If you find that your growing family demands the convenience and versatility of a minivan, but your heart calls out for something that drives like a sporty little car, not a transport device, you should definitely consider the Mazda5. There is a charming simplicity in the presentation of the Mazda5 and in its handling. In terms of size, this is a 7/8 scale minivan; there aren’t a lot of frills, and there aren’t power rear hatches or power folding seats; From the driver’s seat, you might think you’re in a nimble little car, yet there are handy sliding side doors and loads of easily reconfigurable interior space.
The Mazda5 has been completely redesigned for 2012, and while it retains its compact size and minivan proportions, it’s a bit more exciting to look at, especially from the side. As the first (and perhaps only) vehicle to adopt Mazda’s Nagare design language, the Mazda5’s fenders are aggressively contoured, and there is a flow of pleats and surfacing rising from it, dipping down the side of the vehicle and entering a “twist” at the front of the front door. The taillights have been made horizontal and look more like a car, while at the front there’s a more subtle version of the Mazda3’s ‘laughing’ corporate grille, giving the Mazda5 a slightly lower and more car-like appearance.
The Mazda5’s underpinnings are modest but sporty, with much of the model’s undercarriage – and some of its structure – borrowed directly from the Mazda3. The 157-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder, with either a six-speed manual transmission or a five-speed automatic, is by no means fast, but it’s just choppy enough thanks to well-chosen gear ratios. Mazda5 models with a manual transmission feel more energetic than those with the automatic, but the automatic offers full manual control.
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Top-notch steering and an agile, athletic feel make the 5 a pleasure to drive, especially on twisty roads. The Mazda5’s quick-ratio electro-hydraulic power steering is perfectly balanced and gives a natural, confident feel whether you’re cruising the freeway or braving the tight axles of a mountain road. Likewise, body control is tight and the four-wheel disc brakes provide strong stopping power without the dramatic dip of other people on the move.
The EPA’s fuel economy ratings for either model are 19 mpg in the city and 28 on the highway. But we’ve seen much better results in the real world. In a varied 420 mile drive from a manual gearbox model, over two mountain passes, mostly on the highway and a few miles around town, we averaged almost 30 mpg.
The basic interior design of the Mazda5 is hard to fault in any way; Mazda has managed to fit six seats, three usable rows, into a vehicle that is shorter than a typical midsize sedan. While the front seats are a bit too narrow and flat, even compared to those in the Mazda3, it appears that the Mazda5’s second row buckets provide enough room for adults to be comfortable or for that children have their own individual seat. The third row split bench is difficult to access – and adults will find their knees positioned toward their chin – but it works in a pinch, or more often for smaller children. The strength of the 5, when it comes to cargo and versatility, is its easy-fold, third-row seat. With a simple pull on a strap, the third-row seatback tilts forward to form a flat cargo floor. Then for even more space, in two steps, you can rock the second row forward to almost line it up with the other part, forming a huge, mostly flat cargo space without requiring a lot of muscle or any shrinkage. of seats.
An available perforated leather upholstery with contrast piping looks great from a distance, but up close it’s a bit slippery and overworked; we think most Mazda5 buyers will be happy with the base fabric, which is durable and looks ready to take the repeated deep cleanings of toddler spills.
The two most significant disappointments with the Mazda5’s interior are its dull, hard, hollow plastic trim for the dashboard and door panels, and the seemingly ubiquitous din of road noise on some surfaces. Otherwise, the ride quality is surprisingly absorbent and comfortable, given the taut and responsive suspension tuning.
With the base Mazda5 Sport trim, Mazda was clearly skimping on features a bit in order to offer it at a hefty base price of under $ 20,000, but we dare say that much of the new parent crowd is one. bit disappointed with the lack of connectivity or high end audio systems. The 5’s rather primitive base audio system has no USB input or iPod compatibility, and with satellite radio it is only able to display a few characters (it will cycle through some entries but not others. by pressing a button). Touring and Grand Touring models, however, benefit from Bluetooth hands-free calling and Bluetooth audio streaming. In its premium Grand Touring form, the Mazda5 also comes with a power moonroof, heated mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, HID xenon headlights, heated front seats, and Sirius satellite radio (a stand-alone option, too), all for around $ 25,000.