2012 Mazda5 – Click above for high resolution image gallery
In 1983, Chrysler shocked the world with the introduction of the Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager. Upstart family carriers have taken the auto industry by storm, establishing themselves at the heart of station wagon sales while paving the way for Chrysler to own the minivan segment for decades to come. But this segment has evolved in recent years, leading to a redefinition of family transport.
First off, the minivan has seen a growth spurt fueled by HGH, adding a host of great features like a second sliding door and ridiculously handy storage options along the way. The other big development has been a rising tide of SUVs and crossovers, which has diverted consumers’ attention from minivans to the point that many automakers don’t even offer them anymore. But as the suddenly brand new or heavily refreshed batch of American minivans (see: Nissan Quest, Toyota Sienna, and Honda Odyssey) illustrates, many automakers have responded by turning the mundane minivan into the automotive equivalent of a family spa day. These new vans offer levels of comfort and convenience close to luxury, and it’s not at all uncommon for them to fetch $ 40,000 or more.
If you can afford their monthly payments, the latest minivans on the market will likely be perfect for your needs. But what if you want something small, efficient, and perhaps most importantly, inexpensive? Something more like the original caravan? Right now, there is only one choice on the market: the 2012 Mazda5. As the rest of the auto industry zigzagged with larger and more opulent choices, automaker Zoom-Zoom zigzagged. with a van almost the size of the original trailer, and with a price starting under $ 20,000. We took the reins of a well-equipped 2012 Mazda5 Touring to see if Mazda’s nifty little van has what it takes to take on the big guys.
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Pictures copyright Â© 2011 Chris Shunk / AOL
When you compare the Mazda5 to the behemoths that dominate the minivan segment, it’s easy to see why we categorize it as a minivan. But in reality, the 5 is five inches longer (and one inch narrower) than the original Dodge Caravan. What a difference 28 years make.
The Mazda5 has gone through its existence in America with very little fanfare and a professional attitude. When the model was introduced in 2005 as a 2006 model, Mazda was not interested in providing volume forecasts and marketing dollars were scarce. And who can dispute this logic? At the time, all the evidence indicated that the Americans were not looking to downsize. But the Mazda5 has gradually gained momentum due to its unique packaging, fun-to-drive behavior, and affordability. Mazda hopes to build on that momentum, slow as it gets, with a freshly reworked 5, complete with a completely redesigned exterior inspired by Mazda’s recently denied Nagare design language.
Mazda says the Mazda5 was designed “as a single drop of water with ripples intentionally left on the surface, so that the lines of the body express the flow of motion.” It sounds whimsical and looks good to us, although we expect the changes to be controversial among longtime Mazda5 fans. The most recognizable execution of the Nagare theme begins with the front wheel arch sheet metal twisting and swirling past the van’s sliding doors. Mazda has queued more than Nagare up front, with an expressive and elegantly stamped hood that blends in nicely with Mazda’s Prozac-infused happy-face grille. The headlamps have also been changed, although the peepers coming out of the 5 were already quite modern. At the rear, Mazda decided to move away from the vertical D-pillar-mounted taillights in favor of more traditional horizontal units under the rear window.
The interior of the Mazda5 has also been spiced up with some of the fluid design that now adorns the MPV’s exterior, though shock and awe are relegated to the dashboard. Gone are the cold and lifeless straight lines of the outgoing model in favor of a more curved cockpit that envelops the driver. The last Mazda5 featured an information center atop the center console. The glorified on-board computer remains for 2012, but Mazda designers have managed to incorporate the unit into the dashboard with a Honda Civic double-hood look. The change better integrates the display with the center console, but we add that the information center now appears to be even further away from the driver. This makes the text more difficult to read, especially since it is rendered in red. The steering wheel has also been given a makeover, although the easy-to-navigate redundant buttons remain unchanged.
But while the 5’s dashboard redesign looks like a step in the right direction, the hard plastics remain. Sure, we would have loved the soft-touch materials, but with a starting price under $ 20,000, we weren’t expecting plush stretches.
