Mazda5 — The essence of a 'mini' van

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Mazda5 is currently the only vehicle in the U.S. that truly lives up to the name “minivan.” The standard minivans of today are big vehicles, nothing mini about them, designed to haul large numbers of passengers and large amounts of cargo.
The thing is not everyone looking for some extra space needs the size, large price tag and diminished gas mileage that the standard-sized minivans offer. But they desire the space and utility of a minivan design. The Mazda5 has all the traits of a typical minivan including sliding rear doors, a third-row seat, rear seats that fold flat creating a large cargo area, and the driving dynamics of a car.
The strange thing is that the automotive buying public has shunned the small van, and for that reason the Mazda5 currently has no competitors in North America. To Mazda’s credit, even faced with uninspired sales as compared to the traditional minivans, it believes that the Mazda5 will find its time as buyers in the U.S. become more aware and comfortable with smaller cars.
Europeans love smaller size vehicles and the accompanying gas mileage afforded from less weight. As gas prices continue to fluctuate here, up and down, the reality is that the new down is higher, more efficient vehicles become more popular, and as automakers scramble to find fuel efficient alternatives in the wake of ever-increasing gas mileage standards, the compact minivan will become more popular.
To that point, Ford will soon have a competitor in showrooms, the like-sized C-Max. For now, the Mazda5 stands alone, an intriguing vehicle that grew on us.
The new minivan is a nice piece of work built on the zoom-zoom Mazda3 platform with surprisingly delightful handling, stretch-out space for four adults and enough cargo space to handle the luggage of those four adults for a long journey, and a neatly designed dashboard that’s easy to use. For those reasons alone the minivan should sell.
But there in one big pocketbook reason that might trump all of the above. We’ll use the popular and highly regarded Honda Odyssey for comparison. The Odyssey starts with a base price of $28,075, the Mazda5 at $19,345. Fully equipped the Mazda comes in at around 25 grand.
The Mazda saves some fuel as well. The Odyssey is rated 19 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and combined 22. The Mazda carries a rating of 21/28 with a combined 24. The government says based on 15,000 miles a year that’s an annual savings of $211. Admittedly, your needs must be scaled down to get by with a smaller vehicle. The Odyssey trumps the Mazda5 in total cargo space and passenger room. 
But for the family just starting out — the third row will adequately house a couple of small children giving the Mazda six-passenger capability — or for the empty nesters who still enjoy transporting friends to dinner, but need a minivan’s flexibility the Mazda5 might just be the ticket. Mazda5 has a generous 27.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the third row folded, which expands into an even larger space with the second row seatbacks folded. Its affordable price that undercuts most crossover vehicles with as much interior space makes the diminutive minivan even more attractive.
But what delighted us most, was the passenger-friendly second-row captain’s chairs that can slide fore and aft and recline. A handy pop-up table with storage space can be fitted between the seats. If the rear-most seats are used, the table can be stowed to create a center walkway. And the sliding doors make getting in and out of the vehicle a snap. 
What might keep people from even considering the Mazda5 is what appears to be a rather meager engine for a people hauler. But to our surprise and delight, we discovered that the 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine generating an energetic 157 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque was up to the task of moving us in an acceptable manner. Its performance is better behind the wheel than on paper. The Mazda5 can complete a 0 to 60 run in 9.2 seconds and a quarter mile in 17.1 seconds at 81.2 mph through a five-speed automatic. Those numbers aren’t going to get anyone’s blood pressure elevated. And for the sake of full disclosure, the Mazda can be sluggish negotiating steep grades or with a full load.
On the flip side, the Mazda5 displays the agility and maneuverability of a compact car, hence the zoom-zoom tag. On winding roads there’s not a minivan built that the Mazda5 won't turn into a speck in the rearview mirror. Handling is excellent and the electric steering is precise.

Inside, the Mazda5 carries the sleek, attractive look of Mazda dashboards in the CX-7 and CX-9. Mazda has replaced the fancy electroluminescent gauges with simpler white-on-black gauges that proved easy to read. The controls are easy to reach and use and steering wheel audio and cruise controls make driving life easier.
Our top-of-the-line Grand Touring edition came with a load of standard equipment, but the otherwise impressive features list for 2012 does not include navigation, a backup camera, or power sliding doors and a power tailgate.
Mazda says a Garmin portable navigation system and a rear DVD player will be dealer-installed options at some point during the model year.
Safety is well covered with traction and stability controls, four-wheel antilock brakes with brake assist, and front side airbags and side curtain airbags.
The Mazda5 comes in three trim levels starting with the Sport at $20,140 including destination charge, the Touring at $22,140 and the Grand Touring at $24,670. Our test vehicle carried a bottom line of $24,720 after adding on a $50 rear bumper guard.
Base price: $20,140; as driven, $24,720
Engine: 2.5-liter 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 157 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 163 @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2/2
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Length: 180.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,457 pounds
Turning circle: 36.7 feet
Capacity behind second row: 27.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.9 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 28 mpg highway, 21 mpg city
0-60: 9.2 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Ford C-Max, Toyota Prius V
The Good:
• Affordable price
• Excellent handling for a minivan
• Practical sliding rear side-doors
The Bad:
• Sluggish performance with big load
The Ugly:
• Lacks such modern features as navigation, backup camera