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The 2012 Mazda 5 is an all-new model. For 2012, Mazda 5 has been redesigned inside and especially outside, where it uses Mazda's Nagare, or flow in nature, design, the first Mazda to be designed using this philosophy.
The Mazda 5, a small, six-seat, front-wheel-drive minivan, currently resides in a class of one, since no other manufacturer offers a minivan in this size class (although the Ford C-Max will be coming along later in the 2012 model year). For comparison purposes, Mazda uses the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4, which are not true minivans, since they don't use sliding doors as the Mazda 5 does, and are generally $2400-$2800 more expensive.
Using the patented Mazda upside-down pentagon grille up front and the Nagare or flowing design up over the front fenders and down the sides, the 2012 Mazda 5 has been made to look much, much bolder and sportier than its predecessor, without the slab-sided approach usually reserved for minivan bodies. The body has been reshaped with sculpted sheetmetal, a severely laid-back windshield, with a rear roof spoiler on the Grand Touring version. The body has a remarkably low coefficient of drag for a minivan, 0.30, which helps with wind noise.
The new grille, hood, fenders, lamps, bumper and air intakes up front complement new body-colored door handles and mirrors, new taillamps, a mechanically operated liftgate, and new 16- and 17-inch wheels. Underneath, there's a redone suspension that takes a lot of the body roll of the previous model out, and an improved disc/drum braking system.
Under the hood, there is a single engine choice, the same 2.5-liter double-overhead-cam 16-valve four-cylinder engine that powers the Mazda 3, with variable valve timing to give it low-rpm torque and high-rpm horsepower. The engine is rated at a modest 157 horsepower and 163 foot-pounds of torque, five horsepower and 15 foot-pounds more than the previous 2.3-liter engine provided, and one more mile per gallon on the highway than the 2.3.
The interior layout of the new Mazda 5 is unusual in that it provides three rows of two seats each, with bucket seats in front, so-called captain's chairs in the second row, and a split folding bench seat in the third row, where the smaller kids and dogs will reside. All the seats have been redesigned to offer more long-trip comfort and durability.
But this is an economy minivan with a starting price under $20,000, so there is no blind-spot warning system, adaptive cruise control, or any of the other higher-priced safety gear. Nor is a built-in navigation system available, since Mazda believes most young family buyers will opt for a portable Garmin, Magellan or other stick-on system.
The Mazda 5 was last offered as a 2010 model. There was no 2011 model, in preparation for this all-new 2012 second-generation Mazda 5.
The Touring version adds 17-inch alloy wheels and tires, body rocker panels, some leather appointments, fog lamps, seat coverings with contrasting piping, a rear roof spoiler, a multi-functional leather steering wheel, trip computer, a six-speaker sound system with Bluetooth, a CD changer, MP3 capability and an AUX plug. Unfortunately, the Mazda 5 is not iPod-friendly.
The Grand Touring version adds leather heated seats, xenon HID lamps, rain-sensing wipers, a 6CD changer, Sirius satellite radio, automatic lamps, heated mirrors, driver lumbar support, and a theft alarm system.
Options include a moonroof and audio package ($1140); white pearl paint ($200); 6CD changer for Sport and Touring models ($525); cargo net ($40); auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and Homelink ($295).
Safety equipment on the Mazda 5 includes front, side and three-row roof curtain air bags, and ABS disc brakes with both EBD and Brake Assist, traction control, tire pressure monitoring system and dynamic stability control.
For 2012, Mazda 5 has been given a substantial cosmetic makeover, with every panel on the car replaced by newer and flashier sheetmetal, with almost no chrome plating on the exterior other than the badges. There's a new upper and lower grille design, new hood, new fenders, new lamps, new bumpers and air intakes up front, with body-colored door handles all around, new taillamps, liftgate, and wheels.
