By on June 1, 2011

In the United States, unlike elsewhere in the world, there aren’t many choices for those who need seating for more than five people but who don’t want to give up the maneuverability of a compact car. Kia gave the segment a go, but withdrew the Rondo from the U.S. market a couple of years ago. Chevrolet has opted to not even test the waters with the Orlando. So Mazda currently has the segment to itself. But the Ford C-Max arrives 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 clean, simple surfacing is gone. A more bulbous nose sports a big grin and fender arches similar to those on the related Mazda3 sedan and hatchback. The sides now have waves stamped into them, the first (and possibly also the last) production embodiment of Mazda’s “Nagare” design language. These waves flow along the tracks for the sliding doors into taillights that are now horizontal and conventionally located rather than vertical and located in the D-pillars. Blacked-out glass resides in the taillights’ former location. To my eye the previous Mazda5 and the C-Max are both more attractive, but the 2012 Mazda5’s exterior styling is gutsier and certainly the most likely to get noticed.

The revised Mazda5 also includes a more highly styled interior, though with more restraint than in the current Mazda3. This is partly a good thing: only the hood over the instruments, which rises to form a point, seems overdone. The instruments’ nacelles shield them from glare, so this hood isn’t only pointlessly pointy—it’s also unnecessary. One appealing upscale detail: red piping and stitching on the Grand Touring’s black leather seats. But the eye of a designer remains needed elsewhere. The door panels remain too flat and too plain and the center console looks like a cheap aftermarket accessory rather than a factory part. Some hard black plastic manages to not look cheap, but not the stuff that covers much of the 2012 Mazda5’s interior. On the whole, the C-Max’s interior is more attractive and better appointed, if perhaps overly styled [Ed: see images in gallery to judge for yourself].

In terms of functionality, the Mazda5 wins back some points—with one major exception. Both vehicles have sliding doors, so no need to worry about the kids dinging neighboring cars in parking lots. Power openers aren’t available, but the doors open and close so easily that these are hardly necessary. From the driver’s seat both seem more like a car than a crossover, but the Mazda’s driving position is better than the C-Max’s, with a more open view over a less imposing instrument panel. The front seats are comfortable in both vehicles, though the Mazda’s are better bolstered. The Mazda’s second-row buckets would be almost as comfortable as those up front if they weren’t a little too low to the floor. The Ford’s are flatter and have unusually low seatbacks—their headrests must be raised about a foot for adult use.

The third-row seats in both microvans are tiny and very low to the floor. In the Mazda, adults up to about 5’10” will fit in a literal pinch, knees against the second-row seatback and head brushing the headliner. Some knee room can be opened up by shifting the second-row seats forward an inch or two, and there is enough room to do this—Mazda claims 39.4 inches of second-row legroom, magically up 4.2 inches from the seemingly similar 2010 and nearly as much as in the first row. The Ford’s third row is even more rudimentary, to the point where Ford is billing it as a 5+2-seater rather than a 7-seater. The difference is just an inch or two, but when you’re near the minimum an extra inch or two can mean the difference between people fitting and not fitting. Pre-teen kids? They’ll fit fine in either.

In the Mazda, rear ventilation is handled a two-speed fan blowing through vents in the rear face of the center console. The air through these vents isn’t as cold as that through the front vents, and the location is less effective than a complete rear HVAC system with vents in the ceiling, but it’s better than nothing.

In the Mazda, there’s just enough space behind the third row to fit a single row of grocery bags. In the Ford, there’s less cargo volume (the specs claim only three cubic feet, vs. 11.3 in the Mazda) and the load floor is higher. Grocery bags will have to be turned to run across the width of the vehicle, so only about half as many will fit. In both vehicles the headrests must be lowered before folding the seats—this doesn’t happen automatically. In neither does the front passenger seat fold to extend cargo space all the way to the instrument panel. While this would have been a useful feature, the way the second row seats fold precludes it.

So, you’re more likely to be able to put kids in both rows AND make a grocery run in the Mazda. But hit the road for a trip and the third seat will have to be folded to make way for luggage in either. Here the C-Max has an advantage for families with three kids. Tucked within the right second-row bucket is a center seat, so it’s possible to seat three kids in the second row. Mazda offers a similar seat in the Mazda5 overseas, but in the United States there’s only a fold-out tray table. So if you want to seat seven people sometimes and five plus luggage at others, the C-Max is the only option.

