2013 Mazda MAZDA5 Review

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Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 3, 2013

If you don't mind being seen in a minivan--but don't want to feel like you're driving one--the 2013 Mazda 5 fits the bill, though it's short on some features.

Minivans might be a necessary evil for a particular stage in life, but accepting the utility of a family hauler doesn't mean a life sentence to dull driving. The Mazda 5 is our proof--it's charming in its simplicity, with the dynamics of a hatchback more so than a minivan. It looks and acts the part of a sliding-door wagon, but it sure doesn't feel like it.

Redesigned just last year, the Mazda 5 returns with just a minor change or two. Left untouched are its compact proportions and the updated look it brought to the fore for the 2012 model year. There's some aggressive contouring in its fenders, and a rhythmic flow to its surfaces and creases outside of the big panels of glass and metal that define its one-box passenger space. Yes, it's a minivan, but at least it fights against monotony. The cockpit is more deserving of nitpicks: the controls are clutter-free, but the amount of shiny, hard plastics can be disappointing even in such a value-priced vehicle.

With some structure and drivetrains on loan from the Mazda 3, the Mazda 5 summons a sporty but modest feel. Its 2.5-liter four-cylinder has just 157 horsepower; it's not quick at all. We'd choose the standard six-speed manual transmission on the base version, but even the five-speed automatic on upper trims has manual shift control. In both cases acceleration is adequate, thanks to well-chosen gear ratios. Gas mileage is fine, at up to 28 mpg highway, but other bigger minivans can do just as well on paper, though we've seen higher real-world fuel economy in the Mazda.

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It's the Mazda 5's handling that draws our attention. The athletic feel starts with top-notch steering and a well composed ride. It's a blast to drive, especially when the road winds. It feels natural and confident, and ride quality is comfortable and absorbent whether you’re cruising on the highway or taking on the tight esses of a mountain road.

Size-wise, the Mazda 5 is a 7/8-scale minivan; there aren’t a lot of frills, and there are no power rear hatches or power folding seats; from the driver’s seat, you might think you’re in a nimble small car, yet there are convenient sliding side doors and oodles of easily reconfigurable interior space. Mazda has managed to fit seating for six—three usable rows—in a vehicle that’s shorter than a typical mid-size sedan. The front seats are a little skimpy, but the buckets in the second row have enough space for adults to be comfortable. The third-row split bench works in a pinch for smaller kids--and folds away to create big cargo-carrying capacity. The two most significant letdowns of the Mazda 5’s interior are its drab, hard-and-hollow plastic trim for the dash and door panels, and the seemingly ever-present din of road noise on some surfaces. 

With the base $20,000 Sport, Mazda has a niche to itself, with a manual-transmission minivan with six-passenger seating. A USB port is now standard across the board, as are power features and a CD player; Touring and Grand Touring models get Bluetooth hands-free calling and Bluetooth audio streaming, though. In top-of-the-line Grand Touring form, the Mazda 5 also comes with a power moonroof, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, xenon HID headlamps, heated front seats, and Sirius satellite radio (a standalone option, too), all for around $25.000.

The Mazda5 hasn't changed significantly going on to the 2013 model year, but in follow-up drives of the Mazda5 we've found that it remains one of the most fun-to-drive yet frugal family vehicles you can get.

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2013 Mazda MAZDA5

Styling

A scaled-down minivan, the Mazda 5 can't avoid the boxy outline, but it has some clever details.

With last year's redesign, the Mazda 5 kept its relatively tight, lean proportions and infused them with some of the "Nagare" design cues that color the rest of its lineup. There's only so much you can do to dress up a minivan, though--the 5 doesn't escape its boxy silhouette that much.

From a few paces back, the Mazda 5 still looks like a well-designed 7/8-scale minivan—one that might park and maneuver a little easier, too (as it does). And to put it all into perspective, the Mazda 5 is actually five inches longer than the original Dodge Caravan, but nearly two feet shorter than what are now called minivans, like the Honda Odyssey,Dodge Grand Caravan, and Toyota Sienna. In truth, each of those vehicles now nearly take up the space of the old boatlike station wagons they were intended to replace.

It is a little more exciting to look at than other minivans, especially from the side. The flow of surfaces and creases down the fenders generates some visual drama, and the long taillights have gone horizontal, all in the name of lowering the van's profile, making it seem more like carlike. The stance alone helps the Mazda 5 pull off some of those details in a way no larger minivan could.

Mazda has updated the interior to better fit in with the interiors of the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 lineups, with a more simple, matte look, with bright accents, throughout, and a few more curves added to the instrument panel. The Mazda 5 gets the Mazda 3's rounded climate control vents at either side, and center vents have been moved higher up for better flow. Audio systems have also been completely redesigned and reconfigured, and there's a new trip meter and display up on top, in the line of sight.
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2013 Mazda MAZDA5

Performance

It's not quick at all, but the Mazda 5 is the most agile minivan.

Modesty, thy name is the Mazda 5's drivetrain. It's a good thing the sporty running shoes underneath work so well.

The Mazda 5's based on the 3 compact sedan and hatchback, so handling's more athletic than any other minivan. But acceleration is among the slowest. The only engine is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder with 157 horsepower, and it's teamed up to the front wheels through either a five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual transmission. No one would ever accuse this minivan of being quick, but at least the transmissions have well-chosen ratios, giving the 5 decent acceleration.

Note: the six-speed manual is only offered on the base Sport model, while the other models have the automatic standard. The automatic has a manual-control mode, but the six-speed still has a more energetic, direct feel. Either way, there's really no point in revving the engine into its noisy upper reaches, though.

