The small-but-versatile Mazda5 minivan is popular in congested European and Japanese cities, which makes one wonder why it’s overlooked in America, which has plenty of congestion.
Styling sells, and the revised styling of the Mazda5 — still the only such vehicle in its class — looks sleek. The upgraded interior has a redesigned instrument panel with large climate controls, plenty of cupholders and a decent amount of interior storage areas. However, the glovebox is small and the rear sliding side doors lack storage pockets.
Annoying flaw: The driver-door power window controls are too far forward, making it easy to accidentally open the a rear window instead of a front one. Also, gauges are hard to read in some daylight conditions.
But the front-drive 2012 Mazda 5 is fun to drive, with quick steering, tight turning radius, sharp handling with modest body lean in corners, an all-independent suspension that delivers a nimble ride—and solid braking.
A slightly larger four-cylinder engine provides more punch for what Mazda calls a “multi-activity” vehicle.
There’s a sliding door for each side, a hatch with a convenient pull-down feature and a third row seat, which is only suitable for small children. Getting back there is best left to nimble kids.
There is only grocery bag space with the third-row seatbacks in their upright position, but plenty of room for stuff with those 50/50 seatbacks flipped forward. They sit commendably flat when folded forward.
A fairly long 108.3-inch wheelbase allow plenty of room for four or five tall adults. And short front/rear overhangs and a compact rear suspension help allow parking ease and enhance handling. Wide conventional front doors, a high roof, low floor and the sliding side doors make it easy to enter and leave the front seats and fore/aft sliding second-row seats.
Nicely shaped front seats are supportive in curves, and drivers of various sizes will appreciate their seat’s manual height adjustment and the tilt/telescopic wheel.
The Mazda5 comes as the base $19,195 Sport with a new six-speed manual transmission—up from a five-speed unit in 2011. The Sport lists at $20,195 with a five-speed automatic. The Mazda5 is the only minivan offered with a six-speed manual.
The mid-range $21,195 Mazda5 Touring model I tested has the automatic transmission which has an easily used manual-shift feature, automatic climate control, steering wheel audio and cruise controls and large 17-inch (up from 16-inch) alloy wheels with wider tires. It also features side sill extensions, a rear spoiler, fog lamps and leather-wrapped wheel and shift knob.
The top-line $23,875 Grand Touring model adds a power front sunroof, heated driver’s seat, leather seats, voice activating system, in-dash six-disc CD changer, Sirius satellite radio, heated power mirrors and automatic headlights and windshield wipers with an automatic intermittent wipe and rain sensor.
Options include a $1,140 sunroof and audio package for the Touring model.
All Mazda5 models have plenty of safety equipment. It includes anti-lock disc brakes with brake force distribution and brake assist for surer stops, dynamic stability control, traction control and six airbags, including full-length side curtains.
Powering the new Mazda5 is a dual-overhead-camshaft 16-valve four-cylinder engine enlarged from 2.3 to 2.5 liters. It generates 157-horsepower — or four more than in the 2011 model — and more torque. It makes the 3,417-3,457 minivan lively in town and provides average but adequate 65-75 mph passing on highways.
Fuel economy doesn’t suffer despite the larger engine. It’s an estimated 21 mpg in the city and 28 on highways.
Instead of hydraulic struts, a prop rod holds up the hood, which has an interior lining to enhance the Mazda5 interior’s general quietness.
The Mazda5, which arrived in the United States for 2006, may see higher sales in America because versatile, fun-to-drive smaller vehicles are increasingly popular.
Dan Jedlicka has been an automotive journalist for more than 40 years. To read more of his new and vintage car reviews, visit: www.danjedlicka.com.