gets a jump on the 2012 model year with an early introduction of its newly refreshed Mazda5
. This vehicle tends to slip under the radar since Mazda
spends few traditional marketing dollars to promote this quirky six-passenger vehicle. Don't expect big-production, Super Bowl ads anytime soon. Mazda5
passes through a time warp, jumping directly from 2010 to 2012 model year, magically skipping over 2011.
While best described as a mini minivan, Mazda
dubs its solely front-wheel-drive, five-door creation a multi-activity vehicle. This under appreciated hauler mixes together a flexible interior, fuel efficiency, decent handling and rock-bottom pricing, a recipe very popular in Europe and Asia where small sells big. When Mazda
first began importing Mazda5
from its Japanese assembly facility in the 2006 model year, questions arose if fickle Americans would warm to such a creature.
Some looked with suspicion because the sole engine in all trims is a four cylinder, albeit a new-for 2012, upgraded, 2.5
-liter, 16-valve four cylinder delivers 15
7 horses (replacing a 2.3-liter 15
3 horsepower version). Traditional minivans opt for V-6 muscle. Plus Ford and General Motors began eliminating Soccer-Mom-type, sliding-rear-door minivans about the same time Mazda5
swooped into America's orbit.
Sliding doors and rear hatch are strictly manually operated in a world where power operation is widely available. While in-car electronic gizmos seem all the rage, Mazda5
doesn't even bother with extras such as factory-installed, in-dash navigation or rear entertainment screen. At a time when the average new car contains more high-tech silicone circuitry than Apollo vessels that rocketed to the moon, Mazda5
chooses a gadget-light approach; which may lead some to ask: "Will Chicagoland drivers actually find their neighborhood Portillo's without an in-dash "Hal" barking out directions? Will Man ever return to the moon? If man does indeed return, will Portillo's open a 2001 Space-Odyssey-themed location on the lunar surface with convenient 24-hour glide-thru?" While Frank Portillo remains mum about an out-of-this-world franchise, a jumbo dog, crescent-moon fries sprinkled with earth salt and super-sized Tang combo meal is a real possibility.
Yes. The "5
" requires more physical and brain muscle than an average $5
0,000 SUV or van. But while frills are limited, behind the wheel thrills are evident in a vehicle starting below $20,000.
Low ground clearance makes this an ideal vehicle if transporting those who may be less mobile or require extra entry room. Rear side doors slide far back, creating wide and low entry and exit points. Parental units carting around their pre-adolescent clones should find Mazda5
very accommodating. Mazda 5
's agility and handling are light years ahead of what's available in larger minivans, although 0-60 numbers won't approach warp speed, especially if loaded with earthly delights.
Both a five-speed automatic, and fuel-efficient six-speed manual are offered. The five-speed automatic checks in at 21 miles per gallon city and 28 mpg highway. Highway mileage improves by one mile per gallon in 2012 even with a slight horsepower increase. The fuel tank holds 15
.9 gallons of regular, unleaded fuel. Dilithium-crystal-powered versions are not yet offered. The powertrain warranty is for five years or 60,000 miles. The tested 2.5
-liter four is also found in the compact Mazda
6 mid-size sedan and CX-7 crossover.
Three trims are offered: Sport, Touring and Grand Touring. Sport is the sole trim offering the six-speed manual. All come with air conditioning, cruise control, CD/MP3-compatable player, rear defroster and power windows, locks and mirrors. Grand Touring adds Satellite radio standard. Doors and dashboard don't win any soft-and-subtle contest. The plastic dashboard and beverage holders are back to basics.
Tall, captain's-chair-like front seats include fold up arm rests rather than a traditional covered storage bin between seats found in most crossovers and SUVs. Seating positions are lower than traditional minivans or SUVs. Grand Touring trims include heated front seats and leather trimmed seat upholstery...and a moon roof.
