- Published: Thursday, 30 January 2014 23:06
SINGAPORE - Most carmakers try to ‘keep it in the family’, or maintain a thread of commonality through their model line-up, either by having a consistent naming convention, or by using a shared design language. Occasionally though, something comes along that bucks the trend, and sticks out like that weird cousin in the family who doesn’t really seem to fit in with the rest.
At first glance, the Biante appears to be that member of the Mazda family. For one, while Mazda cars typically have numbers in their model designation, the Biante does not. The reasoning for this is that the Biante is actually meant, initially at least, as a Japanese Domestic Market (JDM) model only, and Mazda uses names instead of digits for their cars at home.
Nomenclature aside, the Biante is also markedly different from most of the current Mazda line-up, in that it doesn’t really utilise the sleek and swoopy Kodo design language that is seen on the company’s recent products. Instead, it looks like your typical ‘high-boy’ Japanese van, in the same vein as a Toyota Alphard or Nissan Elgrand, but in a slightly smaller size. There are some odd styling details too, like the headlamps that stretch into the front quarter light and front window, and in certain ways, it is reminiscent of the now-demised Nissan Serena, both in terms of looks and concept.
Get past that though, and you’ll find that the Biante is actually a very decent and capable people carrier. The electric-powered rear sliding doors lead into an interior that is spacious enough to accommodate eight passengers (at a pinch), as the second and third rows are actually bench seats. There is headroom aplenty too, as the seats are affixed somewhat low to the floor, which help to accentuate the sense of space in the cabin. It’s not particularly versatile though, as the seats don’t fold down. Rather, they can only move fore and aft (and sideways, for the middle row), and the seat squab of the third row can be folded upwards to allow for more sliding movement. And like all decent family cars, there are cubby holes and storage solutions littered throughout the cabin for your barang barang.
For the people in front too, the Biante offers typical Japanese simplicity, with everything well laid and within easy reach. There are a handful of details that we quite liked though, like the instrument gauges being illuminated with some funky lighting, and the ticket holder on the centre console, a rather Japanese feature that is unlikely to see much use here, unless you use it to hold your Cashcard. There are also your ‘normal’ features like keyless entry, paddle shifters, and Mazda’s i-stop engine start-stop system.
You would expect a car like this to offer nothing less than a soothing ride for its occupants, and you’ll be right. The Biante is extremely comfortable when you’re just cruising along with your family in tow, and the 2.0-litre engine, with 151bhp and 190Nm of torque, is pretty up to the task of lugging everyone around, although it does sound a tad gruff when pushed. The six-speed automatic is pretty smooth and seamless though, which only adds to the excellent all-round refinement.
And yet, despite its looks and size, the Biante can also hold its own if you want to have some fun too. While it is of course by no means a sports car, the Biante proves surprisingly composed when you take on corners, with a pretty direct and responsive steering that reminds you of the other great-driving Mazdas in the line-up. Body roll is kept to a minimum, and certainly the Biante has lost none of the essence that has made the Mazda brand such an enthusiast favourite over the years.
Despite the obvious differences between it and the other Mazdas, it’s refreshing to know that deep down, the Biante is still a true Mazda after all. If you can live with the slightly odd looks, the Biante makes for quite a good choice actually for those looking for an MPV that drives reasonably well. Sometimes, it’s the outcast in the family that ends up surprising you the most.
NEED TO KNOW
Engine 1,998cc, 16V, in-line 4
Power 151bhp at 6000rpm
Torque 190Nm at 4100rpm
Gearbox 6-speed automatic
Top Speed 176km/h
0-100kmh 12.7 seconds
Fuel efficiency 7.4L/100km
Price $168,988 with COE
Also Consider: Toyota Alphard, Honda Odyssey
Pictures by Shahrul Azmi