The new Mazda Biante is a true people-mover. The massive 4.71 metre-long MPV is set to take the game to it's competitors, the Toyota Alphard and the Nissan Elgrand.
First launched in Japan in 2008, the Biante has just gone through a fresh update and Trans Eurokars, Singapore's Mazda distributor has seen it fit to make it available here on our shores. Powered by 2-litre naturally aspirated engine, the 8-seater MPV is definitely tall and will accommodate even the lankiest adult. Whether it is handsome or not, is entirely subjective.
But yes, spacious it most assuredly is. The middle row can be configured and two large and comfortable seats, or a full bench when they are pushed together and snapped into place. The rear is good for three adults too. Like all MPVs, the seats can be folded to create more space if you need more luggage area.
But the Biante does not employ the typical fold-down flat seats. Instead, the bottom section of the seats fold up and can be slid around to fit the configuration you need. It is the epitome of the thai 'saying', 'same same but different'.
Get into the driver's seat and it is quite evident that this was a car designed five years ago. The dash and centre console is simple and fuss-free in a plain sort of way. While there's absolutely nothing wrong with being plain, I did wish it had more … stuff (no cruise control?)! The steering wheel is nice though. First seen when the CX-7 was launched here, the three-spoked wheel is chunky and is equipped with multi-function buttons and paddle shifters.
The key also has some extra buttons which control the sliding doors. The doors can also be opened and closed from the driver's seat via a set of switches on the bottom right of the dash. Plain design aside, the controls are easy to use and the futuristic-coloured instrument cluster does add some zest to the otherwise ordinary cabin.
Get the Biante moving and any suspicion that the 2-litre engine might be inadequate is immediately quelled. The 151 bhp unit with SkyActiv technology is more than sufficient to lug the tall MPV around. I only managed to find three adults who were willing to jump on board, and even with four people in the car, the Biante made decent progress when asked of it. The six-speed automatic shifts very smoothly and kicks down readily if you need to get the Biante going in a hurry.
The large van-like car handles rather well too. Steering is direct enough so you don't feel like the car has a mind of its own when you need to maneuver tight spaces, and body roll is kept to a minimum even when cornering hard. Which is a surprise considering the car is so tall. I won't encourage anyone to drive the car too enthusiastically though, because the car might be quite composed overall, but the contents in it won't be!
Overall the Biante is an MPV that Mazda didn't really need to include in it's line-up, but did anyway. It completes the range and offers Mazda fans an option if they find the Mazda 5 or 8 too small. There's no point in talking about horsepower and century sprints (it does it in 12.7 seconds if you have to know), because the Biante is not about those things. What it is though, is a very effective people mover and will do the job well for large families who need to get around. For me though, I'm waiting to see what the new Honda Odyssey is going to be like.