In the United States, unlike elsewhere in the world, there isn’t much to choose from for those who need seats for more than five people but don’t want to give up the handling of a compact car. Kia tried the segment, but pulled the Rondo out of the US market a few years ago. Chevrolet has chosen not to even test the waters with the Orlando. Mazda therefore currently has the segment on its own. But the Ford C-Max is coming in less than a year. Does the revised 2012 Mazda5 have what it takes to fend off the challenger?
The revised Mazda5 retains its 9/10 scale minivan shape and dimensions, but the previously simple, clean coating is gone. A more bulbous nose sports a big grin and wing arches similar to those of the related Mazda3 sedan and hatchback. The sides now have stamped waves, the first (and possibly also the last) production achievement of Mazda’s “Nagare” design language. These waves flow along the sliding door tracks into the taillights which are now horizontal and conventionally located rather than vertical and located in the D-pillars. The blackened glass resides in the old taillight location. To me, the older Mazda5 and the C-Max are both more attractive, but the exterior styling of the 2012 Mazda5 is bolder and certainly the most likely to stand out.
The revised Mazda5 also features a more stylish interior, but with more restraint than in the current Mazda3. This is partly a good thing: only the hood on the instruments, which goes up to point, seems overdone. The instrument pods protect them from glare, so this hood is not only unnecessarily sharp, it is also unnecessary. An attractive high-end detail: red piping and stitching on the black leather seats of the Grand Touring. But the eye of a designer is still needed elsewhere. The door panels remain too flat and simple, and the center console looks like a cheap aftermarket accessory rather than a factory part. Some hard black plastics manage not to look cheap, but not the ones that cover much of the 2012 Mazda5’s interior. Overall, the C-Max’s interior is more attractive and better laid out. , even if he may be too stylish [Ed: see images in gallery to judge for yourself].
Functional side, the Mazda5 regains points, with one exception. Both vehicles have sliding doors, so no need to worry about children ringing the bell for neighboring cars in the parking lots. Door openers are not available, but doors open and close so easily that they are hardly needed. From the driver’s seat, both look more like a car than a crossover, but the Mazda’s driving position is better than that of the C-Max, with a more unobstructed view of a less imposing dashboard. The front seats are comfortable in both vehicles, although those in the Mazda are better reinforced. The Mazda’s second row buckets would be almost as comfortable as the front ones if they weren’t a bit too low off the floor. Fords are flatter and have unusually low seatbacks – their headrests should be raised about a foot for adult use.
The third row seats in both vans are tiny and very low to the ground. In the Mazda, adults up to about 5’10 “will fit in a literal pinch, their knees against the back of the second row seat and their head brushing the headliner. A little knee room can help. be cleared by moving the second row seats forward an inch or two, and there’s enough room to do so – Mazda claims 39.4 inches of second row legroom, magically up 4.2 inches from the seemingly similar 2010 and almost as much as the first row. Ford’s third row is even more rudimentary, to the point that Ford is touting it as a 5 + 2-seater rather than a Sleeps 7. The difference is only an inch or two, but when you are close to the minimum an extra inch or two can be the difference between fit and non-fit Pre-teen kids? They’ll fit in. well in one or the other.
In the Mazda, rear ventilation is managed by a two-speed fan blowing through vents located on the rear side of the center console. The air through these vents isn’t as cold as that through the front vents, and location is less efficient than a full rear HVAC system with overhead vents, but it’s better than nothing.
In the Mazda, there is just enough space behind the third row to hold a single row of grocery bags. In the Ford, there is less cargo volume (specs only claim three cubic feet, compared to 11.3 in the Mazda) and the cargo floor is higher. Grocery bags will need to be turned over to run the full width of the vehicle, so only about half will fit. In both vehicles, the head restraints must be lowered before folding the seats, this does not happen automatically. The front passenger seat also does not fold down to extend cargo space all the way to the dashboard. While that would have been a useful feature, the way the second row seats fold down prevents it.
So you’re more likely to be able to fit kids in both rows AND run a grocery run in the Mazda. But hit the road for a trip and the third seat will need to be folded down to make room for luggage in either. Here the C-Max has an advantage for families with three children. Tucked away in the right second row bucket is a center seat, so it is possible to seat three children in the second row. Mazda offers a similar seat in the Mazda5 overseas, but in the United States there is only a drop-top table. So if you sometimes want to seat seven people and five more luggage, the C-Max is the only option.
