2012 Mazda MAZDA5 Review

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2018
The Car Connection
2012
The Car Connection
Best Car to Buy Nominee

The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 27, 2012

The nimble and fuel-efficient 2012 Mazda5 appeals to parents who don’t mind being seen in a minivan but don’t want to feel like they’re driving one.

If you’re finding that your growing family demands minivan convenience and versatility, but your heart calls out for something that drives like a sporty small car, not a transportation appliance, you should definitely consider the Mazda5. There’s a charming simplicity to the way the Mazda5 is presented—and how it drives. Size-wise, it’s a 7/8-scale minivan; there aren’t a lot of frills, and there are no power rear hatches or power folding seats; from the driver’s seat, you might think you’re in a nimble small car, yet there are convenient sliding side doors and oodles of easily reconfigurable interior space.

The Mazda5 has been completely redesigned for 2012, and while it keeps its compact size and minivan-like proportions, it’s a little more exciting to look at, especially from the side. As the first (and perhaps only) vehicle to adopt Mazda’s Nagare design language, the Mazda5’s fenders are aggressively contoured, and there’s a flow of creases and surfacing that rises from them, swooping along the side of the vehicle and entering a ‘twist’ at the front of the front door. Taillights have been made horizontal and more carlike, while in front there’s a more subtle version of the Mazda3’s ‘grinning’ corporate grille—altogether making the Mazda5 look slightly lower and more carlike in stance.

Underpinnings of the Mazda5 are modest but sporty, with much of the model’s running gear—and some of its structure—borrowed directly from the Mazda3. 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. Manual-gearbox Mazda5 models feel more energetic than those with the automatic, but the automatic offers full manumatic control.

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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.

EPA fuel economy ratings for either model are 19 mpg city, 28 highway. But we’ve seen significantly better real-world results. In a 420-mile, varied drive of a manual-gearbox model, over two mountain passes, mostly highway driving plus some city miles, we averaged nearly 30 mpg.

The basic design of the Mazda5 cabin is hard to fault in any way; Mazda has managed to fit seating for six—three usable rows—in a vehicle that’s shorter than a typical mid-size sedan. While front seats are a little too skimpy and flat—even compared to those in the Mazda3, it seems—the buckets in the second row of the Mazda5 have enough space for adults to be comfortable—or for kids to have their own individual seat. The third-row split bench is hard to get to—and adults will find their knees positioned toward their chins—but it works in a pinch, or more often for smaller kids. The 5’s cargo-and-versatility trumph is its easy-folding third-row seat. With a simple pull of a strap, the third row seatback flips forward to a flat cargo floor. Then, for even more space, in two steps, you can flip the second row forward to almost align with the other portion—forming a mostly flat, huge cargo space without requiring much muscle or any removal of seats.

An available perforated leather upholstery with contrasting piping looks great from a distance, but up close it feels a little slippery and overtreated; we think most Mazda5 buyers will be happy with the base cloth, which feels durable and looks ready to take on repeated deep cleans from toddlers’ spills.

The two most significant letdowns of the Mazda5’s interior are its drab, hard-and-hollow plastic trim for the dash and door panels, and the seemingly ever-present din of road noise on some surfaces. Otherwise, ride quality is surprisingly absorbent and comfortable, given the suspension’s taut, responsive tuning.

With the base-model Mazda5 Sport trim, Mazda was clearly skimping a little bit on features in order to deliver it for a high-value base price of less than $20k, but we venture to say that much of the new-parent crowd will be a little disappointed at the lack of connectivity or top-notch sound systems. The 5’s rather primitive, basic audio system has no USB input or iPod compatibility, and with satellite radio it’s only capable of displaying a few characters (it will scroll some entries but not others with the press of a button). Touring and Grand Touring models get Bluetooth hands-free calling and Bluetooth audio streaming, though. In top-of-the-line Grand Touring form, the Mazda5 also comes with a power moonroof, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, xenon HID headlamps, heated front seats, and Sirius satellite radio (a standalone option, too), all for around $25k.

6

2012 Mazda MAZDA5

Styling

The 2012 Mazda5 has the profile of a minivan, but scaled down and with some intriguing details.

The Mazda5 has been completely redesigned for 2012, and while it keeps its compact size and minivan-like proportions, it’s a little more exciting to look at, especially from the side.

As the first (and perhaps only) vehicle to adopt Mazda’s Nagare design language, the Mazda5’s fenders are aggressively contoured, and there’s a flow of creases and surfacing that rises from them, swooping along the side of the vehicle and entering a ‘twist’ at the front of the front door. Taillights have been made horizontal and more carlike, while in front there’s a more subtle version of the Mazda3’s ‘grinning’ corporate grille—altogether making the Mazda5 look slightly lower and more carlike in stance.

