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2014 Mazda MAZDA5 Performance

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The 2014 Mazda 5 has humble compact-car origins; but it's inherited some of the best bones in the business--as well as some good reflexes.

With underpinnings based on the former Mazda 3 compact sedan and hatchback, the Mazda 5 offers handling that's more athletic than any other minivan. But acceleration is among the slowest.

The 2014 Mazda 5 is more agile and nimble than other minivans, although it's hardly quick.

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. 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.

By the way, you'll want to weigh the need for options with the transmission you want, because the six-speed manual is only offered on the base Sport model, while the other models have the automatic standard.

In any case, the Mazda5 is a joy to drive, with top-notch steering and a nimble, athletic feel--especially brought out when the road turns curvy. The quick-ratio electro-hydraulic power steering is weighted about perfectly, and it feels natural and confident whether you’re cruising on the highway or taking on the tight esses of a mountain road. Ride quality is surprisingly good, given the taut suspension tuning, while body control is in check and four-wheel disc brakes provide strong stopping power without the dramatic nosedive of other people-movers.

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