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2012 Mazda5 - First Drive

A tidy six-seater, sliding-door package that surprises with a sporty nature.

Peter Tarach
Aug 17, 2011

Specs & Details
'12 Mazda5
Engine 2.5-liter 16-valve DOHC inline-4
Horsepower 157 at 6000 rpm
Torque 163 at 4000 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic or 6-speed manual
Price Base model $24,670

Not quite minivan, yet not quite car, the ’12 Mazda5 is slotted just between the two segments, offering minivan-like amenities with car-like handling and performance. Think of it as a mini-minvan.

Modp 1109 01+2012 mazda5 first drive+cover Photo 1/2   |   Don’t let its van-esque exterior fool you, the Mazda5 still packs plenty of Zoom Zoom.

At first glance, you may call the Mazda5 small, but that’s because your idea of a minivan isn’t so mini anymore. Most of the top minivans on the market are large behemoth beasts that are more the size of SUVs than vans. It’s no surprise the Mazda5 offers plenty of space inside for six passengers and ample cargo space, despite its petite exterior presence.

Once inside, the interior feels spacious, with lots of natural light peering through the glass. The dash and cabin have a well flowing design that’s a staple in Mazda’s entire fleet, further lending to a car-like feel and experience.

Reinforcing the aforementioned fact is the shifter that requires a double take when you first get in. That’s right, there’s a 6-speed manual available on the Mazda5. Granted, a small percentage of people will opt for the three-pedaled version, but those who do will be rewarded with a pleasantly sporty driving experience. Remember, the Mazda5 isn’t meant to carve the canyons or chirp its tires, but as we experienced, it can and is very willing to do so. Running through some twisty roads on the outskirts of San Diego had us pleasantly surprised at how car-like the Mazda5 feels. Aside from the higher center of gravity and upright seating position, the movement of the 5 was precise and very communicative to the driver. That’s largely in part due to the performance-oriented suspension that includes a multilink rear setup with a sway bar and coil springs.

Modp 1109 02+2012 mazda5 first drive+interior Photo 2/2   |   The electronic steering, which was sharp and tight, is also a great contributor to the sporty nature of the driving experience.

The electronic steering, which was sharp and tight, is also a great contributor to its sporty nature. The 2.5-liter 4-cylinder was eager to rev, outputting 157 hp at its 6000-rpm peak, and with 163 ft-lbs of torque, it moves with relative ease at low rpm. That’s with two people in the car, though; we’re not sure how well the 4-cylinder will do with a full family inside, but it’s sure to be adequate for getting around town.

It’s really hard to place where the Mazda5 fits into the market, but we’re here to tell you that it’s a great alternative for those of you dreading the purchase of a full-sized “soccer mom” minivan. The 5’s tidy package size and sporty styling can almost make you forget you’ve got room for six. Add that wonderful 6-speed manual transmission, and, all of a sudden, this mini-minivan is capable of a real sense of driving excitement — probably right before you have to pick the kids up from school. Just don’t show up with the brakes smoking, though. That’s guaranteed to get garner some frowns.

By Peter Tarach
352 Articles

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