I have not yet driven the C-Max, but I have driven the 2012 Focus on which it is based. Even if the C-Max drives as well as the Focus, and the microvan’s additional weight and height will likely take their toll, the Mazda5 has some clear driving advantages.

Both microvans 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 turbocharged 1.6-liter four will also be offered as a more efficient option in the Ford.) Torque differs less, 163 vs. 167 foot-pounds. The Ford’s power advantage should more than be canceled out by its additional curb weight, 3,743 vs. 3,457 pounds. Though the Mazda5’s power-to-weight ratio isn’t promising, around town its acceleration is easily adequate with the five-speed automatic. It helps that the automatic almost always selects the appropriate gear. It’s possible to manually shift the transmission, but this is rarely necessary, even in spirited driving. A six-speed manual is available only in the Mazda, if only in its base trim. When it’s time to stop, the Mazda’s brakes feel reassuringly firm and linear.

The Mazda’s trip computer reported low twenties in suburban driving and high twenties on the highway—cracking 30 requires a healthy tail wind. The EPA reports 21 city, 28 highway. The new Honda Odyssey, a much larger vehicle, matches the latter figure. In Mazda’s defense, it does have a new family of much more efficient engines on the way. The C-Max will likely do about the same with its base engine, a sixth gear in its conventional automatic compensating for its additional mass, while Ford is aiming for 30 on the highway with the turbo.

The Mazda carves out its largest advantage when the road curves. Feedback through its steering and the seat of one’s pants is just about as good as in the Mazda3, and so quite a bit better than in the great majority of cars sold today, including the 2012 Ford Focus. You can distinctly feel the front tires carving their line. The Mazda5 similarly feels more agile and responsive than most compact hatches despite its roughly 3,500-pound curb weight. Lean and body motions are well-controlled, and precisely placing the vehicle quickly becomes second nature. Of the three-row vehicles offered in the U.S., it’s easily the most engaging and most fun-to-drive on a twisty road. At 70+ on the highway, though, the steering can feel twitchy and the tall bodysides are sensitive to crosswinds–the Mazda5 is more in its element at lower speeds. The ride is firm and at times a touch busy, but still generally comfortable. Noise levels are moderate.

Judging from the Focus, the C-Max will feel larger, heavier, and less agile. It will likely handle well, but won’t be nearly as engaging or as fun. On the other hand, it will probably ride more quietly and cushily than the Mazda.

It’s too soon to discuss reliability for either 2012. But the first generation Mazda5 suffered from quite a few suspension problems, based on responses to TrueDelta’s Car Reliability Survey. Perhaps parts based on those for the Mazda3 were not sufficiently upgraded to handle the 5’s extra pounds? Rust is also a common problem with Mazda’s where the roads are salted, and the Mazda5 has been no exception.

The Mazda5’s pricing is up about $900 with the redesign, but remains low for a three-row vehicle. The base trim lists for $19,990, while the leather-trimmed Grand Touring lists for $24,670. A Honda Odyssey EX-L is over $7,000 more even after a $3,000 adjustment for its additional features (using car price comparison tool). Compact SUVs with third row seats are closer in price, but still quite a big higher. The least expensive of these, the Mitsubishi Outlander SE, lists for about $1,000 more, while the Toyota RAV4 is about $2,800 higher before adjusting for feature differences and about $4,100 higher afterwards (chiefly because leather isn’t available with the optional third row). The real competitor will of course be the C-Max. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but judging from that of the related Focus it should be within $500 of the Mazda5’s.

Both the Mazda5 and (soon) the Ford C-Max provide viable solutions for people who need three rows of seating, but who don’t want the bulk (and higher price) that usually comes with them. The Ford has less controversial styling, higher grade materials, and (probably) a smoother, quieter ride. Families with three kids will also appreciate the stowable seventh seat. The Mazda includes a little more room for rear seat passengers and cargo and should retain its title as the best handling three-row people hauler. It’s also the only such vehicle still offered with a manual transmission in the U.S. So while the C-Max will be more likely to win over mainstream car buyers, the Mazda5 should remain the choice for enthusiasts.

Mazda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta, an online source of automotive pricing and reliability data.

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66 Comments on “Review: 2012 Mazda5...”


