Long Term Test Update 4: 2012 Mazda5 GS Manual car test drives reviews mazda long term auto tests
The Pinnock family. Click image to enlarge
Long-Term Test Update 3: 2012 Mazda5
Long-Term Test Update 2: 2012 Mazda5
Long-Term Test Update 1: 2012 Mazda5
Long-Term Test Intro: 2012 Mazda5

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Mazda Canada

Review and photos by Roger Pinnock

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2012 Mazda5

We put Guest Contributor Roger Pinnock in our Autos.ca long-term Mazda5 to get some fresh perspective, and he put it through the most demanding test of all: a summer road trip.

Mazda continues to march to the beat of their own drum when it comes to the Mazda5—it is likely the sole remaining aptly named ‘minivan’ on the market. The segment has otherwise all but completely transformed into a collection of vehicles that can’t fairly be described as “mini” in any meaningful respect. Big in size, with seating for seven or eight occupants. Big in luxury, with sybaritic options lists. Big in power, with strong V6 engines putting down serious motive force. And of course, big in price. What to make, then, of the Mazda5: a comparatively small, Spartan box with a modest four-cylinder engine and manual transmission?

The opportunity to find out recently coincided with a planned family vacation to lovely Mont Tremblant, Quebec, to spend a few days in relaxed celebration of my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. The return journey would cover some 1,400 km and 15 hours of driving in a two-car convoy. My sister would travel with her husband, their two children (daughter, 10 and son, eight) together with my 10-year-old daughter in their 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe. I had planned to take my wife and parents in my 2011 Sonata 2.0T. The availability of the Autos.ca long-term Mazda5 GS test vehicle for a road trip review saw the Sonata stay at home, and the Mazda serve as transport for four adults and associated luggage.

Long Term Test Update 4: 2012 Mazda5 GS Manual car test drives reviews mazda long term auto tests
Long Term Test Update 4: 2012 Mazda5 GS Manual car test drives reviews mazda long term auto tests
The Pinnock family’s stuff… lots of stuff. Click image to enlarge

And in this latter respect the Mazda made its first positive impression. Packing light is not a prevalent skill amongst my extended family, and the daunting stack of suitcases, duffle bags, coolers, lawn chairs, and sundry other items that had been assembled could not possibly have been swallowed by the trunk of my Sonata. But with the rearmost seats folded flat, and some careful thought given to parcel placement, the Mazda5 accommodated the entire baggage train without the need to stack to an unsafe height.

Accommodating the passengers proved to be yet another positive. Mazda’s second row is by no means second class seating: the two comfortable captain’s chairs were appreciated by my parents, as were the large openings of the dual sliding doors and the walk-in, walk-out ride height.

Similar seating awaited driver and front passenger, with the layout and function of both primary and secondary controls presenting an ergonomic success. I particularly appreciated the positioning of the manual gear lever right under the center section of the dashboard, resulting in a very short trip for my right hand from the steering wheel to the gearshift and back again.

If there is a downside to this placement, it is that it occupies what otherwise would have been a handy in-dash storage bin. This is an area that could see some improvement as there was little up-front stowage for odds and ends, save for a shallow dashboard parcel shelf that quickly proved incapable of retaining anything once the vehicle was in motion. And while I’m nitpicking, the cupholders located between the front-most seats were similarly shallow, making the transport of a two large, hot coffees something of a risky proposition.

Fully loaded with passengers and gear, we set out from Markham, Ontario, along a circuitous back road route past the Toronto Zoo to pick up highway 401 East. Though Mazda claims to inject an element of sporting ‘zoom-zoom’ into all of its products, it wasn’t much evident here. The 5 wasn’t particularly bad in any respect, but it handled very much like what it was: a passenger van with a max-capacity cargo load. The suspension did an admirable job of soaking up some fairly broken pavement, but body roll in corners quickly quelled whatever sporting aspirations the manual transmission might have inspired.