WHERE once a Mazda multi-purpose vehicle was either too big or too small, the Japanese carmaker seems to have got it just right with the new Biante. This eight-seater MPV is roomier than the compact Mazda5, but less bulky than a Mazda8. More importantly, it has what most buyers of such cars believe is the perfect engine size - 2.0 litres.
At 4.7 m long with a 2,850 mm wheelbase, the tall Biante packs three rows of seats in a boxy body that is softened by wraparound head and tail lamps. The adventurous styling, which includes a vertical reflector "slashed" into the rear fender, masks the 1,835 mm height of this so-called "high-roof" minivan well.
Open one of the two rear electric sliding doors and you will be welcomed by a bright and breezy cabin.
With its deep windscreen and large side windows, the light-coloured interior has a welcome airiness. A walk-through aisle allows access to all three rows. Most impressive of all is the fantastic headroom. Anyone with a penchant for wearing top hats or bunny ears should be able to do so comfortably inside the Biante.
Even those in the third row of seats get to enjoy the generous headroom. And unlike some MPVs, there is decent boot space even when the last row is in use. For even more luggage space, the third row's bench seat has to be folded upward, and the whole assembly slid forward against the second row's seat backs. It may not be the most elegant option, but it works.
In front, the curvaceous two-tone dashboard with its colourful backlit meters in the wide instrument cluster looks refreshingly modern.
Under the hood, which you won't be able to see from behind the wheel, is a 2.0-litre, four-cylinder engine. This naturally aspirated Skyactiv unit feels surprisingly adequate, considering this Mazda is a relatively large car.
Mazda's SkyActiv technology combines efficient engines with a smooth transmission in a lightweight but strong body. In the Biante, the front wheels are driven via a six-speed automatic transmission. An i-Stop automatic engine start/stop function enhances fuel efficiency.
Under hard acceleration, the engine roar is obvious but there is acceptable performance. For more alacrity, the six-speed transmission can be changed manually using the combo of steering wheel-mounted paddles and buttons. Unlike most of its competitors, the Biante's shift logic involves a pair of paddles behind either spoke to shift up, and a pair of buttons on the spokes to shift down.
Another indication that Mazda goes its own way when it comes to automotive trends is the button on the gear lever to engage manual mode, which is actually a neater and more ergonomic solution than having a longer or wider gate and slotting the lever into a specific position.
Ride comfort is fair and because the Biante is a tall car, it wallows slightly when cornering. But nobody expects this spacious minivan to be a sports model. The turning circle is surprisingly good though.
Despite the pleasant interior and stylish dashboard, one can't help feeling the rest of the cabin of this COE Category B car is a bit basic. There are door pockets and cupholders aplenty, as well as an under dash shelf, but no stowage bins other than the glovebox. The Biante also lacks features like an electric driver's or front passenger seat, and auto headlamps.
But it does have an ion generator and anti-allergenic filter for cleaner cabin air. Plus enough airspace to hold the next air show.
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Max power 151 hp @ 6,000 rpm
Max torque 190 Nm @ 4,100 rpm
0-100 kmh 12.7 secs
Top speed 176 kmh
CO2 emissions 174 g/km
Average OMV $21,000
Price $168,988 (with COE)
Distributor Trans Eurokars
Tel 6603 6118