  • avatar
    red stick

    We had a last generation model as a rental for vacation in Massachusetts last year and thoroughly enjoyed it–just big enough for a small family, nimble, and decent mileage. Compared to the clean styling of that model this one, to me, looks hideous. And we did have one out-of-the-blue and rather loud clunk out of the rear suspension in our rental. Have they upgraded the suspension?

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I thoroughly enjoy owning our 2008 Mazda5. We also had (leased) an ’06 when one could get the Touring level with the manual transmission, but our ’08 is a GT auto. We’ve experienced no problems with ours.

    I just had four adults and two children in ours for a small family outing (grandparents in town) and it worked just fine. One child was in a large seat in the middle row so my wife sat in the rearmost seat with our 7 year old. The middle seat was just inched up a bit and there was no space shortage, though getting in and out of the rear seat is a bit tougher than in a larger van. Frankly, we rarely use the third row but having it in a pinch has come in very handy. We have carried five adults and luggage, folding one of the rearmost seats flat for luggage space. It isn’t all or nothing back there.

    When we hit 30k miles on the car I replaced the original tires and it made a huge difference in the freeway composure of the vehicle. The factory tires were fairly agressive, hard and very noisy on the freeway. The new tires, still speed-rated, but more of a grand-touring tire from Kumho, made the ride a bit nicer but made a HUGE difference in noise levels on the freeway. It’s like a new car. Frankly, I think Mazda’s choice of tires should be questioned and perhaps they made a change for the 2012 model. A few more pounds of noise-absorbing materials would also seem like a great trade-off.

    Otherwise, the Mazda5 has been the perfect vehicle for our family’s needs and I actually find it very pleasurable to drive.

    • 0 avatar

      The 2012 is quieter than I remember the early one being, but it has been a few years.

      I’ve weighed getting a Mazda5 myself a few times, but was told that packing luggage on one side of the third row while seating a person on the other side can be dangerous unless the luggage is somehow secured. I didn’t thoroughly investigate this, though.

      • 0 avatar
        redmondjp

        Any vehicle which doesn’t have a complete separate luggage compartment has this same safety issue, with respect to combining people and stuff in the same space. Minivans are no different, other than that the third-row seats provide some degree of protection in straight-line collisions. In a rollover, all bets are off, you’re in the washing machine spin cycle with everything not tied or bolted down inside the car!

    • 0 avatar
      SV

      I replaced the tires on my 2005 Mazda3 and noticed a huge difference as well, though I don’t think the old tires were the original type (I know 2 of them weren’t, having replaced them already). I still wouldn’t call it quiet, but it’s at least tolerable on the highway now.

  • avatar
    TEXN3

    The previous model is definitely better looking, only thing I like better on this one is the revised dash (no more ugly green lighting) and the “jump” seat. The seat could probably be installed in a previous generation 5.

  • avatar
    Russycle

    I rented a 5 a few years ago for a thousand-mile road trip, and I swear it got 35 mpg. I’ve never seen anyone else match that number, did I get my math wrong?

    I agree that the pointy cap on the instrument cluster is weird, and not in a good way, but I actually like the sculpting on the sides.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe you had a very strong tailwind the whole time? Or kept the speed under 60? I saw 30.8 for one highway segment, but only 24.6 on the return trip. Wind direction makes a difference. This was at 75 or so.

      • 0 avatar
        Russycle

        60-70 mph, and included a fair amount of climbing–sea level to Lake Tahoe. And it was a there-and-back, so equal climbing and descending. Only two of us with little luggage, so not the typical load for this vehicle.

  • avatar
    SV

    I still don’t understand how, in Europe (or the UK anyway), there’s a clear preference for Ford over Mazda in terms of driving dynamics, while in America it’s the other way around. While the Fiesta was changed for US sale the Focus and C-Max weren’t in any meaningful way so I guess it must be a matter of taste.

    I agree that the old 5 was more attractive – I always thought it was a really slick-looking car (minivan!), while the new one is quite a bit less dynamic, despite (or because of?) the wavy lines on the side. The C-Max isn’t quite as racy as the old 5 but I prefer it in terms of looks to the new one, especially inside.

    The C-Max being so much heavier than the 5 is odd, considering the Focus is ever so slightly lighter than the 3 (I remember noticing how high the C’s weight figures were when it first came out in Europe though, so this isn’t exactly a shocker). I also don’t understand why Ford is consistently offering less interior space than their competitors in every new car now. Personally, it’s not a concern and I’m more into the Focus/3 (which are pretty close in terms of legroom, etc. anyway) but for minivan buyers I’d think that would be a pretty big deal.