From a few paces back, the Mazda5 still looks like a well-designed 7/8-scale minivan—one that might park and maneuver a little easier, too (as it does). And to put it all into perspective, the Mazda5 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.

Mazda has updated the interior to better fit in with the interiors of the Mazda3 and Mazda6 lineups, with a more simple, matte look, with bright accents, throughout, and a few more curves added to the instrument panel. The Mazda5 gets the Mazda3's rounded climate control vents at either side, and center vents have been moved higher up for better flow. Audio systems have also been completely redesigned and reconfigured, and there's a new trip meter and display up on top, in the line of sight.

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7

2012 Mazda MAZDA5

Performance

Responsive handling and curvy-road agility are Mazda5 strengths, but fast acceleration isn't.

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.

Review continues below
8

2012 Mazda MAZDA5

Comfort & Quality

You can carry up to six or take advantage of unparalleled versatility; but the Mazda5's interior trims feel done on a budget.

The basic design of the Mazda5 cabin is hard to fault in any way; Mazda has managed to fit seating for six—three usable rows—in a vehicle that’s shorter than a typical mid-size sedan.

While front seats are a little too skimpy and flat—even compared to those in the Mazda3, it seems—the buckets in the second row of the Mazda5 have enough space for adults to be comfortable—or for kids to have their own individual seat. The third-row split bench is hard to get to—and adults will find their knees positioned toward their chins—but it works in a pinch, or more often for smaller kids.

The 5’s cargo-and-versatility trumph is its easy-folding third-row seat. With a simple pull of a strap, the third row seatback flips forward to a flat cargo floor. Then, for even more space, in two steps, you can flip the second row forward to almost align with the other portion—forming a mostly flat, huge cargo space without requiring much muscle or any removal of seats.

Throughout the Mazda5's interior materials can be a letdown if you're expecting a premium feel; otherwise, they're fine considering the price range. An available perforated leather upholstery with contrasting piping looks great from a distance, but up close it feels a little slippery and overtreated; we think most Mazda5 buyers will be happy with the base cloth, which feels durable and looks ready to take on repeated deep cleans from toddlers’ spills.

Up close, the drab, hard-and-hollow plastic trim for the dash and door panels is disappointing even considering the price, and there's a lot of road noise on some surfaces. Otherwise, ride quality is surprisingly absorbent and comfortable, given the suspension’s taut, responsive tuning.

Overall, too, the Mazda5 is user-friendly in a way that doesn't allow on complicated power controls, running boards, and such. You can easily open or close the non-power sliding doors with your thumb and forefinger; the hatch is easily closed and at arm's height for even shorter moms; and second- and third-row seats fold forward without a lot of straining or reaching.

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2012 Mazda MAZDA5

Safety

The Mazda5 lacks high-tech safety extras, but its improved body structure for 2012 should help it do well in crash tests.

There aren't yet any crash-test results for the Mazda5, which has been fully redesigned for 2012. But with an all-new, stronger 'triple-H' body structure plus improved side and roof protection, it should do a better job of occupant protection in general.

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. Electronic stability control is standard, as are anti-lock brakes.

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7

2012 Mazda MAZDA5

Features

The Mazda5's audio displays, and lack of connectivity features, are disappointing; otherwise it's a strong value.

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.

With the base-model Mazda5 Sport trim, Mazda was clearly skimping a little bit on features in order to deliver it for a high-value base price of less than $20k, but we venture to say that much of the new-parent crowd will be a little disappointed at the lack of connectivity or top-notch sound systems. The 5’s rather primitive, basic audio system has no USB input or iPod compatibility, and with satellite radio it’s only capable of displaying a few characters (it will scroll some entries but not others with the press of a button). The Grand Touring upgrades to a 6-CD changer, but there's still 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.

Even more surprising is that there's no navigation option. Mazda is looking into offering a navsystem 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.

Otherwise, Touring and Grand Touring models get Bluetooth hands-free calling and Bluetooth audio streaming, though. In top-of-the-line Grand Touring form, the Mazda5 also comes with a power moonroof, heated mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, xenon HID headlamps, heated front seats, and Sirius satellite radio (a standalone option, too), all for around $25k.

Review continues below
7

2012 Mazda MAZDA5

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Mazda5 is a relatively fuel-efficient pick, considering it can seat six.

The 2012 Mazda5 gets pretty good mileage for a vehicle that can carry up to six adults; but it could do even better.

Honda's Odyssey actually ties the Mazda5 on the highway, with 28 mpg, although the Mazda5 ranks a somewhat better 21 mpg in the city, versus 19 for the Odyssey.

But we’ve seen significantly better real-world results. In one 420-mile, varied weekend drive of a manual-gearbox model, over two mountain passes, mostly highway driving plus some city miles, we averaged nearly 30 mpg.

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2012 Mazda MAZDA5 4-Door Wagon Automatic Sport

Surprising room and features in such a small vehicle

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Styling 6
Performance 7
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