2012 Mazda Mazda5: First Drive Page 3

February 25, 2011
While Mazda could have put a few more pounds into noise insulation, in our opinion—especially from road noise—the automaker has actually lost a few pounds in the 5 (it weighs in just below 3,500 pounds), despite bolstering the body structure in various points throughout, with improved side and roof protection afforded by the so-called triple-H structure. Head-protecting side-curtain bags reach back through all three rows, brake and accelerator pedals are no crushable to protect the driver's legs, and a new Brake Override System is included.

Tempting price, feature set

Pricing and value are major reasons to consider the 5; the 2012 Mazda5 Sport starts at just $19,990 ($5k-$8k less than the base versions of big minivans), including destination, and includes alloy wheels and dual-zone automatic climate control—two features that are otherwise relegated to top trim levels for both rival minivan and compact-crossover models. Other standard features include power windows, locks, and mirrors; a one-touch-up driver's window; a tilt/telescopic steering wheel; keyless entry; cruise control; and steering-wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls.

The Touring model adds larger 17-inch wheels, sport sill extensions, a rear spoiler, fog lamps, leather steering-wheel and shift knob trim, Bluetooth hands-free, and Bluetooth streaming audio. And at the top of the line, Grand Touring models get a power moonroof, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, xenon HID headlamps, heated front seats, Sirius satellite radio, and leather upholstery. There are nearly no options, and the Mazda5 Grand Touring still rings in below $25k.

More than a little tech-deficient though

The Mazda5's lack of several key connectivity features is puzzling and disappointing, and it feels a bit like Mazda is clearing out parts-bin pieces and forgetting just how connected the 30-something young affluent parents that probably buy the majority of Mazda5 models are. The Grand Touring upgrades to a 6-CD changer, but there's no Bose upgrade option and no USB plug or input available in the Mazda5 (though there is an aux-in), so if you want well-integrated iPod control, or even access to your songs on anything that's not on an aged optical disc, you're out of luck.

Oddly, the only direct media-player connectivity is through Bluetooth audio streaming—a protocol that we still typically have connectivity issues with, and a battery suck with most devices when there's no USB to keep them charged (who keeps a cigarette-lighter charger anymore?). At higher volumes, the audio system sounds only passable, with somewhat distorted bass response. And our issues with the audio system continue to the display, which we couldn't get to scroll longer entries; it simply cuts off song or artist names, leaving you to guess about 'Superchu' or 'It's The E'

Even more surprising is that there's no navigation option. Mazda is looking into offering a nav system in the 5, though if they do it wouldn't be the excellent high-in-sight system offered in the 3; rather it would be an in-dash, head-unit-type system.

The 2012 Mazda5 looks like a near-perfect choice for an active, urban-dwelling family of four—but it would of course work well for empty-nesters or younger, outdoorsy types such as cyclists, who decide that they don't really need serious off-road ability.

Overall, it's the Mazda5's refreshing directness—and the fact that it's the only choice for those who are repulsed by the sheer size and mass of current so-called minivans—that will assure it at least as much success as the current version. Although we wish Mazda would have paid a little more attention to tech and connectivity, the new 5 has a design with a lot more visual flair, and its driving enjoyment that still can't be beat, even if there's not a lot of power.

In some respects, in a market of bloated, loaded minivans, it seems that Mazda is the only one who hasn't forgotten about the basics.

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