As Automotive Editor around here, I have clear sailing to review almost any car, truck or motorcycle I can find. The only consumer vehicles off limits to me by request of the Executive Editor are minivans.
They're unofficially the sole property of soccer moms and carpools – not prime real estate to mine for a website pleasantly besieged by young, hip and happening readers like yourself. They're fodder for the mommy bloggers, not dedicated automotive correspondents. And, they're a dying breed – a make of car seemingly destined for the same museum wing serving as home to the Reliant Robin and the General Motors EV1.
So, what do I do with the 2012 Mazda 5? It can be technically classified as a minivan. It seats six and has a rear cargo hatch (though not a sliding side panel door). If you look at it from the rear, it's a van.
But it has the front end of a hatchback or small sedan – and drives more like those vehicles than any mere cargo/people carrier.
If you'll forgive what might sound read like a ridiculous evaluation, the Mazda 5 feels too "mini" to be a minivan. The cockpit and the passenger compartment slope to a tapered, aerodynamic roof – again giving the vehicle the feel of an oversized compact hatchback, as opposed to a clumsy, top heavy minivan.
It's possible the 2012 Mazda 5 belongs to an emerging class of small car/van crossover vehicles. Up until now, the term "crossover" applied to blends of car and SUV that replaced the station wagon in recent years – like the Ford Edge, the Mazda CX9 and the GMC Acadia. However, we're now seeing mixes of hatchback and van like the Scion xB, the Nissan Cube and the 2012 Mazda 5 we took out for a week-long road test recently.
Mazda looks to build every one of its makes with its ad slogan of "Zoom-Zoom" very much in mind. In other words, the Hiroshima-based automaker never wants to produce a sluggish, unresponsive or boring vehicle. You might never apply adjectives like "fast" or "powerful" to a Mazda, but "zippy" and "fun" often find their way into their owners' vernaculars.
But, it's a challenge to make a minivan – or whatever we're calling the Mazda 5 – perceptively fun to drive. So, Mazda dropped in a 2.5 liter, four cylinder engine capable of 157 hp. They also tuned the suspension with stability control to compensate against the tendency for taller, top heavy vehicles to shift or slosh from side to side.
The end result is an adequately quick ride with surprisingly responsive steering. I wasn't expecting the Mazda5 to be as tight as it was from steering wheel to driving surface, but the "van" goes where you point it with minimal understeer and immediate directional correction. It also breaks with the confidence of a sporty hatchback, increasing the driver's confidence level.
We got a hold of the $24,025 Grand Touring version, with its automatic transmission, DVD player in full view of the second and third row of seats, AM/FM/CD/Satellite audio system and traction control. The Mazda 5 also comes in a more basic Touring configuration for $21,345 and a Sport version for an entry level $19,345.
All versions come with a complete set of airbags to make sure all hands onboard are well-protected in event of a collision. In fact, such safety precautions might be the most "minivan-ish" feature of a very "un-minivan" vehicle.
The Mazda 5 might be too close to an actual minivan for some younger drivers to bite on – especially with attractive hatchback options like the Mazda 3, Volkswagen Golf and Honda CR-X floating in a similar price range. But, for those buyers looking for a similar ride in a vehicle capable of carrying more people or cargo than a quick hatchback, the Mazda 5 is a surprisingly good option.