And what a tiring weekend it was after becoming a makeshift ‘pick-up’ service for friends with this RM149,797 (on-the-road with insurance) eight-seater that’s in direct contention with the similarly-sized and shaped Nissan Serena S-Hybrid.
Without passengers, the boxy Biante, with a 2,850mm wheelbase, seems relatively well-sized for a multi-purpose vehicle (MPV) measuring 4,715mm-long, 1,770mm-wide and 1,835mm-tall.
The Biante isn’t going to win any beauty pageants, because there’s nothing eye-catching about it, except for its beak-like front end – probably for aerodynamic purposes, and the attempted wrap-around effect of the headlights to the sides.
Other than the front-end, there’s nothing dramatic about this MPV’s styling to shout about.
Until you get in.
It’s all space inside, in fact there’s so much of it that my passengers are left expressionless, but wide-eyed, dropped-jawed and loose-necked.
It’s amazing how many would simply stare upwards into the ‘void’, trying to comprehend their surroundings, furthermore, the dashboard simply exasperated the experience.
To give an idea, I’m 175cm-tall and once seated, I am able to fully extend my arm and place my palm onto the roof-liner – that’s how much headroom there is, and unless I was Reed Richards, I would be able to reach the length of the dashboard.
In any case, whatever spatial concerns were left simply got lost in the void, but this does make ingress and egress effortless with the tall gaping doors.
Although Mazda says the Biante is an eight-seater, some of my good ‘buffalo’ friends – including myself, did find it a touch tight on fitting in the second row, perhaps even for a long distance cruise.
As for the third row, lets just say two would be comfortable and three would be a squeeze – but there was still a range of adjustability for the sake of comfort by offering knee-room adjustment and reclinability and actually being of use when compared to other third row seats.
After dealing with the excess space, it was time to turn the key and the Biante gets the usual unique ‘Mazda’ engine start-up before resting into a comfortable hum.
The instrument cluster is a unique one on its own that may cause a love-hate debate to ensue with its purple-hued eclipse in the centre of each instrument dial, but what seemed to stick out like a sore-thumb was the rudimentary digital display off to the left.
While mated to a SkyActiv-Drive six-speed automatic transmission, a 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G engine with a compression ratio of 12:1 resides under the hood, producing 147bhp at 6,000rpm and 190Nm of torque at 4,100rpm.
Although the Mazda3 uses the same engine, it has a higher compression ratio at 14:1, which produces 162bhp at 6,000rpm and 210Nm of torque at 4,000rpm, for something that has a kerb weight of 1,292kg – verses the Biante’s 1,664kg.
On paper, the Biante already seems underpowered in comparison, but once you’ve got it up to pace, it’s a whole different story.
There’s a sure footedness about the Biante – being able to take tight bends with unexpected grace and composure during a solo drive, and if there’s one particular thing that Mazda has done right it would be in this respect.
Some roll can be experienced, but the Biante’s high centre of gravity isn’t very pronounced, although we were honestly expecting more since it’s 16-inch wheels were outfitted with 205/60 tyres for a little more comfort.
Getting it pointed in the intended direction won’t be a problem, with the steering giving plenty of feedback and there’s hardly an instance where the driver doesn’t know what the front wheels are doing.
Paddling through its six-speed automatic makes the Biante’s sporty behaviour even more pronounced with every gear shift hitting the power band’s sweet spot, but the braking department will need a little adjusting to – probably attributable to its heft.
No doubt, the Mazda Biante is not going to win any drag races and taking on a full payload of passengers is going to have you wanting more ‘grunt’ from the 2.0-litre four-banger.
But if it’s about the effortless configurable seats, the easily accessible third row seats, endless headroom, great road control, direct steering feel, then it’s probably going to be money well spent.