Mazda’s 2+ 2 + 2 arrangement is largely a postponement affair. This is a clear example of the mantra “If it ain’t broke”. We managed to accommodate four adults and two growing children in the cabin without too many issues, although sufficient adult legroom can be a challenge, especially in the second row. The leather front-row seats on our $ 24,670 test Grand Touring were comfortable and reasonably well bolstered, although we would have preferred heated seats with more options than ‘turn off’ and ‘burn your butt in 30’. seconds or less â. And if you’re looking to buy a 2012 Mazda5 and want a navigation system, you’ll need to look to the aftermarket. In an odd move, Mazda struck satellite navigation off the options list for 2012, likely due to low turnout.
Filling the 5 with people drastically limits storage space, a problem Mazda attempted to address with shallow and generally inefficient storage under the second row seats. We can’t help but scratch our heads and wonder why Mazda spent its engineering dollars to create a storage space that can only fit a few minifigures and a duffel bag made up of a mix of trails. Luckily, if you stow away the third row seats, you’re rewarded with 44.4 cubic feet of cargo space. Plus, with the second and third row seats flattened out, there’s enough storage capacity to carry as much cargo as the Mazda 5’s independent multi-link rear suspension can handle. Our test vehicle did not have power sliding doors or automatic tail lifts, but that was fine for us. Mazda instead decided to focus on openings that are light and easy to use – a smart move to reduce costs and weight.
Check out the Mazda 5’s Short Interior Tour for a closer look.
The Mazda5’s function-on-form approach to interior design makes sense given the minivan’s thrifty price tag, but the real challenge lies in designing “Zoom-Zoom” for a greater driving experience. Mazda started off with a new engine, replacing the 2.3-liter four-cylinder with a larger 2.5-liter mill. The new 2.5 manages 157 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 163 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. That’s only four more horsepower than the outgoing 2.3-liter engine, but torque increases by 15 lb-ft greater, and the engine is cleaner to start. And you can get the Mazda5 with a new six-speed manual transmission, although our test model has a five-speed black box. Drat.
The extra horsepower of the Mazda5 was not included to hide the extra weight. Laudably, the Mazda5 actually lost 22 pounds for 2012, with its base weight now at a reasonable 3,457 pounds. It’s lighter than many midsize sedans, and reduced weight and extra torque is felt when starting from a standstill. The 2012 Mazda5 is a bit more pungent than its predecessor, with a (still modest) 0-60 time of around nine seconds.
We love offline grunts, but the new oversized engine doesn’t give much love at highway speeds. Once in overdrive, the 5 struggles to get out of its own way, and we believe most buyers will rarely engage the manual shift option to shift into fourth gear while shifting, no matter how hard it is. works well. Efficiency-wise, the EPA rates the Mazda5 at 21 miles per gallon in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. If you think 28 mpg is exactly what the Honda Odyssey can handle with a much more powerful V6, you are absolutely right. But to hit 28 mpg, you’ll need to upgrade to the self-equipped six-speed Touring model, which STARTS at $ 40,755. That’s roughly the cost of two base Mazda5 models plus about six months of gasoline. And since we’re talking dinosaur juice, we got 24.3 mpg in a week of mixed driving, a number that would be hard to match with macrovans on the market.
More horsepower is good, but we are talking, after all, of a Mazda. This means that Zoom-Zoom engineering should beautify every aspect of driving and handling, even in a well-packed minivan. While we’re not prepared to call the Mazda5 an MX-5 Miata with seating for six, we can say it’s fun to launch it. Mazda could have saved money with a low-tech suspension setup, but instead the automaker skipped (*
rimshot*) for an independent rear multi-link configuration with stabilizer bar and coil springs. The suspension has increased the spring rates for 2012 and does a great job of keeping its cool, even pushing the big wagon hard on twisty roads. And it helps that the electronic steering is tight and centered. Braking is also improved, aided by transmission technology which downshifts to allow some engine braking.
It’s hard not to like the Mazda5. But the big question is whether the upcoming Ford C-Max, which has an impressive interior and clever 5 + 2 seats, will limit the appeal of the Mazda5. It’s possible, but then again, adding more entrances to the minivan space may actually attract more attention to the segment. Plus, with a redesign for 2012, the Mazda5 is downright better inside and out than it’s ever been. Add in a more powerful engine, improved driving dynamics, and a price that’s hard to ignore, and the Mazda5 is not only the reigning king of this minor segment, but the best family hauler for the under-20s.