    It’ll be interesting to see how the Ford and Mazda compete in the marketplace. I’d wager that the Ford will sell better by a large margin, partly because of Ford’s much larger dealer network but also because the Mazda brand just seems to have no market presence at all.

    • 0 avatar
      njr

      Don’t know about Mazda in Europe, but Ford at least has had very differently tuned vehicles in Europe. The US Fiesta is similar, but the current Focus has been less well received in the UK because its handling takes a step back from the previous generation.

      • 0 avatar
        SV

        Most of the UK reviews I’ve read say the new Focus is still one of the best-handling cars in its class, just not by the margin it once enjoyed. Oddly enough the Mazda3 is generally considered rather dull over there.

        I don’t know, maybe in Europe there’s a different perception of what’s “fun to drive”.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    This car sorely needs two inches more front seat track travel. It’s a real pity; it’d be a much lighter alternative to the Sienna we did end up buying, and it’s not like our children need the second-row space anyway.

    The dealer I talked to actually went as far as to unbolt the seat on their service loaner to try to figure it out.

    ** if you’re in central/eastern Ontario, I highly recommend Bert Angevaare Mazda in Peterborough.

    • 0 avatar
      Steve B

      Amen. My ex-wife had a 2006 Sport MT. It was a very likeable little vanlet, but the front seat always left me hemmed in. There wasn’t room above the clutch pedal for my shoe, so I had to push it in with the tip of my toe, and I was always banging my knee on the largish steering column. The seat was pretty comfortable, with nice bolstering though, and the cargo space with all the seats down was magnificent. The interior sizing seemed to be tailored to a shorter driver (i.e. a woman), which makes sense for a minivan.

      It was mainly was first-year teething issues, but hers had some problems:

      – Doors would freeze open in the winter (you would try to close them, and instead of latching, they’d just bounce open). Had to use a hair-dryer to heat the latches enough to close.

      – There were several sharp edges on the plastic… I used a hobby knife to smoothe them out.

      – There was some very intrusive wind-noise from the B-pillar. it sounded like the window wasn’t closing all the way, but I could never find where any air or water were getting in.

      – There was something off in the DBW throttle or ECM. About once or twice a day, when shifting from 1-2 or 2-3, after reengaging the clutch and pushing in the throttle, the engine would lose power for about a second, and then violently lurch forward. Of course this was impossible for the dealer to reproduce.

      Agree with everyone on the earlier version. Yet another car succumbed to the Mazda Ugly Stick, and this is the worst one yet. I don’t think I’ve seen another Mazda where the Smiley grille is the most attractive angle! (Not that looks matter in a minivan, it’s all about utility anyway… maybe that’s where Mazda sends designers who are locked in by contract, but have proved dangerous to other models.

    • 0 avatar
      MattPete

      I still think that if, keeping everything otherwise the same, Mazda increased the width by 4 inches, the length by 4-8 inches (1-2 inches per compartment), and gave it 20 more hp, the 5 would be a hit in the US market.

      Even with those changes, the 5 would remain substantially smaller that it’s competitors. The added width (while keeping height the same) should benefit ride and handling while allowing the 2nd row to seat 3 instead of 2.

  • avatar
    Jimal

    This (or more specifically the cleaner earlier version) is on my short list to replace the Passat wagon my wife currently drives once she gets sick of that car. She misses the manual transmission and I know we need more room for kid stuff.

  • avatar
    minimo3

    We have an 08 Touring. Tons of fun to drive. I will intentionally pick it over the 3-series and Infiniti EX in the garage some of the time. The steering is just so direct and communicative. Its perfect for a family of 4. Main issues are the rear suspension (shocks and bushings wear out like crazy) and sliding doors (get stuck in cold weather and squeaky in summer)

    • 0 avatar
      MattPete

      We have 3-series and a Mazda5, and while my wife’s 5 is fun, it’s not nearly as fun as my 325i!

      As for shocks, her rear shocks blew out this past spring (08 Touring, 30k miles). I was wondering what the spots were in the garage — I thought that they were the AC dripping, but they never evaporated, and there was one under each rear wheel. We figured out what was wrong after it started acting like it had a live axle in back everytime we hit a bump.

      Apparently rear shocks are an issue. The dealer replaced them under warranty, but if they blow out again, I’ll replace them myself with respected aftermarket models (e.g. KYB, Bilstein, etc.).

