New & Used Mazda 5: In Depth
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The Mazda 5 is a minivan—but one that's a fraction of the size of anything else on the market that bears that classification. The current Mazda 5 is based on the underpinnings of the previous-generation Mazda 3 compact-car family. It's a minivan for those who are fond of driving; what it loses in interior space, it makes up for in handling.
For more information on the Mazda 5, including options, pricing, and specifications, see our full review of the 2014 Mazda 5.
Two generations of the Mazda 5 van have been sold in the U.S. The first was sold here from 2006 to 2010. All vans from that generation used a 153-horsepower, 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine. Early models used a four-speed automatic transmission, while the gearbox was upgraded to a five-speed unit from 2008 on. The switch didn't do much for acceleration but did improve fuel economy noticeably. The 2008 update also brought a new design for the center-stack controls and some improvements to the instrument panel, as well as separate climate controls and vents for rear passengers.
The current Mazda 5 is the result of a redesign for 2012. The latest model's styling is considerably more adventurous, with lines based on Mazda's 'Nagare' design language of swoopy, almost aquatic shapes. The tailgate has a more carlike design than it did in the last generation, and the Mazda 5's front styling may have the most extreme version of Mazda's 'grinning' corporate grille design. With luck, it'll likely be toned down in years to come, to follow the example of the Mazda 3.
Because the Mazda 5 is one of the smaller vans, its seating arrangement isn't what you get from a larger minivan. The 5 offers seating for six, split into three rows of two seats. In the first and second row, that means individual bucket seats, while row three gets a bench. The second row can be moved forward and back to accommodate bigger people or more stuff, and also aid entry into the third row. The rearmost rows can also fold to allow for cargo hauling.
While its dimensions make it a seven-eighths-scale minivan, from behind the wheel, it maneuvers and handles like a small car. And it doesn't require any more space to park than a compact car either. One downside to the Mazda 5, though, is a noisier interior than you'd encounter in most other vehicles of the type. It feels very carlike—and it can be quite peppy when driven hard, provided you're not carrying a full load. But load up the Mazda 5 and its engine will strain--especially if you opt for the automatic transmission.
Mazda offers just one engine, a 157-horsepower, 2.5-liter four, and until the 2015 model year, sporting drivers could order it with a six-speed manual gearbox instead of the five-speed automatic. Excellent steering with superb road feel, tight control of body motions, and a light driving feel makes the Mazda 5 sheer fun to drive--and when's the last time that could be said of any minivan at all? Although you can row the automatic manually through the gears, the standard manual gearbox on the Mazda 5 made it more fun to drive. While the Mazda 5 doesn't accelerate quickly, handling is a strong point; even loaded up, it can take on a curvy road with a surprisingly nimble and stable feel. Likely due to low take rates, Mazda chose to kill the manual option for the 2015 model year, while also making some minor changes to package content on the remaining models.
Trims and upholsteries have been upgraded over the previous generation, though we still find them to feel cut-rate up close. Some shoppers will also resent the lack of Bluetooth connectivity on certain trim levels, and the lack of a navigation option altogether. For 2013, Mazda did add a USB input as well as side mirrors with integrated LED turn-signal indicators. Changes have been minimal since then, but in summer 2014 the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) tested a 2014 model and found that it didn't fare well in several categories. In particular, it rather spectacularly failed the tough new small overlap frontal test.
The Mazda 5 is virtually alone in the U.S. market, making it the only entry in a category of vehicles variously known as "small minivans" or "people movers" to Europeans. The Kia Rondo is no longer offered, and Ford canceled plans to launch its seven-seat, non-hybrid C-Max when sales failed to develop. You can still buy a Ford C-Max here, but it's only offered as a hybrid or a plug-in hybrid, and with just two rows of seats--a different vehicle category that may exceed the price range of some families who might consider a Mazda 5.