2010 Mazda5 Road Test Review

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What they need to do, whoever "they" are, is to build a car that can haul like a minivan, is easy and fun to drive while still getting good fuel economy, and price it within reach of the average customer. That would be perfect. That's what they ought to do.

Have you had this conversation with yourself? Well, don't look now but the "they" you're looking for is Mazda, and the car you're looking for is the Mazda5. Five years after its Canadian introduction, I'm often surprised at how many of my active, stuff-carrying acquaintances who hate their minivans and SUVs are completely unfamiliar with Mazda's micro-minivan.

So for their benefit, and yours, let's introduce you all again.

Known as the Premacy in Japan, the Mazda5 looks at a glance like a 7/8ths scale minivan. The reduced size and weight translate to a much better drive on the road, however. The Mazda5 doesn't waddle (unless it's heavily loaded) and steps away from the traffic lights quite confidently without the benefit of a 300 horsepower engine. Fuel economy is very good considering this car can carry up to six passengers or over two thousand litres of cargo.

So is it a tall station wagon, or a short minivan? The dual sliding doors that allow access to the second and third row seats would suggest the latter. The Mazda5's sliders are kid-friendly, requiring very little effort to open and close, and they make it easy to get into the car in a tight parking lot as well. The one-box styling is attractive. The Mazda5 got a mild facelift for 2008, with a sloped nose and redesigned headlights and taillights. The larger grille is the centerpiece for a new front fascia and makes it clear that this car is a member of the Mazda family. At the rear, high-mounted taillights and a broad flat tailgate present a clean and modern aspect to the world. The tailgate raises high enough for six-footers to stand underneath. The uplevel GT model is set apart by LED taillights and 17-inch alloy wheels; 16-inch alloys are standard on GS models.

The Mazda5's interior is inviting and airy, in spite of its compact size. Materials have been improved; the comfortable front seats are upholstered in rich-feeling, wavy-pattered cloth, and ride at a "just-right" height. The trim has a more upscale look as well. The centre console and instrument panel are also freshened, with a redesigned center stack and electroluminescent gauges that make the Mazda5 feel a bit less like an economy car. The separate second-row seats flip into the floor and have storage cubbies underneath; second-row passengers also get air vents and fan-speed controls. The third row also folds flat. With all of the seats in place, the Mazda5 seats six and still has room for cargo behind the third-row seats. Fold the third row, and capacity goes up to 1,257 litres (44.4 cubic feet), and with all of the seats folded the Mazda5 can carry 2,008 litres (70.9 cubic feet), with space for objects up to 1,600 mm (63 inches) long.  Leather seats, an in-dash CD changer and a navigation system are available.  The second-row seats can fold separately, offering even more flexibility.

The secret to this spacious interior lies underneath the Mazda5. A low-profile fuel tank and low-rise rear suspension allow for a convenient step-in height that allows the Mazda5 to make the most of its high roof. Additionally, the stepped floor improves legroom for all three rows.

All of this versatility, and decent fuel economy too? It's the truth. Thank the 2.3-litre four-cylinder, which is shared with just about every other car in Mazda's lineup and makes 153 horsepower. On paper that's merely adequate and nothing to write home about, but eye-popping acceleration is clearly not what the Mazda5 is about. The all-aluminum DOHC engine goes about its business pleasantly, and that's what's important--that, and the 11.2 L/100 km city / 8.7 highway EPA-equivalent estimated fuel economy; FYI, more optimistic Canadian estimates rate it at 9.6 L/100km city and 7.0 highway. The 148 pound-feet of torque on hand is enough to get this little do-all up to speed without drama, and freeway onramps can be tackled with relative confidence. A choice of five-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmissions is offered. The five-speed automatic is new, and improves the Mazda5's previously questionable freeway manners with a more relaxed drive.

The question of what exactly the Mazda5 is arises again on the road, because it definitely doesn't handle like a minivan. The suspension is fully independent, with anti-roll bars front and rear, and rack-and-pinion steering that's precise and responsive. The Mazda5 turns in confidently and responds favourably to mildly aggressive driving. It's as adept at carving a path through rush-hour traffic as any subcompact. Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control are standard equipment. It's not exactly what you'd call sporty, but it's definitely cheerful; hauling things need not be a joyless experience. Front and rear antilock disc brakes mean that the Mazda5 doesn't get the runaway-train feeling under hard braking that many minivan and SUV owners are used to.

As fuel prices rise, little do-alls like the Mazda5 are likely to grow in popularity. Not very many vehicles can haul like a minivan or SUV yet drive and sip fuel like a compact car, after all. Not many vehicles start at $20,495, either. The well-equipped Mazda5 GT starts at $24,295.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Minivan, Mazda, 2010, Mazda5, $20,000 - $29,999, Compact,

Organizations: Mazda

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