  • avatar
    KitaIkki

    “Blacked-out glass resides in the taillights’ former location.”

    That is one large blacked-out blind spot. I strongly dislike blacked out glass. What’s the point? Glass is heavier than steel.

    VW/Audi has been the best with respect to this. (VW’s always have very thin black painted borders) Subaru is the next best.

  • avatar
    Steven02

    Do you really think it is 9/10’s? I was thinking more like 4/5’s. 7/8 would be generous.

  • avatar
    KitaIkki

    For a 4/5 micro-van, the 21/28 MPG rating barely beats the much larger and heavier 19/28 MPG Honda Odyssey.

    Mazda desperately needs the SkyActiv miracle engine tech.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    Hey look! Another GREAT Mazda RUINED by heavy handed styling. Why they couldn’t just clean up the interior, and (gasp!) add the jump seat the rest of the world enjoys, is beyond me.

    Those wavy-gravy doors are a total afterthought. Tsk tsk.

  • avatar
    Orangutan

    I bought a 2012 Mazda5 Sport AT at the beginning of April and love it. I’m 6’2″ and fit, though yes I would like another inch or two of seat travel. I’ve put 11 tanks of gas through it and have an average of 27 so far, a best of 29 and a worst of 24. It looks like most people average 25. Yeah other vehicles do better but that’s the story with every Mazda (at least until Sky hits). It’s a blast to drive. I haven’t found any problems with crosswinds or 70+ driving. I’m going to install some additional sound deadening in the vehicle this month but the noise levels are already lower than in the first generation 5. The tires are awful but who cares? I’m going to install a good set when these Bridgestones die in a year or so anyway. My main complaints about the vehicle are the cheap interior materials (they look good at least) and the engine. The transmission has been great, but the Duratec 2.5 needs to go.

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    I really dig the first generation Mazda5 and they always turn my head. They look different from almost everything on the road here in the midwest and that is a good thing. The wife and I are and will remain childless but I still was interested in one of these but the wife put the kibosh on the idea. This would be the perfect vacation ride for a pair of childless couples and for cargo hauling, both something we do regulary. We are wagon owners because of our cargo hauling needs. You don’t need kids to find a vehicle like this very useful.

  • avatar
    Educator(of teachers)Dan

    Trying to decide how hand waxing those waves would be. Total joy or total PITA?

  • avatar
    vvk

    I really like everything about Mazda5. I have tried to buy it twice. Seriously tried. I love having three rows of seats. However, I absolutely will never buy a car with automatic transmission. Mazda5 is the only three row vehicle in the US with manual gearbox. I like a lot of things about it. I have driven it back to back with Mazda3 and really prefer Mazda5 dynamics by a wide margin. It feels like a refined, polished car.

    Alas, it has the most uncomfortable front seats I have ever sat in. The bottom is tilted forward at an unnatural angle to such an extend that it is completely unacceptable to me.

    • 0 avatar

      Can’t say I noticed the tilt, but would prefer that the tilt of the seat cushion was adjustable, like it is in my Protege5. There are fewer and fewer seats with manual tilt, though, and while a power seat is offered in the Mazda5 one isn’t available here.

    • 0 avatar
      sastexan

      I, too, like everything about the Mazda 5 – I’ve had a few as rental cars (Hertz has in my profile that I prefer Mazdas and I’d switch car rental companies if they stick me with a Kia) and thought it would be a good fit.

      However, with the size of today’s car seats, and the new laws stating that kids must be rear-facing until they are over 2 years old, the 5 has no great advantage over a CUV, besides the sliding doors. The 3rd row is not usable to medium and up sized adults with the seats in the 2nd row slid back to accommodate car sears. I was very disappointed.

      Hence, we went with an Odyssey (I posted a comment on Michael’s Odyssey review recently my observations and why we chose an Odyssey over a Sienna or the other competition).

      Michael, please find someone with new car seats (Britax is the dominant brand currently) and practice both rear facing and forward facing when you are testing minivans and other ostensibly family vehicles. It’s one thing when your kids are in boosters, but the laws are getting more restrictive with kids in car seats (without any science to back it up, as crash test dummies to test them don’t exist – but hey, who would counter something that allegedly might keep kids safer?) and that is becoming a bigger and bigger reason for those having babies and young kids to shop for these vehicles.

