Review and photos by
Peter Bleakney, Autos.ca
When Mazda brought its four-cylinder Mazda5 mini minivan to the North American market for 2006, Canadians were all over it like gravy on French fries. Here was a compact, fuel efficient, fun-to-drive and stylish six-seater with a price that played to our pragmatic sensibilities. And with an available manual transmission, there was nothing like it on the road.
It did well, becoming the second biggest nameplate for Mazda Canada (the Mazda3 being number one) with over 50,000 sold to date.
Arriving in showrooms now is a significantly revised Mazda5, which for reasons only marketing types can explain, is billed as a 2012 model. There was no 2011 Mazda5.
For those who hold the 5’s core values near and dear to their hearts, fear not, for the 2012 rides on the same platform, is dimensionally unchanged and still responds to driver inputs with an enthusiasm that belies its domestic mandate.
Some of the shortcomings, however, have been addressed. Key enhancements include a revised interior and a 2.5-litre four-cylinder that puts out 157 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque, versus the old 2.3-litre unit with 153 horses and 148 pound-feet. The standard manual transmission is up one cog to six, while the optional five-speed manumatic carries on. Air conditioning with automatic climate control, side curtain airbags, brake assist, stability control and traction control are now standard.
The 2012 Mazda5 starts at $21,795 for the nicely-equipped GS model featuring 16-inch alloys, auto lights, auto wipers, cruise and tilt/telescopic steering wheel. Mazda tells us it costs about $320 less than a comparably equipped 2010 model.
I tested a Clear Water Blue Mica (new colour) $24,395 GT with optional $1,200 auto and $1,790 Luxury Package (power moonroof, leather-trimmed seats and a second row fold-out table/cargo bin). At $27,385, this is the most you can spend on a 2012 Mazda5.
The original Mazda5 certainly could have used more power. When loaded up with humans and cargo, it was a slug. While not a huge jump in numbers, this 2.5-litre engine breathes new life into the 5. It feels more lively and highway passing is less of a chore. At 120 km/h the engine spins at a relaxed 2,500 r.p.m. The taller sixth gear in the manual should help in this regard too, as the previous five-speed car was frenetic at highway speeds.
Mazda claims a marginal improvement in highway fuel economy. Over a week of mixed motoring my GT returned 10.2 L/100km. I couldn’t help but think how cool this car would be with the fuel-sipping 2.0-litre diesel engine available in other markets.
While the 2012 Mazda5 continues with front MacPherson struts and rear multi-link suspension, spring rates have been increased to fix some stability issues and the front control arm bushings have been revised. Having owned a 2006 Mazda5, I can attest the suspension was that car’s Achilles heel – well, four heels if you count each corner. It appears these issues have been addressed.
The Mazda5 was always fun to drive, however, and unchanged are its fine steering feel and accurate cornering that won me over in the first place. Indeed, the 2012 underpinnings feel less flinty, and road imperfections are absorbed in a more refined fashion.
The 2012 model gets an all-new dash that shows a significant improvement over the previous effort which served as a constant reminder of the 5 being built to a price. Yes, all the plastics are still hard to the touch but it looks richer with its flowing design. An auxiliary input is standard (no USB) and a nifty dashtop display incorporates audio and HVAC info plus outside temperature, time and trip computer info.
Demerits include erratic auto wipers (give me good old-fashioned variables any day) and seat heaters with a single setting that is more appropriate for branding cattle than warming human posteriors. After about five minutes, the betrothed and I had to switch them off.
Also, it’s a shame the handy-dandy second row fold-out table/cargo bin is now available only with the GT’s Luxury Package because it’s an extremely useful piece of kit and it can’t cost Mazda more than 10 bucks for the plastic part; should be standard across the line.
Other than this, the Mazda5’s utility and clever packaging gets kicked up a notch with more interior cubbies and increased front seat travel. The sliding doors and rear hatch operate with feather-light precision and the 50/50 third-row seats (really best suited for children) are a cinch to raise and lower. The second row captain’s chairs fold flat too, offering up numerous load configurations.
There isn’t much cargo space behind the third row, so if you’re loaded up with passengers, they’d better pack light.
Mazda has spruced up the Mazda5’s exterior with the first application of its new Nagare Flow design language. I’m assuming this applies to the pair of wave-like scoops that trace along the 5’s flanks. The front sports the Mazda3’s leering visage which makes me want to grab a can of red paint and apply some Marilyn Munroe lipstick. The new headlight clusters (Xenon in the GT) sweep into sculpted fenders. Out back, horizontal taillights replace the high-mounted vertical LED units of the outgoing model; overall, a pleasing redo.
Spring for the GT and visual upgrades include fog lights, sunroof, 17-inch alloys, side skirts and a rear spoiler. The cabin sees heated fabric seats, Bluetooth, upgraded audio, SIRIUS satellite radio, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, trip computer and a tire pressure monitoring system. Navigation is no longer offered.
Mazda expects the GS model with auto transmission and $845 Convenience Package (Bluetooth with music streaming capability, multi-function leather-wrapped steering wheel, trip computer, anti-theft alarm system) to be the volume seller at $23,840.
Currently the Mazda5’s only real competitor, aside from the larger yet similarly priced Dodge Caravan, is the Kia Rondo – although the Korean doesn’t have sliding doors. You could also include the Mercedes-Benz B200, but that van-ette starts at $29,900. This situation will soon change as more compact Euro-transplants are on the way – the Ford C-Max and Chevy Orlando.
In the meantime, this comprehensive refresh of Mazda’s diminutive domestic dromedary should keep the Canadian home fires burning.
Pricing: 2012 Mazda5 GT
Base price: $24,395
Options: $2,990 (Five-speed manumatic transmission,$1200; Luxury Package, $1790)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $29,080
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)