June 27, 2014
2015 Mazda5 shifter, dashboard. Click image to enlarge
Review and photos by Jacob Black
Manual makes everything better. It’s a simple, empirical, irrefutable fact. There. I’ve said it. And no doubt ignited a roar of disapproval for being so one-eyed, so cut-and-dried, so hyperbolic about the manual transmission in the process. But I mean it. And this time, I have proof.
I present to you, dear readers, the 2015 Mazda5. Almost the exact same car that we took into battle in a comparison test against the Kia Rondo in 2014; and yes, almost the exact same car that lost. Almost. That one was an automatic – this one is a manual. And we loved it.
The Mazda5 is getting well into this generation’s life cycle – so it maintains some of the interior issues we noted in the test. Things like a low-spec radio, no nav, no back-up camera and hard-touch plastics all around. Yet somehow the Mazda5 manages to feel extremely comfortable in GT trim. There is a fold-down armrest for both the passenger and driver, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and some neat faux aluminum pieces of trim. The simple controls fall easily to hand, and even the shift lever is conveniently placed – up high and close to the wheel. I will mark Mazda down for making me set up my phone with audio commands – a user-experience sin worthy of severe disapproval, even grumpiness.
Over the course of the week the wide, cloth seats were surprisingly supportive and comfortable – even on long drives. The 5 has captain’s chairs in the second row making it a six-seat not an seven but it makes the third row more accessible and the second more comfortable. We successfully ferried my adult in-laws around in the back row without any complaints – well, not about the seats.
The infotainment system lacks a touchscreen or nav or any of the other now-common bells and whistles but does get Bluetooth audio and telephony, satellite radio, CD and USB/aux inputs. What it lacks in flash and bang it makes up for in simplicity, ease of use and even sound quality; which is important because I like to share the wisdom of Chuck D and Flavor Flav with the rest of my traffic-entombed co-travellers.
Clever nooks and crannies are moulded into the dash to help stow keys, wallets and phones, which partly makes up for the lack of a console bin. There is also clever under-seat storage in the second row – I put a camera in one side and stashed a surprise bunch of flowers for my wife in the other. Sadly, I forgot about them, and a day later the Gerberas all died before I could give them to her – it’s okay, I think she’d already forgiven me by then anyway.
The engine is still a 2.5L four-cylinder with 157 hp at 6,000 rpm and 163 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm but this one is mated to a six-speed manual.
A manual! A genuine, actual manual! This is not a minivan, it is not even a mini-minivan. This is a miracle! Let me just insert a row of pictures here so you can pause and soak up the warm, happy glow that just flooded over you as you sigh in happiness, “ah, manual.”
2015 Mazda5 gauges, centre stack, shifter. Click image to enlarge
A manual does more than just let you change your own gears. It’s not just about being able to control another part of your drive – a manual better connects you to the car you’re driving. It also has an impact on the driving feel – especially during acceleration and even braking. In our Rondo vs Mazda5 comparison test I said the Mazda felt like it was “dragging its back end around”. Part of that is due to the perceived slowness of response found in some automatic transmissions, and part is the way our brains measure time. When you act, you expect a reaction – in an automatic, your only action is to press the accelerator – then you wait for the box to kick down, and the car surges forward. Our perception of time means we count from the time we press the accelerator to the time we experience acceleration as the time it took the car to react.