- Responsive steering
- Handles more like a hatch than a minivan
- Excellent ride
- Seating for six
- Short, flat front seats
- Skimpy feature list
- Bluetooth isn't standard
- Can be noisy
- Manual option is gone
The 2015 Mazda 5 has good road manners and clean styling, but its flexibility is undercut by poor safety ratings.
The Mazda 5 has a charming simplicity. It combines all the usefulness of a minivan with the nimble driving feel of a small hatchback. It's arguably a more exciting option than some of the crossovers most newly minted small families are likely to choose. It provides a good transition vehicle from a family sedan to a minivan, or can do just fine for smaller families that want a little extra flexibility compared to a wagon or hatchback.
Mazda refreshed the looks of the 5 a few years back. At that time, its compact proportions and boxy fundamentals remained, yet some added contouring in its fenders and a rhythmic flow to its surfaces and creases livened up the exterior. It is indeed a minivan, but at least it's one that looks different, even sporty. With lots of shiny, hard plastic and on-a-budget trims, the interior is a little more deserving of criticism, however.
Sporty yet restrained, as well as surprisingly nimble, are ways to sum the performance of the Mazda 5. Its 2.5-liter four-cylinder has just 157 horsepower; it's not quick at all. A five-speed automatic is now the only transmission option, but at least it has manual shift control. Acceleration is adequate, thanks to well-chosen gear ratios. With EPA ratings of 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, gas mileage is fine, although the bigger minivans do just as well, and people movers like the hybrid Ford C-Max and Toyota Prius V do far better.
We do lament the loss of a manual-transmission option for 2015. The previously standard six-speed unit really helped differentiate the Mazda 5 from other vans its size and especially the larger "minivans" on sale today. It's an understandable change, however, since Mazda likely sold few with the manual, especially considering how few 5s it sells altogether.
It's ride and handling that continue to draw our attention to the 5, though. The athletic feel starts with top-notch steering and a well-composed ride. The 5 is 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.
The Mazda 5 is a tall, sliding-door wagon, but it sure doesn't feel like it. Size-wise, it's a 7/8-scale minivan. It skips most frills—there's are no power rear hatch 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 right behind. 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 get comfortable. The third-row split bench works in a pinch for smaller kids and folds away to create a big cargo area. 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.
The more basic Sport model is easily the best value in the lineup, better than most minivans and crossovers, really. For around $20k, you get power locks, windows, and mirrors; automatic climate control; an AM/FM/CD player with an auxiliary jack and USB port; a tilt/telescoping steering wheel; cruise control; keyless entry; and steering-wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls. Rear parking sensors also are standard, as well as Bluetooth with audio streaming, on mid-range Touring models. The top-of-the-line Grand Touring adds a power moonroof, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, xenon HID headlamps, heated front seats, and Sirius satellite radio (available as a standalone option, too), all for around $25,000.
While the 5 is still plenty of fun to pilot, its aging architecture becomes - bit more evident when put up against the latest crash tests. Likely because of its low sales volume, the Mazda 5 hasn't been tested by the federal government's NHTSA. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has put it through its wringer, and the results are only fair. The Mazda 5 scores top 'good' marks in moderate front crash and roof strength tests, 'marginal' in side crash, and 'poor' in the small front overlap test, the agency's newest and toughest.