The new Mazda 5 has integrated halogen headlamps at the front corners, creating a line that goes up over the front fenders like other Mazdas and then all the way to the rear of the car through the centerline of the body. The lower body is sculpted with an upswept line starting just behind the front tires and extending up and over the rear wheel wells. With the five-point lower grille and the five-point rear window glass, this couldn't be anything but a Mazda, mimicking as it does the Mazda 3, Mazda 6, RX-8, CX-7, and CX-9 in its front and rear layouts. This car looks like it's smiling at you. The Mazda 5 Touring version adds front fog lamps and a rear roof spoiler.
The Mazda 5's interior decor has been redesigned for more comfort, more storage, and much greater and easier utility inside. The instrument panel, center stack, switches and controls have all been redone for the 2012 models.
As for storage, the rated cargo capacity of the Mazda 5 is 5.6 cubic feet behind the flipping and folding third-row bench seat, with 27.5 cubic feet with the second seat folded flat and 55.4 cubic feet with both rows of seats folded flat.
The interior can be configured for two, three, four, five, or six occupants in some 16 different configurations. The second-row captain's chairs flop forward and slide for access to the 50/50 folding third-row bench seat, and there is hidden storage under each chair, not to mention a standard fold-out tray table and cupholder setup that fits between the two captain's chairs when needed.
The instrument package contains the usual two round gauges with lights and indicators in between the deeply tunneled clusters and is designed together with a second large, horizontal binnacle in the center of the instrument panel to house the time, temperature, fuel economy, sound system and climate control readouts, with the CD slot below, a very pleasingly laid-out sound system control center, and a three-dial HVAC control panel at the bottom (automatic climate control front and rear air-conditioning with pollen filtration is standard equipment). The shifter, whether manual or automatic, resides in the bottom center of the instrument panel.
The three-spoke steering wheel has a thick rim and a thickly padded hub with convenient switches for the sound system on the left, cruise control system on the right, and telephone on the lower left. Taken together, the Mazda 5's interior components add up to a very livable, easy-to-use whole with good quality plastics, a minimum of brightwork, plenty of storage, and high functionality.
The new 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine in the Mazda 5 provides just enough power and torque to get the job of family transporter done, with not much more available.
A 6-speed manual transmission is offered on Sport versions for the few who want it, but the more popular automatic, with 95 percent of sales, is a 5-speed, not a 6-speed, which means the highway fuel economy suffers and the cruising noise level goes up accordingly. The engine performed smoothly and quietly.
The new front seats are comfortable, cosseting and supportive, with cool contrasting stitching on upper models. The second-row captain's chairs slide, recline and fold flat, opening up all kinds of passenger comfort and storage possibilities. The thick steering wheel is pleasant to hold onto, and the Mazda 5 is made more comfortable with a combination of a tilt/telescope steering column and adjustable seat height. Interior function was excellent, but lacking a USB port and an iPod hookup, although wireless Bluetooth telephoning and Bluetooth audio streaming are standard on Touring and Grand Touring models, respectively (Mazda says up to seven phones can be paired with the system). The six-speaker sound system sounded very good when the volume was cranked up.
The suspension underneath is conventional, with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link rear suspension, and in the redesign, the engineers have created quicker steering response, a much flatter ride through corners with quicker-acting shock absorbers, and faster-reacting, more progressive brake and throttle action that makes the Mazda 5 more fun and more comfortable to drive quickly. The steering uses a combination of electric and hydraulic assist, and it feels connected to the tires and the road. Although the chassis is carried over from the 2010 model, the body has a larger D-pillar, more welds, wider metal overlaps and reinforcements in it for increased crash safety, which also aids in good handling.
We think the Mazda 5 is interestingly slick and good-looking for a minivan with the new Nagare design theme. Even with its relatively low power, it is fun to drive, gets decent but not class-leading fuel mileage, and it maneuvers well on its tight turning radius. In terms of size, it's actually five inches longer overall than the first minivans introduced by Chrysler in 1984, so American families will find room for their stuff. For $24,000 loaded, the Grand Touring version has just about everything the average American family would need to get around in.
Jim McCraw filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com from Coronado, California.