Unlike the larger family haulers that rule this segment, the stylish Mazda5 seems made for urban commuting with its compact size and maneuverability. The 5 stands out by putting the "mini" in minivan.
Appearance: The redesigned 5 incorporates Mazda's "Nagare" design concept, which is most evident in the body creases that flow elegantly over the front fenders and down the side toward the rear. The "swoosh" in the sheet metal gives the 5 a testing-in-a-wind-tunnel effect. The north and south views, however, are not quite as appealing. There's the standard-issue Mazda grin of the grille in the front, and the rear appearance is a bit awkward: Low-sitting horizontal taillights seem to jut out from the body. Still, fellow parents, the 5 is a sleek vehicle whose appearance doesn't scream minivan.
Performance: The 5 has the fun-to-drive feel of its zoom-zoom siblings at Mazda. The 5 is based on the chassis of the Mazda3, which we've also enjoyed. The 5 has similar tight handling and control. Steering is responsive and precise. Our tester came with the 5-speed sport automatic transmission, which shifts smoothly, but we would have liked an extra gear. The 2.5-liter I-4 is peppy but won't overwhelm you. Neither will the estimated mpg: an adequate 21 (city) and 28 (highway).
Interior: We were pleasantly surprised with the small van's three rows of seating (leather in our tester) and six-passenger capacity, which includes second-row captain's chairs and a nicely padded, if tight-fitting, third row. The rear side doors are sliders-only, but open wide and are easy to operate for all but the smallest child. As parents, we appreciated the 5's cargo space when the third row is folded (44.4 cubic feet) and the storage bins under the second-row seats, which slide forward for rear access. There also is a handy center table between the seats that is stowable if you need a pathway to the rear. The rear cargo floor is low for easy loading, and the hatch opens high enough for head clearance but not so high that a shorter person can't reach it easily to close. The rest of the cabin is mostly simple in both design and materials, which is no doubt where expenses were trimmed. Still, we found the simple and intuitive layout of the buttons and gauges refreshing.
Our 3 favorites
Driving feel: This minivan is easy to park and maneuver in city traffic.
Appearance: It reminded me of a bigger Honda Fit, which is a good thing.
Price: This family hauler starts at slightly more than $19,000.
Rear sliding doors: 27-inch opening for easy entry and exit.
Nagare design: (Nagare means "flow" in Japanese.) Elegant lines flow from front to back.
Simplicity: It's not overwhelming with buttons and gadgetry.
The bottom line: The Mazda5 has many of the features of bigger people movers, as well as the easy handling and size of a compact car. It's a true "minivan," and worth the consideration of families — especially those with small kids.