The Mazda 5 is indeed a minivan; but one that's more sensibly sized. 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.
The 5 was given a full redesign just two years ago that helped it step a bit further away from convention and look a little more light, lean, and dashing. For it, Mazda took what were some already great proportions and infused them with some of the brand's 'Nagare' design cues--ones that have since come and gone in favor of a more aggressive 'Kodo' language that now describes the CX-5, Mazda 6 and Mazda 3.
That said, there's only so much you can do to escape the inherent boxiness. 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). 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.
The interior feels modern, but more influenced by small cars than larger minivans. It's a simple, matte look, with bright accents throughout, and a few curves added to the instrument panel. The Mazda 5 gets the Mazda 3's rounded climate control vents at either side, and center vents are high up for flow.
Other than that, it's understated; tasteful but clearly frugal--painfully so in a few places. For instance, the hard, hollow plastic atop the instrument panel is among the worst we've seen in any new vehicle as of late; the dull, lightly grained black plastic used around the shift faceplate looks of the type that's easily scratched by watches or bracelets, and the vinyl-ish boot around the manual shifter feels like a parts-bin extra from the '90s.