Part of me wonders if the Mazda Premacy is the perfect car. It’s a respectable cargo hauler. When you trade in that cargo capacity for seats, it’s a reasonably good people mover. For being that shape, you know the one, that minivan shape, it’s quite the looker with its big, sexy headlights and fast lines leading back to the bespoilered tail. Oh, and when you turn the key and put it in drive to head down the road, preferably one of those twisty, turny mountain roads you often hear about, it is every bit as fun to drive as its smaller relatives.
As our children increased in size, the Impreza began to feel snug. Not small, mind you, but snug. The kids in the back found the close front seats easily kickable, although whether by accident or by design is up for debate. The stroller fit in the back, but when we traveled up to my wife’s hometown, fitting it along with our luggage took some Tetris skills I thought I had long since lost. As such, we decided into our third summer in Ito to shop around for the dreaded family-hauling minivan.
BUT we were in Japan. Everything is different in Japan. In Japan, the minivan is king. The minivan is the kind of car people aspire to. There are luxury minivans like the Toyota Alphard/Vellfire and the Nissan Elgrande, off-road minivans like the jacked-up Mitsubishi Delica 4×4, minivans whose front fascias look like a Storm Trooper’s helmet like the Toyota Estima, and even Chrysler enjoys a following there for its very good vans. Vans always have limo-tinted windows, fancy rims, body kits, Italian-y sounding trim level names, and decorations of all kinds. It rather reminds me of how we treat our pickup trucks and SUVs here in the States. So anyways, I did my research and decided that the sporty Premacy would be the van for us.
Our dealer found us a Premacy for somewhere in the neighborhood of US$7000 (including tax/mandatory insurance/sha-ken inspection, etc) with less than 60,000 km on it. It was well-equipped, with aftermarket navi and 15″ five-spoke rims (which probably came with a set of snow tires since they were not decorative low-profile 17-inchers), ABS for the four-wheel discs, a smart key, and the not-available-in-America power sliding doors.
The smart key was a very cool feature (although check out how thick that A pillar is, holy crap it blotted out the sun and oncoming cars). You simply had to have the fob in your pocket, and there were rubber buttons in the door handles and back hatch that you could press to lock and unlock it. It also had buttons for the sliding doors, allowing you to open them from a distance. It wasn’t perfect. If I had my cell phone in the same pocket, it would interfere with the smart key’s signal and prevent it from working, and that was annoying but did not detract from its coolness.
The power doors proved annoying but without the cool upside. The driver’s side rear door would occasionally not lock open or shut properly. It would slide open and then just kind of die at the end of the track without clicking open, leaving the system in a powerless limbo. No amount of angry slamming would make it click open. Why was I angrily slamming it open? Because long before it started doing that, it began to fail latching shut properly. Somewhere in the electric doors’ system was a gremlin- nay, a demon that did not allow it to sense that the door was completely shut, beeping at us as we drove down the road.
It worsened to the point where the stupid doors would not latch shut at all, they’d get to the end of their journey closed and go “KACHUNK!” and then just hang there infuriatingly half-open, taunting me, daring me to lose my temper. Turning the system off and closing the doors manually was still possible, but with the resistance of the zombie motors slowing it down it was not easy to do. I have a feeling that the rear doors’ other problem, the locks failing to unlock when asked to do so, was related.
Anyways, electric power sliding doors are now a deal-breaker for me. Just one more set of parts that will fail. Even reading reviews of Honda Odysseys and Toyota Siennas with their stellar reputations (self-flagellating transmissions nontwithstanding) have owner complaints centered on that very issue. So power doors are an overrated and unnecessary “feature” destined to fail on you.
That’s about as negative as I can get about this car. Yeah, I could whine about the lack of space like an idiot, as if I went into it unaware that it was only marginally larger than our Impreza on the outside, or I could bitch about the clunking noise from the front suspension and the buzzy rearview mirror (okay, the mirror thing serious pissed me off, but whatever), but the Premacy was a great car. When we made our Costco trips with our two kids, it swallowed everything into the cargo area behind them with room to spare. When we added our third baby into the mix, the car provided an extra seat. The rear seats were split in the middle, so one could be folded up while the other stayed down to allow for additional cargo capacity. Versatility, yes!
None of that is the best part about this car, though. The best part about this car was how it goes. This JDM version was equipped with the cheaper-on-road-tax 2.0L inline 4, which made something like 100 and whatever horsepower. While it was not fast, it was fun, making the snaking road through the hills to work or the store more fun than it should have been in a minivan. Really, that’s what makes this such a great car. It has more capabilities in a single package than almost anything else.
We went on many adventures in that car. Rather like our old Subaru did in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula, it hunted down waterfalls and other natural wonders around Izu and eastern Shizuoka. We piled into it and went to Tokyo Disney Land one summer, and drove through the heart of Tokyo for a day watching sumo at Ryogoku Kokugikan. Like pretty much all my other cars, there were no mechanical problems with it. It started and ran every time I asked it to, probably the most joyful car we had.
That car made such a good impression on us that we decided to go out and buy another one upon returning to Michigan last month. This one is a bit more of a cheery shade of silver than the gray one we had in Japan, but with the same black interior and no annoying electric doors that are destined to disappoint. The 2.0L was not offered in America, making the 153 horsepower 2.3L inline 4 your only option. I suppose it’s more robust than the 2.0 (and certainly smoother), but driving it in American traffic it feels a lot slower than the JDM 2.0 did on its home turf. I still occasionally find myself doing 40 in a 45 zone because guys, those are highway speeds in Japan.
It’s taking me a little while to readjust. It just feels a bit out of place on the roads in and around Toledo. The wide, straight, flat stretches of pothole-y asphalt contrast poorly with the winding roller-coaster roads around Japan, but hey, at least now I can see around the corners when I come to an intersection, which is nice.
This brings us up to our current car, and thus the end of my COAL series. They’ve all been pretty slow vehicles, but I’ve had my fun with them regardless. I think that, given the context, the blue Impreza we had after the Minica nightmare was my favorite, although my wife loves the gray Premacy and our current Mazda5. I think eventually we will own something with more than 200 horsepower. When we do, I’ll be sure to share the experience again. Thank you, everyone, for reading my articles and sharing your comments. It’s been a blast!
All pictures mine (for once).