Top-notch steering and a nimble, athletic feel make the 5 a blast to drive, especially when the road winds. The Mazda5’s quick-ratio electro-hydraulic power steering is weighted about perfectly, and feels natural and confident whether you’re cruising on the highway or taking on the tight esses of a mountain road. Likewise, body control is tight, and four-wheel disc brakes provide strong stopping power without the dramatic nosedive of other people-movers. Ride quality is surprisingly absorbent and comfortable, given the suspension’s taut, responsive tuning.

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2013 Mazda MAZDA5

Comfort & Quality

Six passengers fit easily in the Mazda 5's compact body, and the rear two rows fold flat.

It's shorter than many mid-size four-doors, but the Mazda 5 has room inside for six passengers. It's a feat of packaging that makes it a real alternative to a larger eight-passenger minivan, for those who don't need ultimate capacity.

In front, the 5 could use more plush upholstery. The seats are flat and feel skimpy, but the buckets are wide enough for most adults, and there's ample head and leg room. The same is true for the second row, where two adults will have enough room for a child to fit between them.

It's the third row that doesn't work for every passenger. The split bench is hard to climb into, fine for the kids that fit into it easily, not so good for the adults that will find their knees positioned toward their chins once they're back there anyway.

Keep in mind, neither of the 5's sliding side doors nor its tailgate can be optioned up to power control. It's less necessary since it's a smaller vehicle, but those trading down from a Sienna or Odyssey or Grand Caravan might notice the loss.

The third-row seat folds away in what's clearly the Mazda 5's versatility trump card. At the pull of a strap, the third-row seat folds forward to form a flat cargo floor; for even more space, the second row can be flipped forward almost flat. The net is a large cargo space that doesn't require much muscle or the removal of any seats.

Throughout the Mazda5's interior materials can be a letdown if you're expecting a premium feel; otherwise, they're fine considering the price range. An available perforated leather upholstery with contrasting piping looks great from a distance, but up close it feels a little slippery and overtreated; we think most Mazda5 buyers will be happy with the base cloth, which feels durable and looks ready to take on repeated deep cleans from toddlers’ spills.

Up close, the drab, hard-and-hollow plastic trim for the dash and door panels is disappointing even considering the price, and there's a lot of road noise on some surfaces.

Overall, too, the Mazda5 is user-friendly in a way that doesn't allow on complicated power controls, running boards, and such. You can easily open or close the non-power sliding doors with your thumb and forefinger; the hatch is easily closed and at arm's height for even shorter moms; and second- and third-row seats fold forward without a lot of straining or reaching.

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2013 Mazda MAZDA5

Safety

No crash-test scores are yet available for the Mazda5.

The Mazda 5 was redesigned for the 2012 model year, and as of yet, it hasn't been crash-tested by either the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Mazda says it's engineered the new van with a stronger body shell and with better roof strength to provide better occupant protection; we'll update this once official scores are in.

The Mazda 5 does have the usual safety equipment as standard, but it doesn't offer any of the advanced technology found on some of the competition. Three-row curtain airbags are included, as is a throttle-brake override system and stability control. Left off the features list: a rearview camera, blind-spot monitors, or even standard Bluetooth.

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2013 Mazda MAZDA5

Features

Without a navigation option and other tech features, the Mazda 5 can disappoint shoppers looking at rival minivans.

With a base price of about $20,000, the Mazda 5 offers great minivan value that's rivaled only by the least expensive Dodge Grand Caravan. The base Mazda5 Sport has more standard features, too, with power locks, windows, and mirrors; automatic climate control; an AM/FM/CD player with an auxiliary jack and new this year, a USB port; a tilt/telescopic steering wheel; cruise control; keyless entry; and steering-wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls. Satellite radio is available, but the display panel's a little primitive: it’s only capable of displaying a few characters (it will scroll some entries but not others with the press of a button).

On the Mazda5 Touring, the automatic transmission becomes standard, as do 17-inch wheels; leather trim on the steering wheel and shift lever; and a trip computer. Rear parking sensors also are standard. Bluetooth with audio streaming is also standard; it's useful, but we still typically have connectivity issues with, and a battery suck with most devices when we forget our USB cable to keep them charged.

In top-of-the-line Grand Touring form, the Mazda5 also comes with a power moonroof, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, xenon HID headlamps, heated front seats, and Sirius satellite radio (a stand-alone option, too), all for around $25,000.

The Mazda5 lacks some advanced tech features. Most glaring: there's no navigation option. Mazda is looking into offering a GPS in the minivan, but it hasn't made the lineup this year.

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2013 Mazda MAZDA5

Fuel Economy

The Mazda 5 earns good highway gas mileage ratings, but so do larger minivans.

Gas mileage has been an advantage for the Mazda 5, but it's no longer a big gap between the Mazda's highway mileage ratings and the best of the bigger minivans.

A Honda Odyssey with a six-speed automatic, for example, can match the Mazda 5's EPA highway rating of 28 mpg (which applies to both the manual-transmission and automatic-transmission models). The Honda can't quite equal the Mazda's city ratings of 21-22 mpg, however--but it can carry eight passengers, versus the Mazda's six.

But we’ve seen significantly better real-world results in the Mazda. In one 420-mile, varied weekend drive of a manual-gearbox model, over two mountain passes, mostly highway driving plus some city miles, we averaged nearly 30 mpg.
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I hate it. Maybe hate is a strong word, but I sure do miss my 2001 minivan. This was sold to us as Mazda's minivan, mini being the key word. I am only 5' 1 1/2" and am cramped in the drivers seat. We can't... + More »
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