2012 Mazda Mazda5 Review: Introduction
While it may seem like an oxymoron to keep the minivan label on most of the vans currently on the market, the 2012 Mazda5 (or, more technically, the Mazda MAZDA5 if you're not into the whole brevity thing) uses its small stature as a way to stand out from the crowd and fit in with Mazda's sporty zoom-zoom mentality. Sizing up just slightly longer and wider than the original Chrysler minivans that debuted in 1983, the Mazda5 looks and drives more like a compact hatchback, but its three-row seating configuration is more than spacious enough to meet the needs of a small family. Although minivans have been dropping off the market in recent years, the Mazda5 was just redesigned for 2012 holding its position as the smaller, sportier and more affordable alternative in this family-friendly segment. After taking the 2011 model year off, the 2012 Mazda5 has returned to bring new-car shoppers in the compact vehicle yet another option as the C-segment continues to heat up.
2012 Mazda Mazda5 Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled in Hiroshima, Japan, the 2012 Mazda5 is available in three trim levels (Sport, Touring and Grand Touring) with a starting MSRP of $19,345. The model we tested was essentially a base Sport model with few add-ons and an as-tested price of $20,260 including the $795 destination charge. Stepping up to the Mazda5 Touring will raise the starting price up to $21,345 which adds a sportier appearance, more cabin technology and leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob. The top-of-the-line Mazda5 Grand Touring goes for more of a luxury look and feel with leather seats, power moonroof and an upgraded audio system to go with its $24,045 starting price. Even at this price, the Mazda5 still costs thousands of dollars less than most other minivans on the market.
2012 Mazda Mazda5 Review: Competition
If sliding side doors are the defining attributes of a minivan, the closest vehicle to the 2012 Mazda5 is probably the Ford Transit Connect Wagon, but it also competes against compact crossovers and hatchbacks as well as bigger minivans like the Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and Nissan Quest. Although new mini minivan competitors either faded out (Kia Rondo) or never came (Ford C-Max), there are still plenty of similarly sized family vehicles on the market such as the Toyota Prius v. As a relatively low-volume automaker, sales of the Mazda5 in 2011 should only be a little higher than what Chrysler's popular minivans sell in a single month. Still, through November, Mazda has managed to sell 17,949 Mazda5 models in 2011 which accounts for a 20.5 percent gain over the same period last year. With recent rumors indicating that the Dodge Grand Caravan is being phased out in 2013, the minivan market should be shaken up quite a bit, and the Mazda5 could see itself in a perfect position to take sales away from the un-MINI minivans that will remain.
2012 Mazda Mazda5 Review: Exterior
After skipping the 2011 model year, the Mazda5 is back for 2012, and its all-new design is not only the last Mazda designed using the Nagare design language but is also probably one of the best applications of this swoopy, smiley look. The traditional minivan shape is all there with its two-box design and sliding side doors, but the Mazda-ness of the styling is evident all over the new Mazda5 including the large grinning grille, the water-like ripples along the side doors and the multitude of angular lines that terminate in the rear liftgate.
Aside from the short, sloped hood and raked windshield, the front-end styling of the Mazda5 is very similar to Mazda's popular Mazda3 hatchback, while the tall roof line and upright D-pillar helps create more of the minivan look that helps maximize headroom for all three rows of passengers. While this Mazda5 Sport looks good enough to wear the Mazda badge, buyers looking for a sportier styling from this minivan should check out the Mazda5 Touring and Grand Touring models which add more aggressive side sills, more available colors and bigger 17-inch wheels; the Sport's 16-inch wheels have a similar design as the bigger wheel options, but the five split spokes are thicker and closer together.
2012 Mazda Mazda5 Review: Interior
The six-passenger seating inside the 2012 Mazda5 is set up in a unique 2+2+2 configuration that maximizes passenger space and comfort. With only 97.7 cubic feet of passenger volume at its disposal (almost half of the space available inside a Quest or Odyssey), the Mazda5 makes great use of its small size including separate second-row seats that comfortably seat two adults rather than trying to squeeze in a third seat belt. The Mazda5's small size means that second row can't incorporate any nifty fold flat feature or anything, but Mazda does make it easier to get the back row or maximize cargo capacity. To get to the back seat, each second-row seat slides forward creating plenty of space for ingress and egress, and while taller adults might not have too much of a problem fitting in the third row of the Mazda5 for shorter trips, this area should generally be reserved for small kids. For cargo duties, the second-row seats not only tumble and fold flat to accommodate larger, bulkier items, but each seat also features a small hidden storage compartment underneath the seat bottom.
