Test Drive: 2012 Mazda5

Redesigned compact minivan rises from very good to excellent

by James M. Flammang

2012 Mazda5

Mazda first introduced the Mazda5 for the 2006 model year, as an alternative to the conventional and larger American minivan. Dubbed a "unique" multi-activity vehicle that "doesn't fit into a mold," the original Mazda5 was "beloved by its owners," according to the Japanese-brand automaker.

For the newly redesigned second-generation Mazda5, introduced as an early 2012 model, program manager Hideki Matsuoka says developers "took the best of the current model and set out to further evolve it." Their objective: "a new family mover for the global market ... establishing a balance between diverse functionality and outstanding performance."

Mazda is emphasizing style for the new model, which again features sliding rear side doors. The 2012 Mazda5 is said to incorporate motifs from Mazda's new Nagare "flow" design language, previously seen only on concept vehicles.

Nagare "incorporates the beauty of nature, in particular the forces of wind and water, to lend an intuitive sense of motion to the respective designs," according to Mazda. The Mazda5 "design team viewed the overall image as a single bead of water with ripples intentionally eft on the surface, such that the body's lines express the flow of motion." That flow "begins at the front grille and passes smoothly over the headlamps, hood and fenders. It then continues over the sides of the body, rear combination lamps and tailgate in a continuous stream."

Mazda calls the overall design concept "Seductive Smartness." A new five-point mesh-pattern grille helps make it "immediately distinguishable as a Mazda product." Foglamp bezels are said to "form a continuous line with the side shoulders and wheel arches." The hood is taller then before, suggesting "greater presence." Extended rear-quarter and back-window glass panels cover the D-pillars.

Inside, the instrument panel "flows from the cockpit to the center panel," Mazda says, continuing "on the passenger-side dashboard in a rippling effect." Twin deep-set gauges face the driver, and the center panel is fitted with chrome plating and silver-trimmed knobs.

Built on a 108.3-inch wheelbase, the latest Mazda5 is 180.5 inches long overall, 68.9 inches wide, and 63.6 inches high. Those dimensions differ only slightly from the first-generation model. Turning circle is 36.7 feet, promising easy maneuverability, while a drag coefficient of 0.30 makes the Mazda5 more aerodynamic.

Manually-operated sliding rear side doors may be operated with one finger. "Theater-style" seating is accompanied by a stepped floor that helps add legroom, especially in the rear rows. A Mazda5 can be configured for two to six passengers. The second row has separate captains chairs that slide and recline, and can be folded. A one-touch lever tips the seatback forward and slides the cushion ahead, to allow third-row access.

Third-row seats are split 50/50 and can be tipped forward individually and folded flat. With those rear seats folded flat, cargo volume is 44.4 cubic feet, though it drops to only 5.6 cubic feet with the seatbacks up (27.5 with the seatbacks folded).

Under the hood, Mazda has increased engine displacement from 2.3 to 2.5 liters, generating 157 horsepower at 6000 rpm, and 163 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. The 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is similar to the one used in the Mazda3, Mazda6, and CX-7. Sport models may have a six-speed manual gearbox, but others get a five-speed automatic transmission with Mazda's Active Adaptive Shift protocol. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates fuel economy at 21 mpg city/28 mpg highway with either transmission.

Road behavior and performance are even better than before

Ever since its debut for 2006, the Japanese-made Mazda5 has been an appealing vehicle, delivering sensible, comfortable motoring, more in the European mode than strictly minivan. That's largely because Mazda5 has been the only moderately-sized minivan on the market a size seen often in Europe, but typically seemed too small for American tastes.

Now, Mazda has issued a significantly reworked next-generation Mazda5, which retains all the virtues of the original while adding some impressive refinements. Unless you demand shoved-into-your-seat acceleration from a practical vehicle, performance is impressively satisfying. In fact, acceleration is surprisingly spirited, backed by a nicely-behaved automatic transmission; Almost no gearchanges are noticed, and the 2012 Mazda5 is impressively quiet.

Mazda even manages to inject a helping of its "zoom-zoom" sportiness into the model's road behavior, with satisfying steering feel. This one retains the joy of driving that's been absent or reduced on a couple of recent Mazdas. The suspension is unfazed by all but the harshest bumps, yielding an excellent ride with few trouble spots.

Add reasonably spacious seating for up to six, easy-to-read gauges, and comfortable seats in the first and second rows. Entry/exit is easy, too. The third row is more of a problem; don't expect much in the way of legroom back there. Many buttons greet the driver, but most are well-marked.

Three trim levels are available: entry-level Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring. Standard equipment includes 16-inch alloy wheels, power mirrors, power windows and locks, air conditioning, a six-speaker CD/MP3 audio system, and remote keyless entry. The Touring adds 17-inch wheels, sport side sill extension, a rear liftgate spoiler, foglamps, Bluetooth hands-free phone operation, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. Moving up to a Grand Touring adds a moonroor, high-intensity-discharge headlights, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, heated front seats, an in-dash CD changer, leather-trimmed seats, and Sirius satellite radio.

Six airbags are standard, including three-row side curtains. Prices begin at $19,990 (including destination charge) for the Sport model with manual shift, rising to $24,670 for the Grand Touring edition.

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© All contents copyright 2011 by Tirekicking Today
Text and photos by James M. Flammang
tilt/telescopic steering column spring rates have been increased to improve linear roll and straight-line stability. Mazda's Brake Override System prioritizes the brake pedal over the accelerator, should both be engaged simultaneously.