Over the past 10 years, carmakers have been slowly dropping minivans from their lineups and replacing them with now-ubiquitous SUVs and crossovers. Minivans became a dying breed, with most of us unable to move past memories of aged wood-paneled Dodge Caravans. But the truth of it is many families still need this segment. They need sliding doors and under-floor storage. They need seating for at least six and DVD screens to keep kids entertained and parents sane. So the manufacturers who are still in the game are beefing up their wares to attract the thousands of people who want (even if reluctantly) a minivan in their life. The all-new 2012 Mazda Mazda5 stands out from the faithful few by representing a smaller style of van. It seats six, as opposed to the seven or eight that traditional vans fit, has a smaller footprint overall, costs less on the whole and drives well. In fact, the Mazda 5 drives more like a car than anything else, giving it a leg up over the rest of the pack.
Things aren’t all perfect with this car; the interior looks inexpensive and the lack of tech is surprising in a world of large touch screens and USB connections. And whether it will stand up to Ford’s upcoming entry into the ‘mini’ minivan segment, the C-Max, remains to be seen. Still, the new exterior looks great, the price is right and the small size – and resulting improvement in fuel economy – make a good option for many.
What's to Like
Drive quality for this segment is superb. Steering is excellent, and the taut suspension keeps the car level in corners. The exterior design won’t please everyone, but the distinctive lines on the body panels are original and set it apart. This is the only compact minivan in the market (about 20 inches shorter than the Honda Odyssey ), and it’s just the right size for families with small children or city dwellers.
What's Not to Like
To keep pricing low, a few key necessities were excluded from the options list, such as power sliding doors and a USB plug. Modern families will have a hard time getting past these oversights. The third row is only suitable for small children, though headroom is surprisingly good. Interior styling really misses the mark, and hard plastics, a cluttered instrument panel and out-of-date display screen aren’t doing the Mazda5 any favors.
The highlight of the Mazda5 is far and away its dynamics. The Mazda’s suspension does a fantastic job of absorbing bumps in the road to keep your copilot comfortable and grounded during the drive, assuaging fears brought on by Mazda engineers’ declarations that they actually increased body roll to create a...