2012 Mazda 5 Test Drive Review
There’s a good reason the 2012 Mazda 5 looks like it is so happy to see you. It knows you’re in for a good time, despite its mini-minivan bodywork, because Mazda has decoded BMW’s vehicle dynamics recipe and applies the secret sauce to everything in its lineup, including this frugal little family hauler.
THE 2012 MAZDA 5 IS SMILING FOR A GOOD REASON
Before we talk about driving the Mazda 5, let’s talk about design and packaging. In the photograph above, you might notice what looks like a graphics package applied to the sides of our test vehicle. Those are actually reflections on the sheetmetal. You cannot take those wavy waves off the doors.
They’re there because Mazda was planning to roll out a design theme called “Nagare” across its lineup. Nagare translates from Japanese to English as “flow,” and Mazda explored this theme with numerous concept cars before finally deciding to switch to a more appealing “Kodo,” or “Soul of Motion,” styling language introduced with the 2013 CX-5 crossover SUV.
By the time that decision was made, however, it was too late for the redesigned 2012 Mazda 5.
Personally, I was never a fan of the Nagare concept vehicles. Therefore, I’m not a fan of the Mazda 5’s rippling body sides. And frankly, I’m tired of all these happy Mazdas running around. Add a front license plate, and most modern Mazda models resemble Mater from the Disney/Pixar “Cars” movies.
THE MAZDA 5 IS A TRUE MINIVAN
Enough about design. Let’s talk packaging. The 2012 Mazda 5 is a true minivan, a compact, six-passenger people mover based on the Mazda 3 but equipped with handy sliding side doors. The third-row seat is not hospitable to adults, and cargo space behind it is nearly non-existent, so it probably makes more sense for Mazda to ditch the third-row, which cannot be removed, in favor of a second-row bench that sits a bit further back in the vehicle to maximize rear passenger leg room.
By doing so, Mazda would drop to five-passenger capacity but gain greater cargo space plus the ability to add seat track travel for the driver and front passenger. That’s necessary because anyone with a pants inseam measuring 33 inches or greater is going to feel crammed in behind the steering wheel.
While we’re on a rant, where the hell is the dark tinted rear glass? Our test sample was the top-of-the-line Grand Touring model, and when we put our baby inside the sun was piercing her brand new little eyeballs. For a vehicle that’s so perfect for young families toting kids around, the lack of tint seems like an obvious oversight.
FUN TO DRIVE? YOU BETCHA.
Where the Mazda 5 excels is in driving dynamics, so much so that people who enjoy the getting to Point B as much as Point B itself might be able to forgive styling and packaging gaffes.
We drove the 2012 Mazda 5 on city streets, on suburban boulevards, on high-speed freeways, in gridlocked traffic, along coastal highway, and down a seriously twisty mountain road, and except for the fact that I didn’t have enough leg room, the Mazda 5’s engine, transmission, steering, brakes, and suspension called attention to themselves only to amaze and delight. Except for somewhat leisurely acceleration when merging with 80-mph traffic and a hint of extra body roll in tight corners, the Mazda 5’s dynamics are perfection.
A 157-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine is charged with moving the Mazda 5, which weighs almost 3,500 pounds before adding passengers. A six-speed manual is standard on the Sport model, and the five-speed automatic that comes standard on Touring and Grand Touring versions is geared to feel energetic around town. On the highway, however, passing requires patience and even accelerating to get into the flow of traffic requires a heavy foot planted on the floor. This, of course, affects fuel economy. We extracted 21.5 mpg during a week of driving, a bit short of the EPA’s combined 24-mpg estimate.
Where the Mazda 5 excels, of course, is where all Mazdas excel: steering, braking, ride, and handling. No matter what type of pavement you are traversing and no matter how hard you’re driving, the Mazda 5 deftly and delicately balances ride compliance with road surface communication, steers with natural response and fine-tuned accuracy, turns into and sticks in corners like a sport sedan, and stops quickly each and every time.
SPEEDY DADDY SAYS…
No matter where you’re going, a 2012 Mazda 5 is fun to drive, as refined in its balance and actions as a BMW minivan would be. With a bit more mid-range power, added front seat legroom, repackaged rear passenger and cargo space, less flamboyant styling, and some dark tint on the rear glass, the 2012 Mazda 5 would make a perfect family car loaded with capability and value.
– Christian Wardlaw
2012 Mazda 5 Photos Copyright 2012 Speedy Daddy Media, Inc.