2012 Mazda Mazda5
Zoom-Zoom with room: Compact Mazda minivan gets new design and more power
It was a brilliant idea: bolt a tall, boxy body on a compact-car platform to create a small but roomy "mini" van that can haul a lot of people and stuff yet will drive like…well, a tall car. It would be easier and more pleasant to drive, much less expensive and far more fuel-efficient than a full-size truck-based van. Mazda's 2012 Mazda5 follows that formula to a proverbial "T."
General Motors first had the idea while designing its 1980 compact X-cars but chose not to do a minivan version for fear of killing its profitable station wagon business. Then Chrysler saw the potential and invented the segment with its compact K-car-based minivans for 1984.
Minivans proved so popular that most major makers soon followed suit, which (as GM had feared) pretty much killed conventional wagons. But as the segment expanded in North America, so did the vehicles, until they were far from "mini."
Not so in Europe and elsewhere, where popular mini-minivan "multi-activity vehicles" (MAVs) have stayed fairly small due to restricted space and high fuel prices. Mazda launched its U.S. (Mazda3-based) Mazda5 MAV for 2006 and follows with a restyled, updated version for 2012. While that first one was versatile and cleverly packaged, it was also underpowered (hardly up to Mazda's "Zoom-Zoom" marketing persona) and a bit rough-riding. This new 2012 Mazda5 aims to enhance its visual appeal while building on its strengths and correcting its deficiencies.
Styling of the 2012 Mazda5 is more expressive than the 2010's (there is no 2011) thanks to Mazda's first production application of its "Nagare" design language, which we've seen on several recent concepts. "Nagare incorporates the beauty of nature, in particular the forces of wind and water, to lend an intuitive sense of motion," Mazda says.
Its body is sculpted as a "single bead of water with ripples intentionally left on its surface," beginning at the (Mazda-signature toothless grin) grille and passing over the headlamps, hood and front fenders, bodysides, rear lamps and tailgate in a continuous stream. Most distinctive are the flowing character lines through the doors, which blend nicely into the sliding door rails, and the extended rear-window glass completely covering the rear pillars.
The primary factor that sets the 2012 Mazda5 apart from any other van in North America is its seating for six—in three rows of two—in such a modest size. When you see it, you expect it to be a two-row vehicle then are surprised to find that it has three rows.
Elements of Nagare in the cabin include the lines along the instrument panel and the design of the seat fabric and stitch pattern. The design flows around the driver to the passenger side in a rippling effect and connects to second- and third-row seats. Since each second- and third-row seat folds flat for cargo, the Mazda5 can be a two-, three-, four-, five- or six-seater, depending on the mix of people and cargo you want to haul. Each row is about two inches higher than the one in front ("stadium" seating), and—because the second-row seats adjust fore and aft—passengers can trade off enough legroom that adults can ride in the way-back row, though we don't recommend it for long trips.
The sliding rear side doors—not powered but so easy-sliding they can be manually operated with one finger—provide a wide opening for second- and third-row access, as well as an advantage in tight parking compared to conventional doors. The second row's captain's chairs slide and recline and can be folded flat without removing their headrests. Each also has a one-touch lever that slides it full forward for third-row access. There are cargo bins under the second-row seats and a covered tray behind the rears, but precious little room behind them with their backs up. Folded flat, they provide 44 cu. ft. of cargo room behind the second row.
Models and Features
The 2012 Mazda5 offers a healthier portion of "Zoom-Zoom" than its predecessor thanks to its new 157-hp 2.5-liter four, which uses Mazda's Variable Induction System (VIS) to improve low-to- mid-range torque. It can be paired with a six-speed manual (in Sport models) or a five-speed automatic with manual shift control and Mazda Active Adaptive Shift protocol, which delivers part-throttle downshifts with a nudge of the pedal for passing and downshifts to add engine braking and prepare for a throttle-on exit during aggressive braking into a corner.
It is available in three models: entry-level Sport, mid-range Touring and top-grade Grand Touring. All-season tires on 16-inch alloy wheels, power mirrors, air conditioning, power windows and locks, AM/FM/CD/MP3 six-speaker stereo with auxiliary jack, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry, one-touch up/down driver's window and steering wheel audio and cruise controls are standard.
The 2012 Mazda5 Touring adds the automatic transmission, 17-inch alloys, side still extensions, a rear liftgate spoiler, fog lamps, Bluetooth audio and phone, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob and a trip computer, while a Moonroof and Audio package is optional. The Mazda5 Grand Touring piles on the moonroof, CD changer and Sirius Satellite Radio, plus automatic-on/off xenon HID headlamps, heated outside mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, an anti-theft alarm, driver's seat lumbar adjustment, leather seat trim and heated front seats.
All 2012 Mazda5 models also boast Anti-lock Braking (ABS), Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) with Traction Control System (TCS), advanced dual front airbags, front seat side airbags and three-row side air curtains. Also standard is Mazda's Brake Override System, which prioritizes the brake pedal over the accelerator should both be engaged simultaneously.
2012 Mazda5 Test Drive
The MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspensions on the 2012 Mazda5 are thoroughly retuned for crisper handling with more comfortable ride, and the electro-hydraulic power assist steering (EHPAS) steering feels precise and linear, all adding up to surprisingly agile dynamics. Also, despite its long wheelbase, the Mazda5 has an impressively tight turning circle at 36.7 feet.
On the downside, we were legroom-limited in front (the front seats need more travel), there is no available factory navigation system, and no USB jack for iPods and other portable players. The interior is mostly hard plastic—no surprise given its $19,195 starting price—and there was a bit too much wind and road noise at speed.
Still, the 2012 Mazda5 seems a practical, affordable, right-size solution for families wanting flexible people- and cargo-capabilities with carlike efficiency and driving ease. And while it's way smaller than today's fairly huge so-called "mini" vans, it's actually some five inches longer than that first compact Chrysler model that started it all 28 years ago. www.mazdausa.com
send them straight to your Inbox so
you can stay up to date and not
miss a thing!