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BY Sherrice Gilsbach | autoweek.com
Summary: The Mazda 5 is a very utilitarian and accommodating car with unique exterior styling you will either love or hate.
What is it?
The Mazda 5 is the only compact van with seating for six available in the United Sates. The Ford C-Max was originally intended to offer seating for six too — just as its European counterpart does — but somewhere along the route across the sea, it lost the third row. Chevy also hinted at offering its own six-passenger compact in the Orlando. Sadly, it too was ditched for the United States despite being available in Canada.
What consumers will like about the Mazda 5 is the flexibility of three-row seating for up to six passengers when needed, but when the third row is folded flat — voilà!– plenty of cargo space.
For power, the Mazda 5 depends on a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 157 hp — not super peppy, but remember this car only weighs 3,500 pounds. Our test vehicle came with a five-speed automatic transmission, but a six-speed manual transmission is standard on the base model. There are three available trim levels including Sport, Touring and the Grand Touring we tested. A base Sport model carries a sticker price of $20,420 including destination charges.
What’s it like to live with?
Thanks to the flexibility of seating arrangements, the Mazda 5 is kind of like the Swiss Army knife of cars. Say you’re single — or perhaps a couple without children — the Mazda 5 will seat two adults comfortably in captain’s chairs (i.e., they have their own arm rests) while supplying space for up two adult passengers in the second row. With the third row folded flat, the single person or couple will have tons of cargo space at their disposal for suitcases and other travel/camping equipment, sports paraphernalia, shopping (including picking up larger antique store finds) trips, or even a large passenger of the canine variety.
Families with one or two children will enjoy the second-row captain’s chairs that accommodate car seats easily and keep a nice barrier of space between siblings. When play dates arise, pop up the third row, and you suddenly have room for two more. Older children are also drawn to the third row, perhaps to get away from their parents. Whatever their intent, moving the short-legged creatures to the third row frees up the second-row chairs in order for take Grandma and Grandpa along for the ride.
All passengers will also appreciate the pop-up tray that is stored discreetly beneath a second-row seat cushion. The tray top pulls up and out and sets between the two seats in row two. What’s more, the second-row seating also offers under-seat storage for whatever you need to keep in the car at all times (extra diapers, Handi Wipes, snacks, leash and water bowl for the dog, pen and paper, maps — whatever).
Performance may be the downside to the Mazda 5 for some who prefer more horsepower. When fully loaded with passengers or gear, the Mazda 5 does begin to feel sluggish. Since its proportions are tall and narrower, wind also has a significant impact on this Mazda’s performance. Our editors agree that this model doesn’t meet Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” reputation as well as the rest of its lineup.
All of that said, if you tend to like the nimble performance of a smallish hatchback, you will be perfectly happy with this one. Thanks to its size, no other six-passenger car can attain the fuel economy the Mazda 5 does, while maneuvering through city streets and crowded parking lots becomes delightful rather than frightful.
At this point, you might well be thinking the Mazda 5 is the car for you on paper, but have you seen the car? One editor described it best when he wrote, “It’s different for sure, but it’s sort of like a Mazda hatch melted over the chassis of a minivan.” We don’t think the exterior of the Mazda 5 has ever been described as beautiful or stunning. Other adjectives come to mind such as odd, awkward and alien. Strange as it may be though, the ever-accommodating Mazda 5 still offers two sliding doors and an auto-cargo door to make everyone’s day a little easier.
Just about anyone could find the Mazda 5 efficiently utilitarian in the least. Budget-conscious families with two or three children will be the primary buyers of the Mazda 5, although it should also appeal to drivers who need space and passenger capacity but hate the driving dynamics of large minivans and SUVs.
What other cars should I consider?
As we stated in the introduction, the Mazda 5 doesn’t really have any direct competitors. Sure you could compare it to any of the minivans, in which case the minivans will win out in the interior-volume category every time. Likewise, new minivans will also be more expensive and likely less fuel efficient.
There are also the small SUVs to contend with, including the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Chevrolet Equinox and Toyota RAV4. These don’t offer seating for six or the third row, but they are all similar in price. Some of these offer more power, and the 2013 Ford Escape will give Mazda 5 a run for its money with carlike drive feel.
Base price: $24,670; As-tested: $24,720
Engine: 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine
Drivetrain: FWD, five-speed automatic
EPA mileage (city/highway/combined): 21/28/24 mpg
Curb weight: 3,457 lb
Horsepower: 157 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 163 @ 4,000 rpm
Options: Our test vehicle was the top-of-the-line Grand Touring trim level in which features optional on lower trims were included such as: heated front seats, leather upholstered seating, rain-sensing windshield wipers, heated exterior mirrors, xenon headlights and Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio controls.
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