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Not quite minivan, not quite wagon, Mazda5 is a small, front-wheel-drive van with sliding rear doors and space for six. Compact exterior dimensions belie the Mazda5's interior space, which, like regular minivans, has three rows of seats.
Mazda5 was completely redesigned for 2012, so changes since then have been minor. The 2013 Mazda5 got some new exterior color choices, and a USB/iPod connection became standard on all models. Nothing significant is new on the 2014 Mazda5, except for one new body color.
The design of the Mazda5 is based on the Nagare design language, which translates to flow in nature. Its hallmark is an upside-down pentagon grille up front, leading into a flowing design up over the front fenders and down the sides.
With these styling cues, the Mazda5 has a bolder and sportier look than the slab-sided approach usually reserved for minivan bodies. The body has been shaped with sculpted sheet metal and a severely laid-back windshield, with a rear roof spoiler on the Grand Touring version.
The grille, hood, fenders, lamps, bumper and front air intakes complement body-colored door handles and mirrors and taillamps. The design is not only attractive, but helps to achieve a 0.30 coefficient of drag. That's remarkably aerodynamic for a minivan, helping to reduce wind noise and maximize fuel efficiency.
The interior layout of the Mazda5 is unusual in that it provides three rows of two seats each, with bucket seats in front, captain's chairs in the second row, and a split folding bench seat in the third row. The latter is best suited for smaller children. It's a versatile cabin, where each of the rear seats can be folded down. A mechanically-operated liftgate makes the rear hatch easy to open, too.
A 2.5-liter, double-overhead-cam four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing powers all Mazda5 models, giving it good low-rpm torque and high-rpm horsepower. Rated at a modest 157 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque, it's the same engine found, prior to the 2014 model year, in certain Mazda3 trim levels. Transmission choices for the Mazda5 include a 6-speed manual (Sport only) or a 5-speed automatic.
Fuel economy ratings for the 2014 Mazda5 are 21/28 mpg City/Highway with the manual transmission, and 22/28 mpg with the automatic.
We found the Mazda5 enjoyable to drive, with responsive acceleration performance, sharp handling, and smooth braking. Mazda's sporty suspension means there's very little body roll. Brakes are four-wheel disc for good stopping power. Driving a Mazda5 differs sharply from the typical minivan experience, courtesy of the compact van's excellent maneuverability and ease of parking.
This is an economy minivan with a starting price just over $20,000, so don't expect a blind-spot warning system, adaptive cruise control, or any of the other higher-priced, high-technology safety gear found on more expensive cars. Nor is a built-in navigation system available; Mazda probably expects most buyers will opt for a portable Garmin, Magellan or other stick-on system.
There aren't any apples-to-apples competitors for the 2014 Mazda5. Minivans such as the Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna are larger and more expensive. Compact wagons and hatchbacks come closer in size, but lack the rear sliding doors and tend to be more expensive. Shoppers looking for utility with a smaller footprint, who are willing to shell out a little more, might also consider the Ford C-MAX wagon, as well as compact crossover SUVs such as the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4.
Design of the 2014 Mazda5 is based on the Nagare (flow in nature) design language, and it's the first Mazda model to be designed using this philosophy. Its hallmark is an upside-down pentagon grille up front, mating with a flowing design that reaches over the front fenders and down the sides.
The Mazda5 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 five-point rear window glass, this couldn't be anything but a Mazda, mimicking as it does the Mazda6, RX-8, CX-7, and CX-9, in both its front and rear layouts. This is one car that looks like it's smiling at you.
With these styling cues, the Mazda5 has a bolder and sportier look than the typically slab-sided minivans. The Mazda5 body has been shaped with sculpted sheet metal and a sharply-angled windshield. A rear roof spoiler goes on the Grand Touring version.
The design is not only attractive, but helps to achieve a remarkably low coefficient of drag for a minivan: 0.30. That level of aerodynamic slipperiness helps with wind noise, and also maximizes fuel efficiency.
The Mazda5 interior is very versatile and can be configured for two, three, four, five, or six occupants, in some 16 different layouts. The second-row captain's chairs flop forward and slide for access to the 50/50 folding third-row bench seat. There's 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 second-row seats can be folded flat without removing headrests.
The instrument panel contains the usual two round gauges, with lights and indicators between the deeply tunneled clusters. A second large, horizontal binnacle in the center of the instrument panel houses the time, temperature, fuel economy, sound system and climate control readouts, with the CD slot below. All told, it's a very pleasingly laid-out sound system control center. A three-dial HVAC control panel at the bottom (automatic climate control for 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. 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. 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.
As for storage, the rated cargo capacity of the Mazda5 is 44.4 cubic feet with the third-row seats folded down. Second-row seats also fold down, for even greater cargo volume.
The 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. For many if not most likely owners, of course, that's fully sufficient.
A 6-speed manual transmission is offered on base Sport versions for the few who want it, but the more popular automatic is a 5-speed, not a 6-speed. That means the highway fuel economy suffers and the cruising noise level goes up accordingly. During our test drive, the engine performed smoothly and quietly.
Front seats are comfortable 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. Interior function was excellent, with a USB/iPod connection on all models, and wireless Bluetooth connectivity standard on Touring and Grand Touring models. The six-speaker sound system sounded very good when the volume was cranked up.
The Mazda5 suspension is conventional, with MacPherson struts in front and a multi-link setup in the rear. The ride is relatively flat through the corners. Quicker-acting shock absorbers and effective brake and throttle action help make the Mazda5 fun and comfortable to drive with some spirit.
Steering uses a combination of electric and hydraulic assist, and it feels connected to the tires and the road. Brakes are four-wheel discs and offer confident stopping power.
The Mazda5 is a unique vehicle that offers the sliding doors of a minivan and the versatility of a wagon, in a smaller package. Drivers get a more sporty feel than in any conventional minivan.
Jim McCraw reported from Coronado, California, with Laura Burstein reporting from Los Angeles.