Two captain's chairs come standard in row two; bench seating is not available. Plenty of head room welcomes passengers seated in the first two rows. Seating is 'theatre style' where the last row is slightly elevated then the one directly in front. Row two seat cushions fold forward, revealing shallow but functional storage bins. Lightweight sliding doors close relatively easily from a seated inside position. Sliding door side windows power down with the touch of a button. A floor vent with fan circulates cool air in the back area when needed.
A one-touch lever tips backrests forward allowing the entire seat assembly to easily slide forward, creating third-row access. Fred Flintstone's green, two-foot-tall chum, the Great Gazoo, is probably the only adult who would find row three accommodating. With the two-seat third row prone, 5
8 cubic feet cubic feet remains behind, enough room for grocery bags, but no large luggage. For optimal cargo room, second-row seat backs fold down once the cushion flips forward. Row three's 5
0s-split seatbacks fold flat onto cushions.
A redesigned instrument panel features two large, deep set analog circles housed inside intersecting frames forming a roof-like peak (a cone head design of sorts). Between the gauges is a vertically arranged, digital gear shift display. An electronic bar graph fuel gauge rests along the bottom. The dashboard center top includes a long, narrow, browed display window with diminutive digital time, radio frequency and temperature readouts. Rectangular air vents separate this display from the sound systems consisting of three dials and an array of buttons. Three large, easy-to-grab dials below control ventilation functions. Underneath is the automatic transmission handle, at a 45
-degree angle. The manual tilt and telescope steering column is home to the ignition cylinder and a right-hand side stalk controlling front and rear wipers. The thin, three-spoke steering wheel includes cruise control functions at 3 o'clock. As with most Mazda
vehicles, bright red backlighting illuminates at night. Above the large glove box is a lipped shelf capable of stowing small itemsMazda5
has most of the necessary safety nuances including anti-lock brakes with brake assist, stability control, traction control, dual front air bags, side impact air bags and side curtain air bags covering all three rows. One item missing are blinkers built into the side view mirrors. Photon torpedoes are not included.
Our mid-level Touring tester listed at $21,195
. After factoring in $5
0 for bumper guards and $1,140 for moon roof/audio package (in-dash 6-disc CD changer, Sirius Satellite Radio with four-month free trail subscription) the bottom line ended at a respectable $23,180 after $795
delivery charge. The entry Sport with six-speed manual starts at $19,195
(about $600 more than the 2010 equivalent); add $1,000 when adding the five-speed automatic. A top-line Grand Touring lists at $23,875
The option package list consists of basically one choice; mid-level Touring's aforementioned moon roof and audio package. Individual options include pearl premium paint ($200), in-dash six-disc CD player in Sport and Touring ($5
), fog lights in Sport ($300) and auto-dimming mirror with compass in all three ($295
s included tall tail light housing flanking the lift gate. For 2012, smaller, horizontally-opposed illuminators flank the hatch, which when opened, provides enough head clearance for those six feet or shorter. In front, Martian-eye-shaped headlight housing flanks a diminutive five-point grille found on other Mazda
family vehicles. The short, sloping hood drops from view when positioned behind the wheel, so parallel park with care. A wavy belt line rises towards the back end, reducing the length of static third-row windows. Most traditional minivans do a better job of hiding side slide tracks by incorporating the horizontal rail underneath rear window architecture. The Romulans were first to develop superior cloaking technology; they're the go-to Empire for hiding and/or eliminating unsightly lines and bulges. A rear roof spoiler is standard in Touring and Grand Touring. Mazda5
's success has not gone unnoticed by rivals. On display at the 2011 Chicago Auto Show was Ford's 2012 C-Max, a vehicle mimicking Mazda5
's funky looks. Similarities are understandable. The all-new C-Max shares Mazda5
's underpinnings and basic platform; as if arriving on earth from a parallel universe. Ford Motor Co. owns an 11 percent stake in Mazda
, down from 2008's 33 percent.At a GlancePrice as tested:
108.3 inches Curb Weight:
7 poundsMileage Estimates city/Highway: