The Auto Channel
The Largest Independent Automotive Research Resource
Official Website of the New Car Buyer

2015 Mazda5 Grand Touring Review by Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

The Mazda5 combines space efficiency, style and a fine driving experience

DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD WITH CAREY RUSS

      • SEE ALSO: Mazda Buyers Guide


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Mazda is different from other Japanese automakers. Or from other automakers, period, from anywhere. A small company, Mazda thrives on engineering and niche marketing. Perhaps best-known for its MX-5 Miata sports car, it has a wide range of offerings, each with a little MX-5 character within. There are subcompact, compact, and midsize sedans and hatchbacks that are among the best in their respective classes. There are crossovers in large CX-9 and small CX-5 form. And there is the Mazda5.

From an American point of view, the Mazda5 is a minivan. A mini-minivan by today's measure, since contemporary minivans are nearly the size of full-size vans of the past. Europeans might call it a "multi-purpose vehicle", or MPV -- amusingly, Mazda's name for the Mazda5's predecessor. Although the MPV was small for a minivan, the Mazda5 is smaller still, and less expensive. Which is all the better for its intended market, young families and anyone else needing space, convenience, and versatility on a reasonable budget. Mazda calls it a "multi-activity vehicle", and besides up to six people, it can hold a wide variety of sports equipment, furniture, artwork, stuff, stuff, and more stuff.

After a model-year 2006 debut, a second generation of Mazda5 was introduced to the North American market for model year 2012. It featured new, more fluid, styling and the original 2.3 liter engine was replaced by a 2.5-liter unit with the same 157 horsepower but increased torque -- 163 lb-ft from 148 -- for improved performance and drivability. Unusually for a "family-hauler" type vehicle in the US market, the Sport trim level was offered with a manual transmission, six-speed, as well as the five-speed automatic found in the mid-level Touring and premium Grand Touring models.

Changes since then have been minimal. The stick shift has disappeared, likely because of lack of sales and expense of emissions certification. In a world where volume is king, the Mazda5 is not a high-volume vehicle. Which is unfortunate, as it can fit the needs of a wide variety of people -- people who may not even know the Mazda5 exists. Its design is wonderfully space-efficient, it's as versatile as any crossover or minivan for passenger or cargo duty, and its small size makes it much easier to deal with in tight urban environments and parking lots. It holds its own in traffic, and is enjoyable to drive, even on a tight, twisty road. No, it's not a sports-van, but it is built by a sports car maker, and that shows.

My week with a top-of-the-line Mazda5 Grand Touring was a good one. Could I get a bicycle or two inside, without disassembly? No problem. Bring friends out to dinner? No problem. Deal with rain and wind on highways and byways? No problem. With minimal highway driving I still got 22 mpg for the week, better than larger not-so mini vans and similar-footprint crossovers that are nowhere near as space-efficient. The Mazda5 is one of the best-kept secrets in the auto industry, and shouldn't be a secret at all.

APPEARANCE: How to make a box not a box? Look at what Mazda has done here. Yes, the Mazda5 is a "two-box" design in abstract. But in implementation there are few straight lines or flat surfaces. The large Mazda grin grille -- which in detail is surprisingly complex -- dominates the front, and is flanked by pointed headlights and foglamps set into faux brake ducts, emphasized by racecar-look sculpting of the lower bumper fascia. The windshield rake almost matches that of the hood, and the roof has an arched profile for aero efficiency, helped by a visor-type spoiler at the trailing edge. Complex, fluid, lines on the sides emphasize the fender lines and suggest motion. Lower sill cladding visually lowers the Mazda5. At the rear, the tailgate is more vertical that is usual today, all the better for both lower aerodynamic drag and increased useable interior space.

COMFORT: Even in premium Grand Touring trim, the Mazda5's interior is more functional than fancy. Nothing wrong there, function is far more important that fashion. Seating is three rows of two. The third row folds flat into the floor when not in use, with a little storage space and a space-saver spare under the rear area. The second row seats have reclining backs and about a foot of fore-and-aft travel (manually) so people of varying size can fit in the two back rows. There is storage under the second row, and a useful fold-out tray between the seats. Second-row seats flip and fold flat. This is not a car for six NBA first-round draft picks, but medium-sized adults and kid-sized kids will fit fine.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Up front, the driver's experience is much more sports sedan than minivan. Leather seating in all rows, and heated front cushions are standard in the Grand Touring, as are a leather steering wheel rim and shift knob, automatic climate control, Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius/XM satellite radio (subscription required), and carpet floor mats (too often an option), among other things. Audio choices are AM, FM, and XM radio, CD (all formats), and auxiliary jack and USB port. The steering wheel adjusts manually for both tilt and reach, and has audio, cruise, and phone controls. A moonroof is also standard fare. Seats are manually-adjustable, with driver's cushion height one parameter. Comfort and support levels are good, and the second row is not particularly inferior to the front. Yes, a Mazda5 is cozier than what currently passes for "mini"van, but on a narrow road or in a crowded parking lot that is not bad at all.

PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2015 Mazda5

SAFETY: The Mazda5 features "Triple H" unibody construction, three-point safety be belts and adjustable headrests for all seating positions, front, front seat side, and full-length head curtain airbags, four-wheel disc brakes with antilock, electronic brake force distribution, and brake assist, dynamic stability control, traction control, and a tire pressure monitoring system. All new Mazdas currently come with a certified roadside assistance program, reachable by a toll-free phone number or IOS or Android app.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Think Mazda3 stretch limo… The Mazda5's 108-inch wheelbase and well-designed and -calibrated suspension mean stability on the highway, even in strong winds, and easy maneuverability when the road is more interesting. Suspension is fully independent, with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link system in the rear. The ride is firm but compliant, and four-wheel disc brakes mean good stopping ability. Just because it looks like a minivan and can carry six people doesn't mean that the Mazda5 needs to feel and handle like a mommyvan.

PERFORMANCE: Compared to the original 2.3-liter engine, the 2.5 makes the same horsepower, 157, but at lower revs, 6000 rpm vs. 6500. Torque is what has increased, noticeably, from 148 lb-ft at 3500 rpm to 163 at 4000 rpm. This gives the Mazda5 quicker throttle response, at any speed. With curb weight around 3500 pounds, it's heavier than a Mazda3 sedan or hatch, but still reasonably light. The five-speed automatic works well for its mission. EPA mileage ratings are 21 mpg city and 28 highway. I got 22 overall, with minimal highway driving.

CONCLUSIONS: The Mazda5 combines space efficiency with style and a fine driving experience.

SPECIFICATIONS

2015 Mazda5 Grand Touring

Base Price $ 24,770

Price As Tested $ 25,640

Engine Type DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy inline 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing

Engine Size 2.5 liters / 152 cu. in.

Horsepower 157 @ 6000 rpm

Torque (lb-ft) 163 @ 4000 rpm

Transmission 5-speed automatic

Wheelbase / Length 108.3 in. / 180.5 in.

Curb Weight 3457 lbs.

Pounds Per Horsepower 22.0

Fuel Capacity 15.9 gal.

Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline

Tires 205/50 R17 89V Toyo Proxes A18 m+s

Brakes, front/rear vented disc / solid disc, ABS, EBD, BA standard

Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / independent multi-link

Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 21 / 28 / 22

0 to 60 mph 9.0 sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES

Rear Bumper Guard $ 75

Destination Charge $ 795