 1999 model, was offered as a standard five-seater with a seven-seat option. Its second- and third-rows were foldable and removable. There were dual rear sliding doors. The Premacy was the predecessor to the Mazda5.

2014 Mazda5 Venture

2014 Mazda5 Venture

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The Mazda5 arrived in 2005 delivering more efficient people moving and cargo storage ability. The 2014 Mazda5 is pictured above.

2020 Mazda6 Tourer 165ps Sport Nav+ 

Photo courtesy of Mazda Motor Corporation

The 2020 Mazda6 estate model is the most modern, natural successor to the family haulers of the past. The car comes equipped with the latest Mazda engine and safety technology as well as a Soul Red Crystal paint job.

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The CX-5's styling is sharp and clean.

Mazda

Crossovers have clearly become the family vehicle of choice. Minivans and large sedans are far less common than they used to be as buyers opt for the relative plushness and more generous space offered by utility vehicles. That's not a bad thing, but many people will find the increasing levels of sameness in the crossover market to be off-putting.

Thankfully, Mazda is here to help keep things interesting. Its CX-5 takes a different approach than its rivals. Where vehicles like the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V focus on comfort and efficiency over almost everything else, Mazda managed to jam in loads of vehicle feedback and engagement. Behind the wheel, the crossover feels and sounds much more alive and responsive than its competition. Jumping out of a larger vehicle and into the CX-5 felt like a shock at first, as the Mazda's steering wheel delivers real, actual feedback and transmits a picture of what's going on underneath the vehicle, which is something not often seen outside of expensive performance vehicles.


2021 Mazda CX-5 The CX-5's cabin is more upscale than its rivals. Mazda


Engaging Powertrains

The CX-5's base four-cylinder engine is fine, but the turbocharged 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is where things start to get interesting. It bumps the standard mill's 187 horsepower to 250 and gives off a pleasing turbo whine under heavy throttle. It pairs almost perfectly with the six-speed automatic transmission and delivers surprising power and torque. My test vehicle's all-wheel drive gave the CX-5 a surefooted feel, and from experience I can say that it's worth the added cost if you live anywhere with legitimate winter weather.

There are a few tradeoffs that come along with the CX-5's level of driver engagement, largely related to interior space and noise levels. While the Mazda's cabin is comfortable and is in no way low-rent, a great deal of wind, road, and drivetrain noise make their way into the vehicle at all times. You could argue that this is just another expression of the CX-5's connection with its driver, and you'd be right in some cases. At many times, however, such as when taking the kids to school or just running to the grocery store, it gets tiresome. Your five-year-old won't care about how good the steering feel is when they have to keep asking you to crank up the volume on their podcast story. The noise level is most noticeable around town with the constant stop and go of traffic.

The other main drawback with the CX-5, at least for families (like mine) that don't travel lightly, is interior space. Thanks to its curves and beautifully sloped roof, the Mazda's cargo hold is not as spacious as some of its rivals, such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, Honda CR-V, or Toyota RAV4. That dramatic shape also makes the rear seat feel tighter than it reads on paper, but thanks to a friendly ride height and large rear door openings, parents will have no issues with loading kids in car seats.


2021 Mazda CX-5 A sloping roofline can make rear-seat headroom challenging for taller people.Mazda


Great Tech and Safety

Mazda bumped the CX-5's infotainment screen size from 7.0 to 10.3 inches across the board for 2021, but there's no touchscreen here. Instead, the system is controlled using a rotary dial and volume know that are mounted behind the gear shifter in the center console. It's a responsive and fairly straightforward process to use and control the system, but scrolling through long menus or trying to wade through several options using the rotary controller becomes tiresome and distracting at times.

The 2021 Mazda CX-5 was named a Top Safety Pick + by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That award is due in part to the crossover's excellent performance in crash tests, but also comes thanks to its long list of standard advanced driver aids. All models get a rearview camera, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alerts, lane departure warnings with lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with stop and go, a smart brake support system, and high beam control. My top trim tester also got a driver attention alert system, front and rear parking sensors, and a 360-degree monitor.

It's hard to ignore the quality, value, and fun that the CX-5 brings to the table, even considering how good its competitors have gotten. With a price tag that maxes out under $40,000, the Mazda's driving experience and plush interior should put it at the top of shoppers' lists. Its few drawbacks don't spoil the overall package, and only really present a problem for families of four or more – like mine. Those people, myself included, should be shopping for a slightly larger vehicle, anyway, and for them, there's the Mazda CX-9.


2021 Mazda CX-5 The CX-5 is one of the most fun-to-drive crossovers on sale today.Mazda

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The new Grand Cherokee L is on its way to dealers now.

Stellantis

The all-new three-row Grand Cherokee L was unveiled earlier this year, and features an ultra-premium interior, a load of new tech, and sharp styling that shouts back to Jeep models of the past. Just a few weeks ago, we learned pricing and feature details for the new model, and now Jeep says the vehicle is on its way to dealerships across the country.


Jeep Grand Cherokee L The L is the first three-row Grand Cherokee.Stellantis


In terms of styling, the L's shape has been reworked from previous Grand Cherokee models to be more reminiscent of the Jeep Grand Wagoneer. The automaker says that the grille has been tilted forward and is now wider for better air flow and a more dramatic appearance. The idea was to make the Grand Cherokee L look rugged, but keep it sleek and technical in the process.

The stretched Grand Cherokee retains the engines that powered its predecessors. That means a 3.6-liter V6 is standard, which delivers 293 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. A 5.7-liter V6 is optional, and makes 357 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Both engines come paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission and either rear- or al-wheel drive. Either powertrain option will provide decent towing capability, but the V8 is unsurprisingly more powerful. With a V6 on board, the Grand Cherokee L can tow 6,200 pounds, while V8-powered models can pull 7,200 pounds.


Jeep Grand Cherokee L The L's styling is modern but nostalgic.Stellantis


Inside, Jeep says the L can be equipped with the latest tech and entertainment features. Running the latest Uconnect infotainment software, the Grand Cherokee L will be capable of wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and can be had with a head-up display, a rear-seat monitoring camera system, and a 950-watt 19-speaker McIntosh audio system. At the top end of the lineup, the Summit Reserve model gets Palermo quilted leather, open-pore waxed walnut wood, and 21-inch wheels.

Pricing for the L starts at $38,690 after destination, which buys the base Laredo trim. The range-topping Summit Reserve model starts at $61,690 after destination. Dealer deliveries are underway now, supported by almost 5,000 employees at Stellantis' Detroit Assembly Complex.

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