The 2012 Mazda5 has a modest powertrains, but it's built on the same chassis and sporty running gear as the Mazda3 hatchback and sedan—so it responds and corners with more athleticism than most wagons and people-movers.
The 157-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder, with either a six-speed manual transmission or five-speed automatic is by no means quick, but it’s just peppy enough thanks to well-chosen gear ratios. A six-speed manual gearbox is offered only in the base Sport model, while the five-speed automatic that's optional in the Sport is standard in the Mazda5 Touring and Grand Touring models. Manual-gearbox Mazda5 models feel more energetic than those with the automatic, but the automatic offers full manumatic control.
Of the two transmissions, we pretty strongly recommend the manual, and if you're undecided, you'll have a better experience rowing your own gears. 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.