      • 0 avatar

        Great suggestion. Now I wish I hadn’t thrown away the two Britax seats we used to have. Can’t sell a used car seat, and the upholstery was pretty ripped up anyway, so to the curb they went.

        Anyone in the NW Detroit burbs have a large car seat collecting dust?

      • 0 avatar
        fozone

        Concur with above — car seats are getting gigantic. Our Britax seat barely fit into our Outback when placed rear-facing (the front seat had to be pushed fully forward, thus squishing any adult riding in front.) This was surprising to me.

        The problem has gotten bad enough that IIRC when Subaru redesigned the Outback last year one of their explicit design goals was to make the rear seats big enough so that you could fit two full-sized car seats without killing the passengers up front.

      • 0 avatar
        PhilMills

        Thirded. My wife and I are looking at having kids soon and need to replace an Accord coupe – our friends who’ve already gone down that road report that the #1 issue with kids and cars is trying to fit that gargantuan baby seat somewhere.

        One family has a previous-gen Forester, which I always thought was a pretty healthy sized car, and they can’t get a baby seat in the back without the front passenger sitting bolt-upright, knees in the dash.

        So, yeah: when reviewing “family” cars, that might be a nice metric to add into the review.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve B

        Britax seats always seemed to run large (as well as expensive). The Graco, Evenflo, Cosco etc. seats were always more compact, at least from when my kids were in carseats (6 and 8 now). If you go to a local shop that deals in carseats, you can try out different models to see how they fit in your car (Wal-Get and Babies R’Us are usually less accomodating).

      • 0 avatar
        MattPete

        The Britax, forward and rear facing, fits in my wife’s 5 behind the driver’s seat. Rear facing left me a little scrunched when driving, but she’s shorter and it didn’t bother her. The seat is now front facing and on the passenger side, and can vouch that I have plenty of room up front (forward facing takes up less room).

        In my BMW 3-series, there was no way in hell I could get a baby seat on the drivers side. I’m only 5’8, so it’s not like I’m unusually tall.

      • 0 avatar
        highway40

        I just wanted to say that there is no law that I know of about car seat position, just recommendations. The new 2yr rear facing versus the old 1yr 20lb recommendation sucked for us and our ’01 Outback. We ended up with a Britax convertible that fits rear facing between the front seats and sill allows me (6’1″) to drive comfortably.

        Hey Michael I live around A2 and have three seats I’d be happy to let you try. Of course I may have a ulterior motive to getting to test out replacements for the Outback :-)

    • 0 avatar
      Steve B

      Tilt adjustment seems to be tied to height these days – At it’s lowest position, it is canted rearward, and the higher it goes, the flatter it gets. The first generation CR-V had a good manual system – two knobs, one to raise/lower the front of the seat botton, one to raise/lower the back, and the cushion moved without changing the seatback.

      I generally go all the way down – it gets me extra legroom, and the tilt better supports my thighs (well, the part of my thighs that don’t hang over the front of the way-too-short seat cushions that are en vogue these days. But that’s another sermon.)

  • avatar
    WaftableTorque

    I was just admiring a first generation Mazda5 today, until I looked at the rust blisters just above the rear wheel fenders. For a car that’s 6 years old at most, it’s like the 80’s over again.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, that’s where small Mazdas rust–Protege, Mazda3, Mazda5, and perhaps the RX-8 as well. The CX-9 has much better rust protection, with plastic trim covering the wheel opening edge–possibly Ford’s influence. Not sure about the CX-7–we’ll find out within a couple more years…

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        I think yuou’re seeing the difference between domestically- and Japanese-assembled Mazdas. The 6 doesn’t show appreciable rust, nor the Tribute, B-Series or CX-9.

        Not sure about the Miata, but they’re not really “rust-season” cars.

  • avatar
    Terry

    We have had ZERO problems with the ’12 Mazda5’s since they’ve been out. I prefer the ’10 and earlier styling, but that’s just my choice.
    One of the many Mazdas in my family is my wife’s ’07 Mazda5, and it’s been excellent in every way. A solid 30 mpg on long trips at 75 mph, sharp handling and braking, and in no way is it slow.
    Here’s the deal with the lack of legroom in the driver’s seat: The seat has a height adjustment, and as the seat raises, it also moves forward 2″for reasons unknown to me. My wife drives it the highest seat position(she’s much shorter than I am), and when I drive it I have to lower it to the bottom position. Makes no sense as the steering column not only tilts, but telescopes as well.

