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2009 Mazda5 Review

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By Thom Cannell
The Auto Channel
Detroit Bureau

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Driving behind a Mazda5 you might wonder what it is. Chic, and a bit eccentric with hatchback and four doors, it resembles a funky car-based SUV, oversized wagon, or tiny minivan. Bingo – tiny multipurpose minivan it is, and it is hip, cool, and an excellent all-around vehicle for this decade.

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First, a Mazda5 is roomy with the big surprise that it has three rows of seats in a vehicle barely larger than a Focus or Scion xB. It is that roominess and adaptable interior that creates versatility, plus the astonishing fact that the second row of seats will comfortably fit your linebacker-sized cousin. Entry to the fold-flat second and third rows is through traditional minivan-style sliding doors; of course you’ll tell the kids the third row is adventure land and stuff them behind the adults.

Behind the third row of seats, when in use, is sufficient room for luggage for an overnight at Grandma’s. Push the third row flat and you have enough room to bring home a new washer. Fold everything flat and you can attend an estate sale with confidence.

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For 2009, Mazda5’s only enhancements are additional color choices, a new silver and a sand colored interior to match “Stormy Blue and Brilliant Black” exteriors. Last year’s improvements like a 5-speed automatic transmission, rear-mounted cool air vents, an auxiliary input for your mp3 player, and—importantly—better fuel economy continue. Its frugal all-aluminum 2.3-liter four cylinder engine that, with 153 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque, will get you where you’re going but never scare you with acceleration. For some, a turbocharged model or V6 option would be welcome, but the EPA rating of 21 city, 27 highway has its own appeal; models with manual 5-speed get another mpg.

So far, other than the small size and three rows of seats you’re wondering why we liked this thing so much. So, here’s the Bullet Points


  • Low lift-in or lift-over height in the rear makes loading groceries, boxes, or a wheelchair easy indeed. Actually, you can load a wheelchair without folding. Only those who have this chore understand what a blessing that can be.
  • Side sliding doors have low effort, shut nicely and firmly with a solid bank vault “clunk.”
  • The second row slides rearward for more legroom and tilts. With the third row folded, there’s enough cargo space for a family vacation. With that row filled with soccer practice bound middle school teammates, there is room for a decent amount of stuff, though it would be a tight fit if all five brought backpacks, soccer balls and gym bags.
  • The interior is stylish and offers amenities associated with luxury cars like an eyebrow graphic display of HVAC /audio activities (channel or track number, fan speed, air distribution) and steering wheel mounted audio controls, dual 12V outlets, gated sport shifter, and optional navigation system.
  • Steering was sharp, accurate and just a touch short of feeling nervous, but our test car might have had a bit of front-end misalignment.
  • Seats, all six, were comfortable for everyone who passed into and out of them.
  • In a major test of suspension travel, our Mazda5 went over Traffic Calming bumps, those neighborhood “sleeping policemen,” with absolute ease. That indicates decent suspension travel and a ride comfort-inducing wheelbase length.
  • It is nicely styled – appearing fresh, futuristic, and not like a minivan, though you know in your heart that is what it is.

Room for improvement:

  • When the vehicle load approaches capacity, whether more than four passengers or lots of cargo, the rear end clunked down onto its suspension stops on medium and larger bumps. It needs a greater spring rate or an adjustable spring rate option under those conditions. Fortunately, if you are planning to regularly tote plenty of weight, increasing spring rate is a relatively inexpensive aftermarket fix and something we would suggest.
  • We would also welcome better speakers for the audio system. That, too, is an easy aftermarket fix if your ears are as fussy as ours.