2012 Mazda5 minivan
Some people call the Mazda5 a station wagon. Others say it’s a sport wagon.
But a minivan by any other name is still a minivan.
Despite the opprobrium that has been heaped upon minivans over the last few years, for reasons known only to the heapers, the minivan in is still the most useful vehicle on the planet. It is unsurpassed in its amalgamation of passenger and cargo space, handling and fuel economy.
Although it dates its origins to the Volkswagen Microbus of the 1960s, which VW is planning to re-introduce, the modern minivan was invented by Chrysler in 1984 and became wildly popular.
Predictably, other manufacturers jumped into the fray. Soon there were at least a dozen nameplates. But as the bloom faded, half of them—even one from Mazda—disappeared from the market.Then the company pulled a surprise with the 2005 Mazda5. By then, the minivan competitors had relentlessly grown in size, to the point where today the minivans from Chrysler, Honda, Dodge and Toyota are nearly 17 feet long with interior volumes of around 200 cubic feet.
By those standards, the smaller Mazda5 initially was described as a mini-minivan. But as the Mazda folks pointed out at the introduction of the redesigned 2012 model, the new 5 is five inches longer than the original 1985 Dodge Caravan.
In its half-dozen years on the market, the 5 has been a niche vehicle, appealing to older empty nesters as well as small families. Its sales peaked at 22,021 in 2008 and declined to 15,683 in 2010. Tetsu Nakozawa, the 5’s vehicle line manager, calls it “our hidden gem.”
So it was time for something fresh. Enter the 2012 model with striking new flow-around styling. “We wanted a unique, emotional style,” Nakozawa said.
It is that. The curves and indentations get you cross-eyed at first but they become more sensuous the longer you look. They are more attractive with the lighter colors and tend to melt away on the darker-colored vehicles.
The rear view also has been redone. It, too, is better looking than its predecessor, although it comes across as more generic. The previous model had distinctive red and white taillights in the aft pillars that gave the 5 a vertical look while the 2012 model, with its horizontal lights, looks lower and wider.Inside, the new 5 has about the same room as its predecessor and follows its successful seating and cargo arrangement, which has two bucket seats in each of the first two rows and separate bench seats in the third row.
It’s a great setup. If you keep the third row folded, you have about the same passenger space for four people as a mid-size sedan, with 28 cubic feet of cargo space. Flip the third-row seats up and you can even carry a couple of complaining adults back there as long as the second-row passengers are willing to give up some knee room. But the cargo space drops to about six cubic feet.
In the first two rows, comfort and support are middling. Although the seats do not have generous proportions, they hold up for long distances. In both the first and second rows, there are elbow supports on both sides of each seat, correcting the original 5’s shortage of armrests.
The 5 has a few interior shortcomings. There is no center console; just a couple of cup holders and a small open bin. The sun visors do not slide on their support rods to block sunshine from the side. Speaking of sliding, the 5’s manual sliding rear doors are slick and child-friendly.
The 2012 Mazda5 is slightly less sporty than the earlier model. Mazda’s engineers increased body stiffness but played with the suspension system to minimize abrupt passenger reactions that happen in quick changes of direction.
It works well. The 5 rides and feels softer in transient responses around curves but still tracks well on whatever line the driver chooses as long as the speed is reasonable.Power is provided by a 157-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that drives the front wheels through either a new six-speed manual gearbox or a five-speed automatic transmission. The combination delivers decent acceleration and fuel economy of 21/28 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s city/highway cycle.
There are three choices. A base model, called the Sport, starts at $20,785 and is uncommonly well equipped with full safety equipment, including side-curtain air bags, traction and stability control; 16-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, cruise control, and a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel. It is the only version available with the six-speed manual but Mazda expects only about 5% of the customers will elect to shift for themselves.
The other two models are the Touring, at $21,990, and the top-of-the-line Grand Touring at $24,670, which features such amenities as Sirius satellite radio, a motorized glass sunroof and leather upholstery.
The test car was the mid-level Touring, which had a price tag of $21,990 and, with a sunroof and six-disc in-dash CD changer, checked in at $23,180. That’s about half the price of a top-of-the-line Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna.