On the Road Auto Reviews
cars.com On the Road Weekly Publication
4:13 PM EDT, October 12, 2011
By Jim MacPherson
The start of the last decade saw the “super-sizing” phenomenon peak. From meals to housing, bigger was better.
It should come as little surprise that minivans fell into line. They grew, with manufacturers adding a foot to the wheelbase and two feet to the overall length. They were still called minivans, though their interior capacity and exterior dimensions seemed to defy the label.
For people who need a flexible family hauler without the large size, there’s the Mazda5. Smaller than the typical minivan, it’s still wonderfully useful with seats for six in three two-person rows. It can also carry a surprising amount of cargo when the second and third row seats are folded.
Bob Hansen, sales manager at Mazda of Manchester could only laugh when asked to categorize the Mazda5. “It’s unique,” he says. “It’s a great niche car and the only thing in its class. It has plenty of room and the fuel economy is good.”
Drive the Mazda5 and if you don’t keep glancing in the rearview mirror, you’ll quickly forget you’re at the wheel of a family hauler. It feels more like an agile compact car, with more than its share of sporty moves.
Its reduced size also leads to a lower price and reduced fuel consumption. All of which makes the Mazda5 a surprisingly logical choice, even if the rest of the industry is still in super-size mode.
Three models are offered, all of them nicely equipped with the expected power assists, air conditioning and an audio system. The Sport is the base version, and the only model offered with a six-speed manual transmission. Touring and Grand Touring models come with a five-speed automatic transmission as standard equipment. This automatic is an option on the Sport.
The demand for the manual transmission is very small, but “…people who want them really want them. I try to keep at least one in stock,” Hansen says.
For 2012, Mazda has freshened the styling and boosted the size and power output of the engine. All models now feature a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that manages to feel more like a V-6 around town. Only on full-throttle acceleration does the typical four-cylinder exhaust tone intrude, putting an end to the V-6 ruse. Power is more than a match for family transport needs, with our zero-to-60 run taking 10 seconds.
The ride is firm but compliant. Handling is crisp and secure.
The front seats are comfortable and roomy for taller than average adults. The second row seat can also be adult friendly. It slides fore and aft, to favor either leg room or cargo capacity. The seatbacks also recline for added comfort. Access is eased by large, sliding second row doors.
Row three is for children only, and even with a child or two seated here, the second row passengers will have to pull their seats forward a little to make room.
The Mazda5 proves that bigger is not always better. Sometimes, less is more. That’s the case here, where less bulk produces more driving fun and better fuel economy. We averaged 26 miles per gallon in our week with the Mazda5.
“It’s a good alternative to a minivan or a four-door hatchback,” Hansen said. “It’s doing very, very well.”
157hp and 163 lb-ft of torque.
EPA 21/28 with 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic.