2012 Mazda5 GS
2012 Mazda5 GS. Click image to enlarge

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By Paul Williams; photos by James Bergeron

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2012 Mazda5

Mazda has made something of a reputation for itself as a purveyor of sporty and sometimes unique vehicle types. The Mazda5 is no exception. Its sportiness is confined mainly to its nimble handling and six-speed shifter, but its uniqueness is thus-far unchallenged by being the only compact six-passenger vehicle with rear sliding doors on the market.

Introduced to Canada as a 2006 model, the Mazda5 quickly found its niche, finding over 50,000 buyers since its debut here. Key characteristics of the Mazda5 are those sliding rear side doors, the vehicle’s elevated height and overall compact dimensions, the spacious and versatile interior, and – because of its smaller size — an expectation of lower running costs when compared with an SUV or minivan.

2012 Mazda5 GS
2012 Mazda5 GS. Click image to enlarge

Mazda never uses the “M” word to describe its compact people-mover, so let’s stick with multi-activity vehicle (MAV), the preferred Mazda term. This year, the 2012 Mazda5 (there was no 2011 model) is an all-new version, with a considerably changed exterior style, improved drive-train and all-new interior. Compared to the outgoing model, the size is within a few millimeters in all dimensions, the wheelbase is the same (2,750 mm) and weight (1,551 kilograms in standard trim) is also virtually unchanged.

Two trim levels are offered. Starting at $21,795 the 2012 Mazda5 GS model is powered by a 157-horsepower, 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine that replaces the previous generation’s 2.3-litre powerplant. Variations of this engine, by the way, are also found in the Mazda6 sedan, CX-7 crossover and Mazda3 compact. A six-speed manual is the standard transmission, with an optional five-speed automatic for $1,200.

Standard equipment includes air conditioning, power group, dynamic stability control with traction control, dual front and side airbags for front-seat occupants and side curtains that protect the three rows. Some unexpected and welcome standard features include rain-sensing windshield wipers, driver’s seat lumbar adjustment, automatic headlights, steering-wheel mounted remote controls and tilt/telescoping steering column. Wheels are 16-inch alloy, and an $845 Convenience Package adds Bluetooth hands-free connectivity, cruise control, trip computer, leather wrapped steering wheel and anti-theft alarm system.

2012 Mazda5 GS
2012 Mazda5 GS. Click image to enlarge

The $24,395 Mazda5 GT includes the Convenience Package as standard and adds 17-inch alloy wheels, heated cloth seats, lumbar support for the driver, Sirius satellite radio, Xenon headlights and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System. An optional GT Luxury Package adds power moonroof, leather seats, and a second-row table for $1,790.

Our Stormy Blue Mica six-speed manual Mazda5 GS test vehicle included the Convenience Package for an as-tested price of $22,640.

With a height of 1,615 mm, the Mazda5 offers notable ease of entry and exit (it is 145 mm taller than the Mazda3, for example), and the sliding rear doors are a particular advantage when reaching in to secure or retrieve young children from their seats, and in tight parking spaces. The second-row seats flip forward to provide a fairly clear path to the 50/50 third row bench seat, which folds into the floor when not required. Additionally, both of the second-row bucket seats feature a useful storage compartment underneath.

Although the sliding doors are not power-assisted, they are balanced in such a way that opening and closing them requires minimal effort.

2012 Mazda5 GS
2012 Mazda5 GS
2012 Mazda5 GS
2012 Mazda5 GS. Click image to enlarge

Like all Mazdas, the interior — especially the instrument panel and centre stack — impresses with its crisp design and ease-of-use. Headroom is, as you would expect, generous, and I found the driver’s seat comfortable and supportive. A nice touch is the “mute” button for the radio; helpful if you’re using a supplementary Bluetooth device for your phone, or if you just want to filter out commercials. The third-row seating is occasional, as it’s fairly tight back there, and with those seats in place, cargo capacity is almost eliminated.

The new engine offers more torque (163 lb.-ft., compared with 148) at a lower speed than the outgoing model, but you still have to use a heavy right foot to get strong acceleration in the Mazda5. While six-speed manual transmissions usually impart a responsive and sporty feel, this one seems more utilitarian and biased toward fuel economy. I suspect that most buyers will opt for the automatic, anyway, and won’t expect sports-car acceleration from a vehicle of this type.

Handling, however, is a strong point. The Mazda5 is nimble in traffic, with quick steering and excellent maneuverability. Visibility to the front and sides is good but is somewhat challenging when backing up.

Fuel economy is rated at 9.7/6.8 L/100km for the manual transmission model, and 9.5/6.7 for the automatic. I wasn’t able to get near those numbers, returning an average of about 12.0 L/100km in combined driving.

The new “Nagare” themed styling seems pleasant enough to me, although there’s only so much you can do with what is effectively a box on wheels. However, the 2012 Mazda5 looks clearly more minivan-like than the previous generation Mazda5, which begs the question, why not get a minivan?

2012 Mazda5 GS
2012 Mazda5 GS. Click image to enlarge

The answers would be a combination of image, improved fuel economy, maneuverability, “Euro” styling, brand appeal and price. But in relation to the latter, at the time of this writing you can get a well-equipped minivan (Dodge Caravan or Grand Caravan) for less than the base Mazda5. Is that more vehicle for your money, or too much? Like all vehicle purchases, it depends on what you need, what you want, and what you’re willing to pay. Larger families, I would think, would find the Mazda5 too small, but a family of three or maybe four could find it suits their requirements, obviating the need to buy a bulkier vehicle.

Which is one reason the SAV sector is about to grow, with the likes of the new Chevrolet Orlando and Ford C-Max adding to the Kia Rondo and the 2012 Mazda5. Clearly, manufacturers see an opportunity for compact people-movers of this type and size, and Mazda, while smoothing the lines and refining the powertrain of the Mazda5, is staying the course.

Pricing: 2012 Mazda5 GS
  • Base price: $21,795
  • Options: $ 845 (Convenience Package)
  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,595
  • Price as tested: $24,235
    Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

  • Buyer’s Guide: 2012 Mazda5

  • 2012 Chevrolet Orlando
  • Preview: 2012 Ford C-Max
  • 2011 Kia Rondo

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