2012 Mazda5 GT
2012 Mazda5 GT. Click image to enlarge

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Multi-purpose vehicles are making a comeback

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Mazda Canada

Review and photos by Greg Wilson

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2012 Mazda5

With the introduction of the second generation Mazda5, and the soon-to-arrive Chevrolet Orlando and Ford C-Max, the era of the small minivan may finally have arrived in Canada. While “small minivan” might sound redundant, it’s necessary to distinguish “small minivans” from “big minivans” like the Grand Caravan, Odyssey, Sienna and Quest which have all ballooned in size over the years and currently make up the bulk of minivan sales in North America. This situation may be changing, though, as rising gas prices, crowded cities, and the high retail prices of big minivans create a market for smaller, more manoeuvrable and more economical family vehicles with three rows of seats.

That wasn’t the case when Mazda introduced the first Mazda5 in 2006; they were entering a market segment that had proved unsuccessful for other automakers. Early models, such as the Nissan Multi and Dodge Colt Wagon in the ‘80s, and the Nissan Axxess and first generation Honda Odyssey in the ‘90s, were either withdrawn or redesigned. Even the standard wheelbase Mazda MPV and Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager minivans eventually succumbed to the North American demand for extended wheelbase minivans.

2012 Mazda5 GT
2012 Mazda5 GT. Click image to enlarge

Of course, by “North American demand”, we really mean “American” demand; the larger U.S. market often determines what type of vehicles manufacturers decide to sell in Canada. But now that the American economy is in bad shape and gas prices are rising, the appeal of smaller, more fuel-efficient small minivans is on the rise in the United States as well, which partly explains the flurry of new smaller minivans.

There is plenty of evidence that Canadians do want smaller more fuel-efficient minivans: the Mazda5 is currently Mazda Canada’s second-best selling vehicle and the underappreciated Kia Rondo is also gaining recognition here. The previous Dodge Caravan (regular wheelbase) was Canada’s best-selling vehicle for years.

The Mazda5, which is based on a lengthened version of the compact Mazda3 platform, is best known for its space-efficient design which provides room for up to six passengers in a vehicle that’s small enough to manoeuvre in tight city streets and parking lots. Its sliding rear side doors allow easy access to the cabin in tight parking spaces, and its folding second and third row seats allow many variations of seating and cargo space.

In past reviews, we’ve been generally positive about the Mazda5, but criticisms have included a lack of power when there is a full load of passengers and cargo on board, intrusive cabin noise, and a rather hard ride. It appears that Mazda has addressed all three of these issues in the 2012 Mazda5 (Mazda skipped the 2011 model year).

2012 Mazda5 GT
2012 Mazda5 GT. Click image to enlarge

Major changes to the 2012 Mazda5 include new exterior and interior styling, a larger four-cylinder engine with more power, a new standard six-speed manual transmission (replacing a five-speed), new standard stability and traction control, revised suspension tuning, more sound insulation, and standard air conditioning on all trim levels.

The new exterior styling is more artsy and less sporty. At Autos.ca, we tend to be the sporty types, so the general consensus is that this is not a good thing. There’s nothing offensive about the new “Nagare Flow design” which according to Mazda’s literature, “incorporates the beauty of nature, in particular the forces of wind and water, to lend an intuitive sense of motion.” But after all, this is a van, not a Van Gogh on wheels. And that smiling grille? The less said the better. Fortunately, the new styling hasn’t altered the functionality and versatility of the Mazda5, which is its major asset.

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