Tuesday, September 20, 2011

2012 Mazda5 Sport: The most fun you can have with two sliding doors

2012 Mazda5 Sport - Subcompact Culture

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.

2012 Mazda5 Sport - Subcompact Culture
Like a traditional modern minivan, this vehicle has a rear hatchback and dual sliding doors allowing for super-easy entry and exit for both people and cargo. Although the interior isn’t as large as some minivans (I use the term “mini” lightly these days, since a Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna are far from miniature), it still features a lot of room; certainly more than most sedans and likely many SUVs. There is seating for six: The front two seats are very comfortable, especially on longer trips; the middle two are still pretty comfy. The rears, however, can be very tight—nearly unusable for an adult—especially if the middle two seats are not slid forward.With them slid forward, it's a bit more manageable.

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.

2012 Mazda5 rear - Subcompact Culture

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.

2012 Mazda5

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.

Whether you decide on the manual or choose the available five-speed automatic, both transmissions are coupled to the new 2.5-liter 157 horsepower VVT engine making a healthy 163 ft./lbs. of torque put to the front wheels. This smooth-revving engine never felt underpowered, and there’s enough torque to really pull at low RPMs. (Can your minivan get rubber in second gear?) Frankly, the Mazda5 is downright fun to drive. And if you’re like me and already geeking out about driving a minivan with a six-speed manual, you’ll likely geek out more when you realize its chassis is equally great. Although my Sport model came with the 16" wheels (the Touring and Grand Touring models come with 17s), handling was still very good. And since the 16" tires have more sidewall, the ride is very comfortable and amazingly quiet. However, I get all tingly thinking about slapping a set of 17s on with some sticky rubber, possibly lowering the vehicle a couple of inches, and taking to an autocross just to see the looks on people’s faces. I bet it’d do pretty well, too. What else would you expect from the company that makes the 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.

2012 Mazda5 Sport - Subcompact Culture


nlpnt said...

I suppose the manual tranny and poised chassis makes up for the dearth of LATCH anchors - not so great for families with lots of little ones, ideal for those with current, soon-to-be or even will-be-within-the-time-we-keep-the-car teen drivers.

BSP_yaris said...

I'm defiitely feeling it. Two sliding doors are so convenient and it doesn't have the frumpy look of a mini-van.

fun run said...

Awesome, those two sliding doors was just a nice idea. :D

hedgeborn said...

I bought a 2014 Mazda 5 with the 6 speed manual myself about a month ago and I'm enjoying the crap out of it. Glad the author enjoyed it too! I test drove the CX-5, a RAV4 and a bunch of other vehicles first, but nothing else could match the 5's unique combination of massive cargo and people capacity and nimble handling. All that AND a manual transmission and for around $20K out the door? I couldn't resist. I really think it's the best crossover/wagon/whatever that nobody knows about.