  • avatar
    Augie the Argie

    I love my Mazda 5, thanks Michael for your parallel descriptions vis-à-vis the upcoming C-max. I am very interested in that model although I really don’t need to part ways with my 07 Touring 52k model yet. The fact is in no way I would be replacing my current car with the latest iteration without the Skyactiv technology. I love the driving dynamics of most Mazdas and the 5 has a go kart feel to it. However the joker’s grin fascia and the Nagare design cue is a bit much to my taste. Have to concede the new horizontal taillights make the rear really handsome. I can find so many positives with the earlier version and most are carried over to the new one, the value factor is amazing. You really get a lot for the buck and the plus factor of receiving praise from bystanders as the model isn’t ubiquitous as most other CUV/Van competitors. By word of mouth I got Mazda to sell about 4 of these brand new, in fact last week a friend got the latest model, didn’t have the chance to drive it yet. Can’t wait to test drive the Ford as well.

    Pros:
    – Driving Dynamics
    – Great overall design (06-10 model)
    – Nicely equipped
    – Great outward visibility
    – 3rd row of seats

    Cons:
    – Lacks 7th seat
    – Missing roof rails
    – Could bring less noisy tires (replaced with Goodyear Assurance ComforTred Touring 205/50R17 All season V rated tires)
    – Bumper joints could be less flimsy
    – Definitely the driving seat should have more legroom and padding

  • avatar
    John Horner

    That front end is simply hideous.

  • avatar
    Jacob

    I really like this vehicle. Remove the third row seat, and you end up with a compact vehicle that seats four adults as if it was a full size car and has the utility of a CUV, while looking nothing like a CUV or a minivan.

  • avatar

    I was eager to get Michael’s take on this vehicle since he mentioned it recently.

    We’ve put 37k on our 2010 Sport MT in just over a year, no issues at all. I’ll typically get 26’ish mpg in routine driving (60/40 highway/city), and 30-31 on just highway at 65-70.

    Very fun to drive, we picked it for being able to handle a 31″ tall dog crate (you’d be amazed at the variety of CUV’s and SUV’s that cannot) and having decent fuel economy and “verve”. And the only mini/micro van with a stick.

    We’ll replace the factory Toyo’s soon…just now noticing some extra noise from them, and we’re almost to the wear bars. They do suck in snow, and are just passable in rain. Plenty of better choices. We’ve been happy, too, with the leather seat conversion we had done that made the interior feel a lot more upscale.

    Nice report.

  • avatar
    N Number

    Any photos of the Ford product? This seems more like a comparison of the two than a review simply of the Mazda.

  • avatar
    grzydj

    Is it about the same size as the original Dodge Caravan?

    • 0 avatar

      The width and height are about the same. The Mazda is actually about four inches longer, but with a wheelbase four inches shorter. There’s a lot more front overhang with the Mazda.

      • 0 avatar
        200k-min

        But you still can’t put a 4×8 sheet of plywood in the back. That was a requirement placed on the designers of the original Carvan that dictated its size. Modern cars have too much bulky plastics eating up interior volume.

      • 0 avatar
        grzydj

        Euro pedestrian crash standards will dictate all world cars having a lot of front overhang. I’m getting used to the look of it now.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve B

        @grzydj

        Not sure I buy that… The European Honda Fit/Jazz has far less front overhang than the American version, and German cars often have very short front overhangs. The long front overhang thing seems to be more an American car thing – Impala for instance. It’s mostly noticable in the Mazda5 because the rear overhang is so short by comparison.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        The overhang on the Fit has to do with American bumper-crash requirements driven by the insurance industry.

  • avatar
    NN

    Michael,

    how tall are you? How do you feel about the front seat legroom/seat travel?

    By the end of this month I’ll have two kids, and both will be in the aforementioned massive Britax car seats. I’m 6’3″. We’ve also got a 90lb lab that often travels with us. I love this vehicle in concept and am very interested in it, but I’m concerned most about the legroom for my size and long-trip comfort.

    I previously owned a Mazda Millenia that was tight up front, also…Mazda makes great cars, but they need to realize us Americans come in larger sizes.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m 5’9″ with short legs, and still drive it with the seat nearly all the way back. It’ll be a tight fit for you.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve B

        Agree 100%. I’m 6’1 with long legs. The ex’s Mazda5 was not pleasant at all… The automatic might have been acceptible, as I could have put my foot on the firewall where the clutch pedal would be.