When it comes to the interior design of the Mazda5, fans of the current Mazda vehicles will feel at home. The pointed hood over the gauge cluster, the information screen along the upper brow and the dark instrument panel color are all signature elements inside the Mazda line-up, but these are all incorporated with a much better appearance than the previous Mazda5. Compared to the first-generation of the Mazda5 to come to the U.S., the cabin of this new model is far more attractive especially with the two-tone appearance that our test car had with the Sand cloth interior. One thing that wasn't carried over from the first U.S.-spec Mazda5 (2005-2010) is the available navigation system. Still, it's hard to fault the Mazda5 considering its spacious interior and low price.
2012 Mazda Mazda5 Review: Interior Packages and Options
While there are plenty of port- and dealer-installed accessory options available on the 2012 Mazda5, the only real option package is the $1,140 Moonroof and Audio Package offered only on the Touring trim level. In lieu of a factory navigation system, all Mazda5 trim levels can be equipped with a portable Garmin system. Other options include a rear-seat DVD entertainment system ($1,200), remote engine start on automatic transmission models ($400), Sirius Satellite Radio ($430) and a six-disc, in-dash CD changer ($525) - the latter two come standard on the Mazda5 Grand Touring.
2012 Mazda Mazda5 Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
All 2012 Mazda5 models are powered by the same 2.5-liter DOHC inline-four that produces 157 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque. While this might not sound like a lot of power with which to lug around six passengers, it is more than sufficient in the 3,400 pound Mazda5. Like all Mazda5 Sport models, our test car was equipped with the standard six-speed manual transmission, but it can also be optioned up with the five-speed automatic which is standard on the Touring and Grand Touring models. Regardless of which transmission is chosen, all 2012 Mazda5 models are rated with EPA fuel economy estimates of 21 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg on the highway and a combined rating of 24 mpg. Compared to other minivans on the market, the Mazda5 holds a significant advantage in fuel economy.
2012 Mazda Mazda5 Review: Driving Impressions
Thanks to its small size and a platform shared with the Mazda3, the 2012 Mazda5 is arguably the most fun-to-drive minivan on the market... that includes Dodge's "Man Van." For driving enthusiasts, the Mazda5's suspension is tuned quite well to balance the comfort of six passengers with an enjoyable driving experience, and you won't find another minivan on the market with a manual transmission which is exactly what this test car had. The 2012 Mazda5 definitely has the soul of a Mazda, but sadly it is far from the "Miata of minivans" we were hoping for. Still, you'd be hard pressed to find any other six-passenger family vehicle to feel any sportier especially at this price, but even for the driver just looking for a practical car, the Mazda5's size makes it easily maneuverable in the city and comfortable enough for long highway road trips.
2012 Mazda Mazda5 Review: Safety
The 2012 Mazda5 has yet to be crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), but it does offer a sufficient amount of standard safety features on all models. These features include six airbags, active front head restraints, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, traction control, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
2012 Mazda Mazda5 Review: Final Thoughts
In a time when many families are looking to downsize to more practical and more economical vehicles, the 2012 Mazda5 makes perfect sense. With its comfortable, six-passenger seating configuration and its fun-to-drive attitude, the new Mazda5 is unlike anything else in the minivan segment. In fact, while it is easy to hate minivans for making our childhoods less cool, the Mazda5 is surprisingly easy to fall in love with thanks to its unique Mazda styling, low price point and overall driving enjoyment. The 2012 Mazda5 does its best to live up to the sportiness expected from a Mazda while simultaneously providing the space families demand from a minivan, but in the end, it might be actually those who are looking for a large family hauler that are left disappointed since this minivan is surprisingly fun to drive... and we're pretty sure Mazda is ok with that.
2012 Mazda Mazda5 Review: Pros and Cons
- affordable family vehicle
- sporty exterior design
- easy-access third-row-seat
- no navigation option
- fewer innovative interior features than other minivans
Mazda provided the vehicle for this review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross