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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Mazda 5


The Mazda 5 small minivan is the rare entrant in a category that holds very few vehicles: tall compact family haulers that aren't crossovers, but are clearly smaller than popular full-size minivans like the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Siena. Now in its second generation--it first arrived in 2006, and was all-new for 2012--the Mazda 5 replaced the old MPV model. It's effectively a minivan at seven-eighths scale, but while its scaled-down dimensions reduce interior room, its handling benefits enormously. The Mazda 5, in other words, is the minivan that sports-car drivers won't hate.


The current Mazda 5 was redesigned in 2012, borrowing its running gear from the Mazda 3 compact sedan and hatchback. The styling of the latest model is considerably more adventurous, with lines based on the 'Nagare' design language of swoopy, almost aquatic shapes. The tailgate has a more carlike design than it did in the last generation, and the Mazda 5's front styling may have the most extreme version of Mazda's 'grinning' corporate grille design. With luck, it'll likely be toned down in years to come, to follow the example of the Mazda 3.

There's seating for six in the Mazda 5, but it's not what you might expect: There are three rows of two seats each. The front four positions are nice bucket seats, and the third row is slightly elevated, and really suitable only for kids. Entry and exit is good, the second row slides fore and aft, and both the second and third rows can be folded down to expand the cargo volume.

While its dimensions make it a seven-eighths-scale minivan, from behind the wheel, it maneuvers and handles like a small car. And it doesn't require any more space to park than a compact car either. One downside to the Mazda5, though, is a noisier interior than you'd encounter in most other vehicles of the type. It feels very carlike—and it can be quite peppy when driven hard, provided you're not carrying a full load. But load up the Mazda 5 and its engine will strain--especially if you opt for the automatic transmission.

Mazda offers just one engine, a 157-horsepower, 2.5-liter four, but sporting drivers can order it with a six-speed manual gearbox instead of the five-speed automatic that's also offered. Excellent steering with superb road feel, tight control of body motions, and a light driving feel makes the Mazda5 sheer fun to drive--and when's the last time that could be said of any minivan at all? Although you can row the automatic manually through the gears, the standard manual gearbox on the Mazda 5 makes it more fun to drive. While the Mazda 5 doesn't accelerate quickly, handling is a strong point; even loaded up, it can take on a curvy road with a surprisingly nimble and stable feel.

Trims and upholsteries have been upgraded over the previous generation, though we still found them to feel cut-rate up close. Some shoppers will also resent the lack of Bluetooth connectivity on some trim levels, and the lack of a navigation option. For 2013, Mazda did add a USB input as well as side mirrors with integrated LED turn-signal indicators.



The Mazda 5 is virtually alone in the U.S. market, making it the only entry in a category of vehicles variously known as "small minivans" or "people movers" to Europeans. The Kia Rondo is no longer offered, and Ford canceled plans to launch its seven-seat, non-hybrid C-Max when sales failed develop. You can still buy a Ford C-Max, but now it's only offered as a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid--a different vehicle category that may exceed the price range of some families who might consider a Mazda 5.

The first-generation Mazda 5 ran from 2006 through 2010. In 2008, a five-speed automatic transmission replaced the former four-speed automatic, but it used a 153-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine throughout its run. The new transmission boosted fuel economy, but proved only slightly more responsive in acceleration. Other improvements that year included a redesigned center stack and some instrument-panel improvements, plus backseat climate controls and vents.

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