2012 Mazda5 GT Luxury Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Published on February 20, 2012

The overall shape of the new Mazda5 remains the same, but it now has flowing character lines and restyled front and rear fascias. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

At the back the big change is the new taillights, which have been moved from the D-pillars to a more conventional position below the rear window. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

The first two rows of seating are superbly comfortable, with individual captain's seats. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

The third row seating is cozy, but fine for short trips and young kids. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

The dash is simple and uncluttered, if you don't count the somewhat button-rich audio system. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

Published on February 20, 2012

Split folding second- and third-row seats allow a versatile mix of cargo and people carrying capacity. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on February 20, 2012

Under the hood the next-generation Mazda5 gets a slight bigger engine with much more torque. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on February 20, 2012

Ever since it was introduced to North America in 2005, the Mazda5 has been a car that makes a lot of sense. The rest of the world had already figured that out, and had been enjoying the benefits of this mini-minivan in first-generation form since 1999, under the name Mazda Premacy.

North America got the Mazda5 in its second-generation form, with one less seat than world-market cars due to safety regulations (here it's a six-seater, while elsewhere it can accommodate seven using a third jump seat that deploys between the two middle-row seats). When I drove a second-generation model back in 2006 I commented that it was versatile, practical and fun to drive, and these comments apply equally to the third-generation model introduced for the 2012 model year.

The new Mazda5 retains the same overall packaging as the previous model, with three-row seating for six, twin sliding doors in the back, and a tall-wagon profile riding on stretched Mazda3 underpinnings. Responding to accusations that the previous-generation vehicle could be somewhat underpowered when fully-loaded, the new Mazda5 gets a slightly bigger engine: a 2.5-litre 4-cylinder instead of a 2.3-litre unit. The new engine only makes a few more horsepower (157 horsepower compared to the previous 153 horsepower), but it produces substantially more torque (163 lb-ft versus the previous 148 lb-ft) which translates into much better get-up-and-go when coming off the line or trying to pass.

Happily, the increased power doesn't come at any cost to fuel economy. Indeed, partly thanks to a new 6-speed manual transmission in place of the previous 5-speed, highway fuel economy is actually improved. An automatic transmission is available as an option, but remains a 5-speed as before. City/highway fuel economy with the manual transmission is rated at 9.7 / 6.8 L/100km, versus 9.5 / 6.7 L/100km with the automatic.

Outside, the styling of the Mazda5 has been thoroughly revised, trading the somewhat minimalist appearance of the previous car for a rather highly-styled attempt to make the basic boxy shape look dynamic. The styling is based on Mazda's Nagare design language, which produced several interesting concept cars but according to Mazda probably won't be used on any production vehicles after the Mazda5. Nagare has been described as "a celebration of surface language" with bodylines that "flow like liquid" (and if that makes you think "Hey, that sounds like Hyundai's fluidic sculpture," you're not alone).

On the Mazda5 the Nagare concept show up most obviously in a series of wave patterns stamped into the sides, flowing from the front fender bulge and across the doors, and then blending into the taillights at the back. The taillights themselves have been moved down from their previous location in the D-pillars to a more conventional location under the rear window, while at the front the Mazda5 has been given Mazda's now-obligatory smiling grille. Opinion in our office was divided as to how successful the new look is, but regardless of whether the waves are entirely your thing, the Mazda5 is certainly more sporty looking than a regular minivan.

It's also a lot sportier to drive than a regular minivan, which is hardly surprising when you consider that it's based on the very crisp-handling Mazda3. While Mazda5's extra length, height and weight compared to the Mazda3 do take the fine edge off the handling, this is still a very enjoyable machine to drive - the steering is accurate and responsive, and the extra torque in the new generation model means that even when equipped with the automatic as our test car was, you're never left wanting for power.

From a utilitarian standpoint, the Mazda5 does give up some points to full-size minivans, but it is still entirely adequate for how most people actually use their minivans: Thanks to second-row seats that are almost as comfortable as the first row (and have stowage compartments underneath) the Mazda5 can haul a family of four and all their luggage in superb comfort, and when needed it can bring along a couple of extra guests in reasonable comfort while still leaving room for several bags of groceries. If you've got five people and some luggage, that combination can also be accommodated thanks to the split-folding third-row seats.

The interior is built mostly of hard plastics, but has cloth door uppers and a clean uncluttered look. Mostly uncluttered, anyway: I thought the peaked hood above the instruments was a little busy looking, and the test car's audio system had a lot of buttons including a dedicated knob for audio settings that sits exactly where you'd expect to find the tuner dial - a little rationalizing here would go a long way.

The Mazda5 is available in two basic trim levels - GS and GT - with additional equipment packages available for each. The base GS carries a suggested retail price of $21,895 (plus $1,795 in delivery charges) and comes with 16-inch alloy wheels, cloth seats, tilt and telescoping steering, rain sensing wipers, power locks and windows, keyless entry, air conditioning with automatic climate control, and four-speaker AM/FM/CD audio with auxiliary input and MP3 capability. A Convenience Package adds Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, cruise control, trip computer, leather-wrapped steering wheel and anti-theft alarm system, and at $845 I can't imagine many GS buyers not adding this package. The automatic transmission is a $1,200 standalone option available across the lineup

Our test car was a GT model, which carries a suggested sticker of $24,395 (plus $1,200 for the automatic) and includes 17-inch alloys, tire-pressure monitoring, fog lights, heated body-coloured side mirrors, a rear roof spoiler, xenon headlights, an upgraded six-speaker audio system with satellite radio and six-CD changer, heated seats, plus pretty much all the gear from the GS model's convenience package. For a top-of-the-line experience, GT models can be ordered with our test car's $1,790 Luxury Package, and this adds a power moonroof, centre fold-out table/cargo bin and leather seating.

The leather setting has tasteful red piping and I found that it really did bump things up a notch, giving the Mazda5 a nicely refined ambience inside. I wasn't quite so impressed with the Bluetooth setup, which like other Mazdas I've tried lately (and some other Japanese marques, too) tended to disconnect my phone in favour of the Bluetooth streaming audio. The phone was easy enough to reconnect and would work fine after that, but it could be a bit of a nuisance if a call came through before I remembered to go through the process. I'd also like to see Mazda put a second setting on the seat heaters.

Overall, however, the Mazda5 is a brilliant concept and one that still makes plenty of sense. It seems that other manufacturers are starting to cotton on to this fact too, because where the Mazda5 once stood nearly alone it is now gaining some competition, including the upcoming Ford C-Max and, in Canada at least, the Kia Rondo and Chevrolet Orlando. As the small people-carrier market heats up, it's nice to know that a car as good as the Mazda5 is leading the way.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Minivan, Mazda, 2012, Mazda5, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

Organizations: Mazda

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