2012 Mazda MAZDA5
Anyone who's owned a minivan—or a people-mover of any kind—knows that what really matters is the packaging. For a busy family, the cargo storage solutions, the seating layout, and the places you have to store those smaller items can make all the difference. Can you easily put the third row into action when you suddenly need to give your kids' friends a ride, too? Can you flip part of the second row forward to fit a bicycle? Or flip it all down to a cargo floor when you need to move large pieces of furniture?
In all of these cases, you can, and it doesn't take a lot of muscle, or a long reach, and that's one of the Mazda5's strengths. There aren't any complicated power folding mechanisms or power door setups because you simply don't need them. The hatch can be reached by shorter moms; the second and third rows have easy-to-reach straps and fold forward easily, and the sliding side doors can be opened or closed with just a thumb and forefinger while your other arm is around a bag of groceries or holding on to a child's hand. Smaller kids don't need to be hoisted upward into a taller seating position, and the load floor is nice and low.
There are plenty of impressive storage spaces in the Mazda5, too. Several shelves and cubbies along the dash accommodate smaller items, and all the doors have large pockets. While there isn't a covered center-console space, and the glovebox is quite small, there's a bit storage bin, large enough for a purse or small camera bag, under each of the second-row seat cushions, and there's another large, hinged cargo tray just under the rear cargo floor.
As we say in the First Drive, while the 2012 Mazda5 is a home run in terms of packaging, it's not perfect in presentation. Hard, hollow plastics and econo-car trims tend to be a little disappointing, and while the feature set includes dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, and cruise, audio systems (displays and sound) are disappointing and there's no USB plug or iPod control available anywhere in the lineup.
Look here and up above for an extended gallery of shots from our day with the 2012 Mazda5.