        It seems that Japanese cars *that aren’t designed primarily for USDM consumption* often have this issue. The Fit is pretty bad. The Echo/Yaris is pretty bad. The North American Honda Accord and Scion tC are terrific (the latter being surprising to be since Toyota is the worst about this).

      • 0 avatar
        Steve B

        (And 6’1 really isn’t that tall… slightly above average height shouldn’t be a tight fit in a mass market family car.)

  • avatar
    wiggles

    I just bought a 2012 Mazda5 Touring based on our positive experience with a 2006 Mazda3. I’m 5’9″ and my wife 5’4″ and both of us are on the skinny side. We fit fine with our child. But our larger friends don’t. If you are over 6′ or “big boned” (fat) this is totally the wrong car. The single biggest advantage over a CUV are the dual sliding doors, which come in real handy with our bay area’s tight parking spaces. I’m averaging 26mpg in mixed driving. I do wish that the 4 cylinder got better gas mileage on the highway.

  • avatar
    200k-min

    I just saw one of these on the road the other day and thought to myself “my god, how did mazda make the 5 uglier?” Seriously, Mazda has the same designers as Acura.

    For full disclosure I’m no fan of Mazda. I think their vehicles are cheap compared to Japanese rivals (Toyota/Honda/Subaru) and I think the zoom-zoom driving dynamics aren’t pronounced enough to really be a marketing tool. But hey, most people I know that like to drive have a “weekend car” for that.

    In Europe I’ve ridden in and driven a few of the “microvans” and found them to be decent vehicles. Ok for families with young kids, but a little tight for 5+ adults and luggage. The segment should work in N. America but there’s one small problem….we have plenty of space to park a larger vehicle.

    The EPA reports 21 city, 28 highway. The new Honda Odyssey, a much larger vehicle, matches the latter figure.

    Then there is that killer – and I mean killer fact. Mazda sucks on fuel economy. I personally know a couple that just bought a loaded up Odyssey after cross shopping CUV’s and the 5. Their reason for the Honda was two-fold. #1. The build quality & luxury features are just much better than Mazda and #2. For the same MPG’s why not get a much larger vehicle for the few times we actually need it.

    I know there are Mazda 5 fans on this forum, but I think this is a dud and Mazda should focus their NA operations elsewhere.

  • avatar
    stevelovescars

    I do agree, fuel economy is not a real reason to chose the smaller 5 over a “big” minivan, at least not of 90% of your driving is freeway.

    In our case, most driving in this car is around town and short freeway hops with a few longer trips thrown in. In stop and go driving we average around 24-25 mpg, which is better than a heavier v6 van will do, but Mazda in general does relatively poorly in terms of freeway economy. Taller gearing could certainly improve the 5 here as well as in noise levels.

    On the other hand, we bought out 2008 Grand Touring (no nav) for about $19,500 and the car still had a sticker price under $22k. I don’t believe you can get a base Odyssey for anywhere near that price much less one with the luxury features you mention.

    We also preferred the 5 because it is easier to drive, park, and just generally live with on a daily basis than a larger vehicle we just don’t really need. Most of the time our third row is just folded flat and it is a roomy 4-seat vehicle. For us, the third row is a bonus feature on rare occasions. We did have one son in a rear-facing seat until recently and it was tight but did fit. If you are 5’8″ or more, though, I would recommend you try this before buying.

  • avatar
    wiggles

    Those EPA mpg numbers on the Odyssey’s are optimistic. Now that many friends have mini vans we compare notes. No one that has an Odyssey sees over 20mpg in mixed driving. One guy said he gets 16mpg. The one minivan that is surprising is the Sienna (3.5l), and those guys say they get ~22mpg mixed. I think the Toyota V6 is very economical.

    • 0 avatar
      sastexan

      So far, our Ody is a little lower than EPA – could be due to break-in period, could be due to carrying fairly heavy loads, could be due to A/C cranked up a lot of the time. In mostly highway, even with stop and go traffic and some mixed driving, was running around 25 MPG. But in the heavy urban, short distance, lots of idling, have been getting around 18 MPG. Our ’01 Camry 4 cylinder did better compared to its EPA (even the old standard) numbers for urban, and similar compared to its EPA numbers on mixed / highway.


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