Review and photos by
Haney Louka, Autos.ca
Let’s call this the second instalment in my quest to find a worthy replacement for our 2004 Mazda6 Sport Wagon. I previously entertained the idea that the Toyota Venza might possess that magical combination of cargo utility with car-like handling and efficiency. While the Venza is efficient for its size and can handle about the same cargo volume as our Mazda, it falls short on its ability to satisfy my craving for responsive handling and a sporty demeanour going down the road. It also lost points for a few quirks that I would consider deal-killers.
So, on to the next applicant….
There are two choices that ostensibly fit the bill within the Mazda family; unfortunately neither of these is a wagon. The first is the CX-7, which could be a contender in naturally-aspirated form (the turbo-four is thirstier than many V6s in similarly-sized vehicles).
But this time we’re looking at the more frugal end of the Mazda people-hauler line-up: the new-for-2012 Mazda5. A vehicle that could best be described as a mini-minivan, it’s based on the Mazda3. Compared to the 3, the 5’s wheelbase is stretched 110 mm but overall length is increased by a mere 80 mm. More significantly, the 5 stands 145 mm taller than the 3.
What matters, though, is how it all comes together. And while a styling judgment is best left to the eye of the beholder, I can say that the 5 is still instantly recognizable and the various modifications are actually more decorative than substantive; not doing anything to really change the 5’s visual character. And for me, the 5’s styling is probably the one thing holding me back from embracing it as the next resident of the Louka garage. But the car has so much going for it that it might still earn a spot.I’ve driven a couple of 5s in the past several years, but this second generation model brings with it several changes; chief among them is styling. Those who either love or hate the 3’s front end will instantly recognize it on the new 5. Taillights are now lower down and horizontal rather than the high-mounted vertical arrangement of the previous generation. But perhaps the most significant – and controversial – styling feature of the new 5 is its creased bodywork, which Mazda says is the first production application of its “Nagare” design language. I won’t regurgitate the verbose description of how wind and water and harmonious coexistence with nature shaped the car you see photographed here, but suffice it to say that Mazda’s press kit goes on for more than a few paragraphs about this.
To put the new 5 through its paces, we embarked on a 2,000-km trek for a spring break getaway with the kids. Our six-speed manual-equipped tester made a strong first impression: standard equipment includes seating for six, traction and stability control, automatic climate control and headlights, rain-sensing wipers, alloy wheels, dual sliding doors, remote keyless entry, second-row captains’ chairs that slide fore-and-aft and recline, a split-folding third row, a second power outlet in the cargo area, among other niceties. The only major omission from the list – and particularly glaring given the highway-intensive journey we were about to begin – was cruise control. Given the choice between rain-sensing wipers and cruise control, I’d surely choose the latter.
It’s tough to complain, though, when one looks at the price-tag of our base GS tester: a mere $21,795.
An $845 convenience package adds the desired cruise control (complete with wheel-mounted controls), along with Bluetooth connectivity, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, a trip computer, and an anti-theft alarm system.
Step up to the $24,395 GT and the equipment list grows to include 17-inch alloys (up from 16), fog lights, heated exterior mirrors, xenon headlamps, leather for the steering wheel and shift knob, six-speaker audio (up from four), and heated front seats. A further $1,790 nets the GT luxury package, adding leather upholstery, a fold-out table for second-row seats, and a power moonroof.
A five-speed auto transmission can be had on any trim level for $1,200. But please, folks, let this car show you how much fun a family hauler can be and stick with the stick.Mechanically speaking, this is a Mazda3 at heart. That means a 2.5-litre inline-four producing 157 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque, four-wheel disc brakes, and four-wheel independent suspension. Fuel consumption is rated at a frugal 9.7 L/100 km in the city and 6.8 on the highway. Our experience wasn’t quite as good, netting 9.6 L/100 km with 80 per cent highway use. Granted, the highways travelled allowed cruising speeds of 120 to 125 km/h, so that goes a long way toward explaining why we didn’t match the 5’s consumption figures.
Cargo volume behind the second row measures only 426 litres; substantially smaller than that of our wagon, but it doesn’t seem that much smaller. With the rear split bench folded, the 5 had more than enough room to swallow our luggage, and the kids loved the individual adjustable captain’s chairs and sliding doors. This is nothing new for minivan owners, mind you, but to marry these family-friendly features in a more efficient package is something that only Mazda is doing right now.
That’s about to change though, because the freshly minted Ford C-Max will offer the same basic layout in an arguably more attractive package. There’s also the long-in-the-tooth Kia Rondo and the upcoming Chevrolet Orlando to keep things competitive in this market niche.
Given the 5’s roots, it’s no surprise that this is a nimble, sporty-feeling car going down the road. Quick steering (even with winter tires), a slick-shifting manual, and an eager and refined engine characterize the 5’s road manners. At 120 km/h the engine turns a somewhat busy 3,000 rpm, but it’s quiet nonetheless and picking up speed doesn’t require a downshift unless you’re in a real hurry. Regardless, a taller sixth would no doubt have moved our consumption numbers down a few notches. Wind and road noise proved surprisingly controlled over a wide range of road surfaces, adding to a sense of refinement that belies the 5’s price-tag.
The deep-set gauges for road and engine speed are easy to read, but the fuel gauge is of the digital bar variety and is tucked down low on the instrument panel. There’s no coolant temperature gauge either, so information is minimal. Dash plastics are hard, but only if you touch them. They actually look quite soft, which is more important than whether they are actually soft to the touch.
Occupants of first- and second-row seats are treated to fold-up armrests; overall the chairs proved to be quite comfortable on the long haul. Interior storage is at a bit of a premium though: no centre console bin (made up for partly by a large glove box) and no cup holders for the second-row seats.
Third-row seating qualifies for occasional use only, but the split bench folds away with ease and I suspect most owners will leave it that way most of the time. We would have liked a cargo cover to hide our stuff when parked at malls and restaurants; a quick look at Mazda.ca reveals that one is available as a dealer accessory for $230. The hatch is light and easy to operate; no power assist required there. But while I could stand straight with a couple of inches to spare beneath the open hatch, those in the six-foot-and-up club might not find it so commodious under there.
So there you have it; the 5 fits our family’s needs quite nicely: practical, versatile, efficient, and fun to drive. Now if I can just get past the looks…
Pricing: 2012 Mazda5
Base price: $21,795
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $23,590
Crash test results