Tuesday, September 20, 2011
2012 Mazda5 Sport: The most fun you can have with two sliding doors
So you’ve decided a subcompact vehicle will no longer fit the bill—you need something bigger. You’d like a wagon, but nothing fits the bill in your price range. Although you don’t want to admit it, a minivan—a dirty seven-letter word to many auto enthusiasts—would be super practical, but most are bigger, thirstier, and more expensive than you want. So what’s a small-car fan concerned with gas mileage, price, and driving enthusiasm to do? I’d say drive a Mazda5.
The Mazda5 has been on the U.S. market since 2006, but the 2012 has been completely redesigned. Like most of Mazda’s lineup, it’s quite sporty and has a distinctive appearance. From the outside, one of the most interesting features is the unique waves in the sheet metal. It’s something Mazda refers to as “Nagare,” or “flow.” You can see them in the various photos here. At the vehicle's front, there’s the corporate Mazda perma-grin look, with the rest of the car/van/wagon/whatever looking modern and attractive. My test model wore Copper Red Mica, and I got a surprising amount of compliments on the hue.
On a kid-related note, a neighbor of mine, who has two kids of his own, currently has a 2010 Mazda5 (previous bodystyle, still a six-passenger). He pointed out an interesting fact: Mazda5s only have the LATCH system (Lower Anchors and Tethers for CHildren—a way to attach kids’ car seats) in the middle two seats. The far back seats only offer the three-point seatbelts. Just a heads up for those of you with rugrats.
The Mazda5 has cargo and storage aplenty. There are lots of cubbies in the front passenger area, the middle row of seats have bottoms that flip up revealing storage areas, and there’s even a flip-out rear center console. The last row of seats fold down completely flat. The middle row also compacts so the entire area is nearly flat—something those looking to carry maximum cargo will like.
There are all kinds of interior niceties, too: automatic climate control, a more-than-adequate sound system with aux and Sirius capabilities, and cruise and stereo controls on the steering wheel. Plus, all of this is very intuitive and easy to use. The overall interior quality is outstanding, like all of Mazda’s current lineup, and everything is very solidly made using high-grade materials. My test model had the two-tone tan/black interior which also looked very handsome.
The highlight of this compact minivan-wagon-cargo-people mover, however, is the driving experience. (Can you believe you just read that about something with two sliding doors?) Mazda prides itself on its “Zoom Zoom” driving dynamics, and that includes this vehicle. Best of all, for the fringe lunatics such as myself, the Sport model is available with a six-speed manual transmission. This isn’t just a manual transmission, it’s a damn good (or darn good if the kids are around) manual transmission. Very smooth shifting, nice clutch uptake, great action. Heck, I might have kids just so I can buy a shift-it-yourself family hauler.
Miata, RX-8, and MAZDASPEED3?
Let’s put it this way: Think of the Mazda5 less as a family-hauling minivan and more like a Mazda3 limousine. It has the moves of a Mazda3 but with the ability to seat more and/or haul more. Plus, it won’t kill you at the gas pump, either. With the six-speed manual, the Mazda5 is rated at 21 city and 28 highway—not bad for a six-passenger vehicle.
The Mazda5 was full of surprises for me. It was surprisingly comfortable, surprisingly fun to drive, and surprisingly inexpensive. This Sport model came in at $20,470 with options. If you don’t get the $50 rear bumper guard and $430 satellite radio, you can whittle the price down to $19,990 including destination.
I can wholeheartedly say that I really dig the 2012 Mazda5’s combination of practicality, fun, and price. It’s a great option for those looking to upsize a bit, not get too big, and still have a vehicle that’s plenty of fun to drive—sliding doors and all.