I haven’t driven the C-Max yet, but have driven the 2012 Focus it is based on. Even though the C-Max drives just as well as the Focus, and the extra weight and height of the van will likely take its toll, the Mazda5 has some obvious driving advantages.
Both vans are powered by 2.5-liter four-cylinder engines, good for 157 horsepower in the Mazda and 168 in the C-Max. (A 168-horsepower 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder will also be offered as a more efficient option in the Ford.) Torque differs less, 163 versus 167 foot-pounds. The Ford’s power advantage should be more than offset by its additional curb weight, 3,743 to 3,457 pounds. While the Mazda5’s power-to-weight ratio isn’t promising, in town its acceleration is easily sufficient with the five-speed automatic. It helps that the automatic almost always selects the correct gear. It is possible to manually shift the transmission, but this is seldom necessary, even in spirited driving. A six-speed manual transmission is only available in the Mazda, if only in its base version. When it’s time to stop, the Mazda’s brakes are reassuringly firm and linear.
The Mazda’s on-board computer reported a low 20 in suburban driving and a high 20 in the highway – cracking 30 requires a healthy tail wind. The EPA reports 21 cities, 28 highways. The new Honda Odyssey, a much larger vehicle, matches the latter figure. In Mazda’s defense, a new family of much more efficient engines is on the way. The C-Max will likely do much the same with its base engine, with a sixth gear in its conventional automatic offsetting its extra mass, while Ford is aiming for 30 on the highway with the turbo.
The Mazda has its greatest advantage when the road turns. The feedback through its steering and the seat of its pants is about as good as in the Mazda3, and therefore much better than in the vast majority of cars sold today, including the 2012 Ford Focus. You can distinctly smell the tires. before sculpting their line. The Mazda5 also feels more agile and responsive than most compact hatchbacks despite its curb weight of around 3,500 pounds. Tilt and body movements are well controlled and precise vehicle placement quickly becomes second nature. Of the three-row vehicles offered in the United States, this is by far the most attractive and fun to drive on a twisty road. At 70+ on the highway, however, the steering can feel jittery and the long sides of the body are sensitive to crosswinds – the Mazda5 is more in its element at low speeds. The ride is firm and a little loaded at times, but is generally still comfortable. Noise levels are moderate.
Judging by the Focus, the C-Max will feel bigger, heavier, and less agile. It will probably work well, but won’t be as engaging or fun. On the other hand, it will probably drive quieter and more comfortably than the Mazda.
It’s too early to discuss reliability for 2012. But the first-generation Mazda5 suffered a few suspension issues, according to responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. Maybe the parts based on those from the Mazda3 weren’t upgraded enough to handle the extra pounds of the 5? Rust is also a common problem at Mazda where the roads are salty, and the Mazda5 is no exception.
The Mazda5’s price is up about $ 900 with the redesign, but remains low for a three-row vehicle. The base trim costs $ 19,990, while the leather-trimmed Grand Touring costs $ 24,670. A Honda Odyssey EX-L costs over $ 7,000 more, even after adjusting $ 3,000 for its additional features (using the Car Price Comparison Tool). Compact SUVs with third row seats are priced closer, but still much higher. The cheapest of these, the Mitsubishi Outlander SE, costs about $ 1,000 more, while the Toyota RAV4 costs about $ 2,800 more before adjusting for differences in specs and about $ 4,100 more per. the suite (mainly because leather is not available with the optional third row). The real competitor will of course be the C-Max. Pricing has not been announced, but judging by the related Focus, it should be under $ 500 that of the Mazda5.
The Mazda5 and (soon) Ford C-Max offer viable solutions for people who need three rows of seats, but don’t want the bulk (and higher price tag) that usually comes with them. The Ford has less controversial styling, premium materials, and (likely) a smoother, quieter ride. Families with three children will also appreciate the fold-out seventh seat. The Mazda includes a little more room for rear passengers and cargo and should retain its title as the best three-row passenger transporter. It is also the only vehicle of its type still offered with a manual transmission in the United States. While the C-Max will be more likely to appeal to mainstream car buyers, the Mazda5 should remain the choice of enthusiasts.
Mazda provided the vehicle, insurance, and a gas tank for this review.
Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source for automotive pricing and reliability data.