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August 23, 2011 > Auto Review: Mazda5 Minivan

Auto Review: Mazda5 Minivan

A Unique Family Solution

By Steve Schaefer

The Mazda5 is a unique mini minivan. It combines the sportiness of a compact sedan with six-passenger accommodations, dual sliding doors - and you can even order a manual transmission! This size of vehicle is common in European and Asian countries, but Mazda offers the only one here in the U.S.

The Mazda5 is significantly smaller in every dimension than, say, a Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna. However, I easily carried four friends with me to lunch, although one of my passengers remarked that the third row back cushion was a bit too firm. Then, over the weekend, on my own, I not only drove on freeways and around town but also had a crack at some nice curvy two-lanes, including one night in the dark for 17 miles of rural unlit road, and I felt completely in control.

Another colleague, Ray, who is expecting his second child soon, appreciated the compact size outside and grand accommodations inside. I took him out for a look and he oohed and aahed over it. He liked the compact platform combined with the spacious interior. I think I've sold him one!

The Mazda5 has been around since the 2006 model year, but the 2012 update debuts a new look. I was lucky to park right next to an older model one day at lunchtime, and although the size and proportions remain the same, the entire look is quite different. The 2012 model incorporates motifs from Mazda's Nagare "flow" design language which, according to the company, is inspired by the beauty of nature. It certainly presents a look not found on any other vehicle today. It's a rippling, complex yet subtle shape along the sides and a flow that incorporates the entire car.

For example, an undulating s curve starts at the long, stretched out headlamps, flows along the side, and eases into the tail lamps, which are now horizontal. The previous ones were large vertical blocks that created a sharp, chunky line. That's normally OK in a minivan, but this car is a different animal.

The interior gets the Nagare treatment, too, with more flow. The pointed top of the gauge binnacle behind the steering wheel is the high point, with every line flowing down and onto the dash and doors.

Use a light touch to side open either side door. Inside, you'll see that the Mazda5 gives you three rows of two, for a total capacity of six. That's not the same as eight or nine, but it does make it, perhaps, the only six-passenger vehicle around. That expands its practicality while still keeping it a tidier handling car in town.

Every Mazda5 is powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, up from the previous 2.3-liter powerplant. The light, compact design also does duty in the sporty Mazda3, Mazda 6 and the CX-7 compact crossovers. Its 157 horsepower and 163 lb.-ft. of torque move the 3,417-pound vehicle along just fine. I felt comfortable shuttling my pals around, although driving alone on the two-lanes was probably made more fun without carrying those many hundreds of pounds.

The car earns EPA ratings of 21 City, 28 Highway (Average 24 mpg) with either transmission. The EPA Green Vehicle Guide scores are 6 for Air Pollution and 5 for Greenhouse Gas-just under qualification threshold of SmartWay.

There are three levels: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. The Sport is the only model that offers the surprising six-speed manual transmission. It transmits a good bit of the zoom-zoom of the diminutive MX5 Miata sports car-even with the height of this miniest of minivans. Name another manual-equipped minivan. That's right-there aren't any. You can have a five-speed automatic if you want-and most buyers will probably opt for it.

The Sport is hardly skimpy with the goods. Standard features include 16-inch alloy wheels and tires, power mirrors, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry system, one-touch up and down driver's window and steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls.

The Touring gets the automatic gearbox standard, and bumps the wheels up to 17's. There are some exterior trim upgrades and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, among other things.

The Grand Touring pours on the toppings, starting with leather seats, power moonroof, rain-sensing automatic intermittent wipers, heated front seats, and more of the things you order if you aren't trying to economize.

Prices start at just $19,990, including shipping, for the Sport without extras. The Touring starts at $21,990, with the Grand Touring topping the list at $24,670. My Sport tester, with expensive fog lights ($300), a rear bumper guard and Sirius Satellite Radio, came to $20,770. That seems like a small price for a family hauler, especially one that's actually fun to drive.

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