There are times when a particular vehicle is fitted for the task at hand we recently need to transport—by her self-description—a little old lady and a series of 18x18x18 inch boxes, get reasonable gas mileage around town, and of course, not feel like we were driving a penalty box. The vehicle that seemed so right? The 2012 Mazda Mazda5.
The Mazda Mazda5, new from the ground up for 2012, is a six passenger mini-minivan, with seats arranged in a two-by-two-by-two arrangement. It’s smaller than the Ford Flex or Chevrolet Traverse, two of the current crop of un-minivans, and unlike those vehicles, has sliding rear side doors, one each per side.
The seats in the 2012 Mazda5 have the usual pecking order: front are first, rear are worst. The best thing to say about the third row seats is that they easily fold down to make a sizeable load floor. The second tips and folds for a maximum of 44 cubic feet of stuff room. It makes a flat floor but there’s a gap between the second row seats where smaller items can be placed…or fall into. The seats do come back up as easily as they go down.
The second best thing about the third row seats is that anyone likely to be reading this probably won’t be asked to sit in them, at least not twice. The opening to get in and out of the third row is small and the room in back is mainly for munchkins.
The second row seats are, if not captain’s chairs, at least lieutenant’s, suitable for adults. The seats fold forward to expand cargo volume, and the seat bottom lifts up to reveal a storage cubby. It’s not huge but it will accommodate a road atlas and hide a portable navigation system, though anything in the cubby slides to the front when the seat bottom folds up to maximize cargo volume.
Incidentally, either maps or aftermarket navigation system will be needed. A built-in nav system is not available on the Mazda5.
There’s no optional engine with the 2012 Mazda Mazda5. Regardless of trim level or other equipment, the Mazda5 comes with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 157 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque. The numbers lie, however. The Mazda5 is perky around town, even at part throttle. At highway speed, the engine taxed more, and Mazda’s zoom-zoom turns into more of a zoom.
The Mazda5 is available, however, with a choice of transmissions, either an all-new six-speed manual transmission (in entry-level Sport models only), or a new five-speed automatic with Mazda’s “Active Adaptive Shift” system. The automatic downshifts when braked aggressively, adding engine braking and preparing the vehicle with a lower gear for exiting a corner.
The steering system—an appropriate word—combines an electric motor with a hydraulic power assist, providing the smoothness of a hydraulic system with the efficiency of electric assist. Instead of a hydraulic pump running continuously off the engine and continuously sapping power (and therefore fuel economy), the electro-hydraulic system powers the pump with an electric motor which runs only when it’s necessary to steer the wheels.
The 2012 Mazda Mazda5 has MacPherson strut suspension up front and multi-link suspension at the rear, which provides a smooth ride. Despite firming up the shocks and springs from the previous generation Mazda5, however, the 2012 edition is still no corner carving fool. However, around town and on the highway, the 2012 Mazda5 tracked with adequate precision, though with light steering, a blessing or a curse depending on driver preferences. The turning circle, on the other hand, at just over 36 feet is tight and along with the Mazda5’s compact outer dimensions makes maneuvering in parking lots and other close environs easier.