Whether you see the Mazda5 as a seven-eighths-scale minivan or a compact wagon with the roof raised and sliding side doors, the Mazda5 fills a niche that no other vehicle does in the U.S. market. And this year, with demand for fuel-efficient vehicles way up, sales have surged for this unique three-row, six-seat “sport minivan.”
With its mechanical underpinnings closely related to the Mazda3 sedan and hatchback—models that TheCarConnection.com ranks high for small-car shoppers—the Mazda5 brings much of that same eager, nimble character to the driver’s seat in a way that few other SUVs or minivans do. That handling prowess is assured via MacPherson struts in the front and a multilink setup in the rear, with 17-inch wheels and tires available. Surefooted four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes provide the stopping power to match. The Mazda5 rides well, too: smoothly but firmly and without much body motion.
The only thing that hinders the Mazda5 from being a truly cohesive sporty package is its 153-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. With an empty load it’s somewhat peppy-feeling with the standard (on Sport trims) five-speed manual (a rarity among minivans) and acceptable with the available (standard on Touring and Grand touring trims) five-speed automatic. But fill up the van with six occupants—or even three or four adults and their bags, and the engine feels completely overwhelmed on the highway. Around town it does the job, but if you often road-trip with a full load, you might be disappointed.