Never underestimate the importance of doors. More specifically, the importance of sliding side doors on a type of vehicle that does not usually have them.
The ease of the sliding doors was the reason why, after a week with the 2012 Mazda5 hatchback, my 8 year old son declared the car his favorite of all the vehicles he had me test drive. And he’s been driven in a Ferrari 458 Italia, a Land Rover LR4 and a host of other really mind-blowing cars.
Aside from the obvious financial benefits, the Mazda5 is designed for everyone inside the car, not just the driver. Revised for 2012, the family-oriented five-door, six-seater offers a lot of comfort and functionality for the money.
Starting at $ 19,990, the second-generation Mazda5 is available in three trims, all equipped with the same 2.5-liter inline-four engine as the Mazda3, Mazda6 and CX-7. I was testing the entry-level Sport with a six-speed manual transmission which was pleasantly responsive.
The Touring and Grand Touring versions of the car are five-speed automatic transmissions; the Sport is also available with the same transmission. All three automatic versions receive the same Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy rating of 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. For a car that can comfortably seat six people, that’s not bad.
The Mazda5 is a multi-utility vehicle, or MUV, that combines the styling and driving characteristics of a car with the family-friendliness of carriers such as station wagons, minivans, and sport utility vehicles. The Mazda5 sidesteps the minivan stigma and fuel-guzzling status of an SUV while retaining some of the best features of the usual benchmark vehicles for parents.
It’s close to the ground like a car, making it easier for small legs to get in and out of a raised SUV. Borrowing a page from minivans, sliding side doors eliminate the risk of scratching when a child happily opens their door into a large sidewalk.
But what appeals most about the Mazda5 is the configuration of its interior space. There are three rows of seats arranged on a stepped floor similar to a movie theater. The second row is located slightly higher than the first and the third row is slightly higher than the second, so in theory everyone in the car can see out the front window.
Unlike most hatchbacks, the second and third rows only contain two seats each. The middle row is made up of two captain’s seats separated by a tray with cup holders, giving this usually cramped row a more spacious feel and its passengers feel special. Each of the seats in the middle row folds flat and slides forward, providing access to a two-seat split bench in the third row, which can also be folded flat to open up cargo space.
Textiles throughout the cabin, however, could use some improvement. The fabric in the cargo hold of my test car was getting bushy, indicating that it should be more robust. And the light-colored cloth seats only begged a Gatorade spill. Darker fabric is available on the Sport, and the two upper trim levels can be fitted with leather.
The Mazda5 is the Japanese automaker’s first production car to express the nagare design idea that he has incorporated into various concept cars over the years. Nagare is a naturalistic sensibility that strives to translate Mother Nature into Mazda automotive design. Wind and water were the driving forces, both inside and out. Mazda5 designers were asked to imagine a single drop of water, its undulating surface, and then turn that tiny droplet into a car.
It’s no easy task, but that sensibility is evident in the twirling indentations of its teardrop-shaped side panels and headlamps, as well as in the stitching patterns of the seats.
Overall, the fit and finish of the interior was exactly as one would expect for a car at this price point. The dashboard was neatly organized and laid out in a mix of smooth, textured black plastics which, while harmless, were rudimentary. Atop the center console, where some other Mazda cars house a square display for navigation, the Mazda5 incorporates a long, narrow rectangle that, in unappealing red orange-y lettering, displays temperature, time, and temperature settings. radio.
The radio, unfortunately, had to be turned on to overcome road noise. The Mazda5 could certainly handle more baffling sound, although parents who are distracted by their kids’ squabbles in the back seats might welcome this otherwise unwanted audio overlay.
Personally, quarrels inspire me to go faster where I go. To that end, the Mazda5 is happy to oblige. The engine, with its 163 pound-feet of torque, is quite the sprite for a car designed to transport toddlers. While the suspension has been redesigned for more passenger comfort without sacrificing Mazda’s “zoom zoom” slogan, poorly maintained roads aren’t the Mazda5’s strong suit.
Its best attributes are its family attributes – a comfortable and configurable interior, an upfront cost that stays on budget, and fuel economy that won’t break the bank once fuel prices resume their climb.