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If you happen to be a stylish four-cylinder, six-passenger people mover, it's your time to shine
By Malcolm Gunn
For on-the-go families who don't require massive minivan space, the compact Mazda5 presents a reasonable alternative to a regular-size minivan or even a junior sport utility vehicle.
Steadily increasing fuel prices are on many new-car-buyers' minds, along with finding ways to reduce overall operating expenses while maintaining or increasing the level of versatility that their vehicles can deliver. A modicum of driving enjoyment would definitely add some frosting to the cake.
The original and somewhat anonymous Mazda5 that was introduced for the 2006 model year managed to deliver on all counts and the updated 2012 edition promises more of the same, except the anonymity part.
The Mazda5 platform is based on the Mazda3 sedan/hatchback, but for the Mazda5 it has been stretched by about 13 centimetres between the front and rear wheels to squeeze in a third-row seat. That means six riders in a three-by-two arrangement.
This mini minivan is actually a hair shorter than the Mazda3 sedan, which will restrict the amount gear you can cram into the back when all chairs are occupied. However the highly versatile interior allows you to fold flat either or both of the sliding and reclining second-row buckets, or the 50:50 split folding rear bench to create the exact mix of people and cargo. If it wasn't for the non-folding front-row passenger seat back, the maximum cargo capacity could be considered exceptional.
For storing smaller items, the Mazda5 offers a generously sized glove box plus a couple of handy compartments beneath the second-row seat cushions.
To complement its practical nature, there's a little more pizzazz for the new model. The front features Mazda's signature happy-faced grille flanked by optional fog lights set into faux air intakes. At the opposite end, the vertical taillamps have been replaced by horizontal side-markers that blend into the liftgate.
Additional design drama can be seen in the more prominent hood, bolder front fenders and the scrolling accent lines that extend along the sliding side doors and rear quarter panels. Mazda's "Nagare" concept car was the inspiration for the 5's newly creased sheetmetal that will begin to show up in the next round of vehicle updates.
The theme also shows up in the redesigned dash layout (that's covered with soft-touch material, replacing hard plastic) as well as on the seat-cover pattern.
Gone is the 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, replaced with a standard 2.5-litre four-cylinder powerplant that's also found in the Mazda3 and Mazda6 passenger cars plus the base CX-7 tall wagon. For its role in the Mazda5, the 2.5 produces 157 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque, which is a slight improvement over the 2.3.
The Mazda5 continues to be the only such people mover available with a manual gearbox. A new six-speed unit is standard in base models, while a five-speed automatic is optional. Fuel economy is estimated at 9.7 l/100 km in the city and 6.8 on the highway with either transmission, which is roughly the same as on the previous powertrain.
Unchanged are the two available Mazda5 trim levels. Along with the six-speed manual transmission (standard on all models), the well-equipped $23,400 GS features climate control, rain-sensing wipers, remote keyless entry, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, six-speaker audio system with steering-wheel-mounted controls and 16-inch alloy wheels.
The top grade $26,000 GT adds bright xenon headlights with fog lights, heated front seats with driver's-seat manual lumbar support, rear liftgate spoiler, Bluetooth short-range wireless connectivity, premium audio package and 17-inch wheels.
The GT can also be loaded up with extra-cost items such as a power moonroof, leather-covered seats and a combination centre-row fold-out table and cargo bin.
In essence, the Mazda5 is the complete minivan package, minus the size and capacity of its much bigger competitors, of course, but also without their much higher list prices and their bigger appetites at the gas pumps. For stylish, eco-minded families, it doesn't really get much better than this.
What you should know: 2012 Mazda5
Type: Four-door, front-wheel-drive, six-passenger wagon
Engine (hp): 2.5-litre DOHC I4 (157)
Transmissions: Six-speed manual (std.); five-speed automatic (opt.)
Market position: The Mazda5 exists on the fringes of the minivan category and other than the Kia Rondo and the upcoming Ford C-Max, has no real direct competitors. It does, however, provide an ideal alternative to compact wagons.
Points: Refreshing styling, but will the swoops are curves win over buyers?; Six-speed manual transmission is a natural match for the four-cylinder; More powerful standard engine, but still 20-30 horsepower less than ideal. Turbocharger, anyone?; AWD option would make sense; Steadily increasing fuel costs could add to Mazda5's popularity.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 9.7/6.8 (MT)
Base price (incl. destination): $23,400
Base price: $23,000 (est.)
New Focus-based model should give Mazda5 a run for its money. Stay tuned.
Base price: $24,000 (est.) Dodge Avenger-based wagon comes with fancier cabin, optional V6.
Base price: $21,650
A small wagon with optional V6 and seven-passenger capacity.
Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!
Posted February 28, 2011. © CarTest.ca TM