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2012 Mazda5 Review By Thom Cannell

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2012 Mazda5

By Thom Cannell Senior Editor
Michigan Bureau
The Auto Channel

Authors Note: No attempt at completeness, simply comments on one week’s driving experience—balanced against decades of experience and hundreds of comparisons.

It has been a very good week with the Mazda5, a favorite people and cargo mover. It looks compact, drives compact, hauls four passengers in great style (six in reasonable comfort), and is guaranteed to make your garage appear more spacious because it literally is small.

The all-new Mazda5 replaced an aging four-door Mazda MPV 2005 with an update three years later. This third generation launched globally in 2010 at the Geneva auto show and is the basis of our test car. With a 157 hp 2.5-liter DOHC four-cylinder engine and a six-speed manual or five-speed sport shift automatic under the hood, Mazda5 has plenty of power to get you up a ramp or around slow-moving traffic, and very responsive handling. Viewed by most as a mini-minivan, Mazda5 feels more like an enlarged station wagon. Sliding doors on each side open and slide easily without power and offer great access to the second and third rows. Three versions are offered, Sport ($19,625), Touring ($21,625), and Grand Touring ($23,875). Our Grand Touring test vehicle optioned Sirius satellite radio (no charge) and a rear DVD entertainment system with two sets of earphones ($1,200) that we never tried, plus a $50 rear bumper guard for a total $25,920 before any dealer negotiations. With a Ford Taurus SE starting at $26,350 according to Ford, Mazda’s small van could be a good choice for empty nesters, families with a couple of kids, or on-the-go types of any demographic.

A few years ago Mazda Concept cars used Japanese names to describe their enhanced styling. Nagare (flow), emerged and the racy Furai (sound of the wind) Concept hinted at Mazda5’s deeply chiseled sides. Just so you know, that sculpting helps fuel economy and side panel strength as well as looking great. Our Clear Water Blue vehicle arrived with sculpted leather seats with perspiration-reducing perforations that look good and feel better. They are part of the Grand Touring package and were graphically outlined in deep burgundy. Mazda seats always seem comfortable over any driving distance and these did not disappoint. Position is manually adjustable for height and seat back rake and the height adjustment is very helpful positioning your head to peer over the steeply sloping hood. Interestingly, despite pushing the seat up, head-toss, the annoying sensation that you’re head is being whipped back and forth, is minimal if not absent. That’s good chassis design.

As a mover of people and cargo it’s tough to beat a “tall wagon”. While Honda, Nissan, Chrysler, and Toyota all make larger vans with greater capacity, this one seems fashioned for the moment. First, once parked in your garage you may find, as we did, that you have an extra few inches behind and almost a foot in front compared to a regular sedan or wagon (we can’t imagine getting a 200” Nissan minivan into our garage though the numbers say it will). Again, it drives small, it’s footprint is small but it holds plenty, meaning two full sized front seats, two full sized tilt-slide second row seats, and fold-flat third row seats for two more passengers, as long as they’re petite.

Those third row seats fold flat with an easy tug on a seat-back loop of webbing. One light yank opens what was sufficient space for the groceries, brief cases, and gym bags we carry daily into enough luggage space for your vacation. Drop the second row seats and you’re off to Lowe’s, Home Depot, or the Antiques Roadshow. Putting that into numbers, there’s 44.4 cubic feet behind the second row (third folded) and 97.7 cubic feet for front and second row passengers. Headroom is listed at 40” plus or minus an inch depending on whether you bought the sunroof. Our passengers were all 5’8-5’10 and everyone could wear their Stetson.

We won’t say “jump in” to a Mazda5 as its seat height is more “slide right in”. Typically sedan’s make your hips lower, minivans cause you to reach for some step-up assist. Not so here. The cockpit is designed to speak calmly to the driver and passenger and the DVD entertainment option is for the kids to keep things tranquil. All is in lightly outlined dark gray and black with sparse use of aluminum or aluminum-like trim. The steering wheel is thick and comfortable, equipped with total control inset buttons for entertainment and cruise control. Primary gauges are large. To us the huge gauges, while easy to read, crowded the secondary notices for shifter, fuel gauge, and odometer/trip odometer. Over on the right we found the HVAC controls just perfect: large round knobs that do their job with no guesswork. Above is the entertainment center and it has way too many buttons, design we continually refer to as “marker rendering” design that looks great on paper but is clunky to use. Two big air diffusers are next highest and above that another display which is about half the height it needs to be for ease of use. There’s too much data in too small a space and it always made us feel in need of a visit to the optometrist. These minor flaws, and a less than stellar audio experience, were the sum of our nit-picking. Where the vehicle shines is in what it’s meant for, transportation.

Mazda has focused its energies on making cars that are fun to drive, and this one surely is. We’ve mentioned how small it feels, how little your head is tossed on rough roads. We’ve not said anything about how it feels powerful though the engine is relatively small. We never felt underpowered regardless the load of gear or passengers.

Driving the car is just fun. If you enjoy driving, find it more a pleasure than a chore, take a test drive. Even if cars are appliances to you, you’ll find the supple suspension soaking up pot holes and expansion strips with assurance. And should you need to stop abruptly, the kind of stop that causes four-letter words, the Mazda5 handles that better then we do. We think the quiet cabin with it’s aura of chilled competence, is akin to a “W” Hotel, all black, sliver, and burgundy only lacking fresh flowers and a water feature.

2012 Mazda5 Bullet Points:

• Mazda5 is maneuverable, comforting and comforting to drive at any reasonably sane pace, possessed with solid ride and handling and enough understeer to remind you it is a people mover, not an RX-8.

• Two sliding doors open invitingly wide, sliding softly to open or close under your own power.

• Mazda’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine provides plenty of power for this minivan and it’s EPA rating of 21 City, 28 Highway puts it high up on the fuel economy scale for all minivans. We managed 22.5 mpg despite a hefty City bias and heavier acceleration.

• Other than the shrunken displays, the way you operate this vehicle creates comfort and ease of operation. Nothing requires a reach and everything feels as if it’s where you want it.

• Style, always subjective, places the Mazda5 among the most heavily sculpted minivans available. Side chiseling flows naturally into large, bright tail lamps. The sculpting continues across the tail gate and includes a roof spoiler. Only the smiling face could be considered controversial and it’s blacked-out grille and fog light surrounds add even more dimension.

• The overall diminutive size makes the car fun to drive, easy to park, and a pleasure to garage, while maintaining astonishing interior space for 4-6 passengers of every size and shape.