First Drive

2012 Mazda5

New Mazda "mini" van boasts new looks and more utility

2012 Mazda5

What has been a two-vehicle segment is about to double. The Mazda5 and Kia Rondo have had the “mini” van – as opposed to the  minivan – segment to themselves. But within the next year or so, they will be joined by competition from General Motors (Orlando) and Ford (C-Max). In anticipation, Mazda has given the “5” a mild makeover to keep it fresh.

The2012 Mazda5 has been re-skinned inside and out and it gets a new engine. The refreshed exterior starts with the front end where the grille now follows the look used across the Mazda family. While this alone would have been enough to set the new apart from the old, the side view is even more distinctive and indicative of the company’s forth-coming “Nagare” design theme which will be seen on all replacement models going forward. 

Nagare can be translated into “flow”and the design studio is using that theme to show what happens when the wind blows over sand or an object is dropped into water. The result is a series of waves flowing outward from the starting point.In the new Mazda5 that point starts at the front wheels and the waves flow rearward into the tail lights. The sculpted side panels are a pleasant upgrade from the flat forms used previously.

On the inside the Mazda5 gets new looks and even more utility. Soft touch materialshave replaced hard plastic in most instances. A pair of hooded,well-lit and highly visible instrument pods imparts all the vital information. There are some nice detail touches like the stitching onvarious leather surfaces and chrome is used tastefully for accents from one front door panel across the instrument panel to the other door.

The “5” continues to offer three rows of seats as standardequipment. Granted the third row may be pretty small and unsuited to adults,but it is there for those occasions when you need to put a few more bodiesaboard for a short trip. There is even some room for grocery bags behind thethird seat.

Mazda has put special emphasis on the middle row seats withplenty of head, leg and shoulder room for adults of any size, as is the casefor the front buckets. The seats are split and either or both can be foldedflat with the pull of a single lever. Unlike many others, there is no need toremove the head restraints as they fold out of the way and back up whenneeded. 

The third seat is also split leaving a myriad ofpeople/cargo combinations. Youngsters listening to loud music or games? Putthem in the third row, fold the second for a giant cargo area and you’ve got abuffer zone. They will probably appreciate it too!

They don’t get along with one another in closed quarters?Put one in the second row and one in the third, on the same or opposite sides.You get the idea.

There are storage areas aplenty including a couple roomyones hidden under the rear seat bottoms in some trim levels. Pull them up asyou get ready to leave the vehicle and you can store bags, purses, cameras,laptops of other valuables out of sight.

Unlike the Rondo, the Mazda5 features sliding side doors,which to me are preferable to traditional hinges and opening system becausethey allow access in tight quarters. With a hinged door big enough to permitaccess to the third row, you need a long door and a lot of space beside thevehicle in which to open it. A sliding door allows far easier access in eventight quarters.

The previous version of the “5” also had sliding doors butthe engineers played with weights, springs and the like so those on the newMazda open and close with far less pressure. Entry and exit from first andsecond row seats is a breeze and visibility exemplary.

The “5” sits lower to the ground than the larger minivansso does not require a lift to get you in and out. Yet it manages to provide thetall seating position and resultant viewpoint of the larger vans.

In addition to the updated styling the other good news isthe arrival of a new engine – the same 2.5-litre four used throughout the restof the Mazda line and in some Ford and Volvo vehicles. Developed by Mazda, itbrings more power and torque to the vehicle – four hp and 15 lb-ft of torque.

Those increases are made more impressive because the new“5” is lighter than the old so there’s less to pull around. This is afront-drive vehicle and power gets there through a five-speed manual orsix-speed automatic. My test vehicle had the manual gearbox and there wasplenty of oomph for acceleration, passing and climbing long hills. 

Want some more good news? The price of the new is less thanthe old as well. The 2012 Mazda5 is available in GS or GT trim. There is nolonger a price-leading base model. It has been dropped.

At $21,795, the GS includes ABS, electronic stabilitycontrol, traction control, six air bags, 16-inch alloy wheels, power mirrors,windows and door locks, air conditioning, four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio withauxiliary input, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, remote keyless entry andone-touch up/down driver’s window.

Mazda expects this to be the volume seller when equippedwith the $895 convenience package which adds a Bluetooth hands-free phonesystem with music streaming capability and steering wheel-mounted cruise andaudio controls.

The $24,395 GT adds 17-inch alloy wheels, HID headlights,satellite radio, heated cloth seats and some trim items. A $1,790 luxurypackage adds leather seats and a power moon roof.

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