Big is the new small is the new big
When the new 2012 Mazda5 came to my driveway for a week, I wished I had a passel of kids to put in it. I didn’t, but my right-hand researcher did. Meghan, and her precious Charlotte, went on a road trip with three kids under the age of four. They had diaper bags, duffels and other gear required for a couple of nights in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. Initially she was skeptical about heading out on the highway in a “seemingly tiny” Madza 5, but she came back a convert.
Big family plus compact car usually equals disaster. That was the old equation in the auto business. But lately, some very creative solutions have been rolling off assembly lines. Case in point: the 2012 Mazda5 is a compact minivan crossover with room enough to seat up to six, but it wears a profile that slides easily into a tight parking space or an urban garage.
Mazda, the ‘zoom-zoom’ automaker, introduced the first version of the Mazda5 in 2005, calling it segment-busting and class-defining. We agree and we like its small footprint, roomy interior and zippy ride. The latest edition gets an updated look, improved fuel economy, and a host of new standard features. This Japanese manufacturer has sold close to 150,000 of its ‘5’s; the 2012 version is on sale now, starting at $19,990.
Like its older (and much bigger) predecessors - such as the Mazda MPV, Nissan Quest, and the sleek late-model Toyota Sienna - the 2012 Mazda5 taps into suburbanites’ desire for a family machine that isn’t boring and bulky. But, because of its diminutive stature, the Mazda5 also appeals to city dwellers who need to haul people and stuff, but don’t want to navigate crowded streets in a hulking van.
Completely new for 2012, the vehicle is described by Mazda as “multi utility.” It has the sliding doors and familiar shape of a minivan, but also offers configurable seating for four, five or six passengers, as well as a sleek exterior based on Mazda’s slick new Japanese-inspired design language (debuted on the Nagare concept) with a lower co-efficient of drag (.30) and respectable fuel economy (21/28 mpg city/highway EPA estimates). Mazda claims the new model can travel more than 445 miles on a single tank of fuel.
What We Drove
We drove the top-level Grand Touring trim model of the 2012 Mazda5. Although a single empty-nester, I must admit that I often enjoy the functionality of minivans that come to my New England home for test driving, however I typically find them too “large” to pilot comfortably. What I enjoyed the most about the Mazda5 is its minivan practicality blended with Mazda’s tight, responsive handling and spunky power, neatly wrapped in a more diminutive package.
The Mazda5’s new exterior design lines are appealing; the crossover doesn’t scream “minivan”. Also freshened is the interior, with an attractively redesigned instrument panel.
Mazda says there are 27 build combinations to help select the model that meets your specific needs.
The 2012 Mazda5 gets an upgrade from a 2.3-liter to a 2.5-liter four-cylinder, which delivers 157 hp. and164 lb-ft. of torque, with slight increases to both horsepower and torque. An all-new six-speed automatic transmission, with manual shift control, is available on higher-end Touring and Grand Touring models, while base versions get a five-speed auto; also available is a six-speed manual tranny, on Sport models only. Manual shifting is unique in the minivan class, so this is an exciting option in a world that is now dominated by automatic shifting!
Don't Make Me Come Back There...
Anyone who has been on a road trip with diminutive rear riders knows that a little space goes a long way, during endless hours on the road. Thanks to its long wheelbase (108.3 inches), the 2012 Mazda5 offers a surprisingly roomy cabin for its overall size.
Here’s the genius about the Mazda5, though: its seating options, said auto researcher Meghan. Reconfigurable interior arrangements, plus cupholders for all rows, can mean the difference between happy campers and a four-hour temper tantrum over who poked whom.
The second row has separate captain’s chairs that slide, recline and fold flat – on all models, instead of a bench seat, plus a second-row fold-out tray table. Second-row chairs also have a one-touch lever that automatically tips the seatback forward and slides the cushion forward, for easy access to the rear row. This is also an essential maneuver for recovering mission-critical items like spent lollipop sticks that threaten to stick permanently to the minivan’s upholstery, reported Meghan.
Third row seats are split 50/50 and can be tipped forward individually, and folded to create a flat load area. Meghan and her crew found that a baby seat in the third row left room to fold the other seat and have space enough for gear in the cargo area. (“The folded third-row seat also created a perfect changing table for an emergency pit stop, but we’re pretty sure Mazda didn’t design it for that,” said Meghan.)
Mine's Safer Than Yours Is
The 2012 Mazda5 has an alphabet soup of safety acronyms built in. Standard equipment includes ABS, with brake assist and electronic brake force distribution (EBFD); Dynamic Stability Control (DSC), along with a Traction Control System (TCS); an Electric Hydraulic Power Assist (EHPAS) steering system, a Tire Pressure Monitoring System(TPMS), second-row LATCH child safety seat anchors and tethers; and a Smart Accelerator Pedal system, a nifty computer program that prioritizes the brake pedal over the accelerator pedal if both are engaged simultaneously. There are also adjustable headrests for all passengers. Front, side and side curtain airbags cover the car from the first to the third row.
Who Says You Can't Have It All?
Lest we pigeonhole the 2012 Madza5 into a soccer mom stereotype, we should point out that this crossover has the kind of bells, whistles and comfort features that appeal to a much wider audiences, such as empty nesters, for instance. Standard features include automatic climate control (standard front and rear A/C with pollen filter), cruise control and remote keyless entry. An MP3-compatible stereo with AM/FM/CD and Sirius radio are also included in all models, with an in-dash 6-CD changer available as an option. 12-volt power outlets are in the front and rear of this compact runabout.
What You Get For The Money
Three models make up the lineup of the 2012 Mazda5, ranging from the base Sport model to the Touring and Grand Touring versions. The base version has a five-speed automatic, 16-inch alloy wheels mirrors, air conditioning, power windows and door locks, AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with six speakers, audio auxiliary jack, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry system, one-touch up/down driver’s window, 50/50 split fold-down third row seats and steering wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls.
Up one level, the Touring model adds a six-speed automatic transmission, 17-inch alloy wheels rear liftgate spoiler, fog lamps, Bluetooth® hands-free phone and audio, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and trip computer.
The Grand Touring model adds a power moonroof, xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, automatic on/off headlights, heated door mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, anti-theft alarm system, driver’s seat lumbar support adjustment, heated front seats, in-dash 6-disc CD changer, leather-trimmed seats and Sirius® satellite radio.
In addition, the Touring model is available with a Moonroof and Audio Package which includes a power moonroof, in-dash 6-disc CD changer and Sirius® satellite radio.
Prices start at $19,195, plus delivery, for the Sport version, and go up to $23,875 for the fully kitted-out Grand Touring model.