2012 Mazda5 Grand Touring HD Video Review

Finding the right vehicle for a family of four can be tough.  A sedan might be too small, due to surprise play dates and soccer game carpooling.  Most days a 7-seat van or SUV is just too big, especially in crowded urban settings.  What’s a family to do?

Mazda5, 2011

Behold! The 2012 Mazda5!  It’s part transportation, part Swiss Army knife, and part stealth fighter (on account that it’s completely off most shopper’s radar screens).  There’s nothing else quite like it.  The first generation with its rocket-booster tail lamps has been on my “most overlooked” list for years now. This second-gen is more conventional in silhouette.

Most would describe the 5 as a mini minivan.  Think about it though, major players like Sienna, Odyssey, Town and Country, and Grand Caravan have all grown quite a bit.  They’re vans now, not much mini about them.  The Mazda5 is a minivan.

Just How Mini?

The 5 is only three inches longer than a Honda Civic, so the size is very manageable.  It’s supremely lithe and nimble in crowded parking lots, the kind that force larger vehicles into three-point turns to squeeze into a slot.

Mazda5, 2011

Unlike Civic, Mazda5 holds 6 passengers with three rows of two seats.  Most families will use it as a four-passenger vehicle with an enormous trunk.  With row number three flattened it scores an impressive 14 in the TP trunk test.  One tug lifts the last row seatbacks upright, adding instant passenger capacity.  At 5’9” I’m good for a ride across town if the guy in the second row isn’t an NBA player.

It’s not just about seating, the 5er has loads of nooks to stash stuff.  The glovebox swallows many laptop computers. Storage under the second row seat cushions will swallow up any number of toys and coloring books for the kids.  The chairs recline plus slide fore and aft to max out legroom.  There are even fold down arm rests and powered windows in the sliding doors.

Mazda5, 2011

Simplicity is Good

Mazda5 is not a McMansion or Best Buy on wheels.  There’s no wood trim, panoramic glass roof or wide screen entertainment system.  The sliding doors and liftgate are manual.  They’re light, they don’t need power assist, even my six-year old twin nieces can easily manhandle them.  Another advantage to compact size is that kids can easily climb in and out themselves.

Since 5 is more of a basic family car, keyless ignition, high-end sound system, navigation and backup camera are not offered.  The top-of-the-line Grand Touring press car I’m driving is available with just one powertrain, a 2.5 liter 157 horse 4-cylinder hooked up to a 5-speed automatic.  A 6-speed manual transmission is available in the Sport model.

Mazda5, 2011

The Smile is There for a Reason

Mazda5’s grille gets the familiar Mazda happy face.  You’ll smile too.  The front-wheel drive 5 scampers from standstill to 60 miles an hour in just over 9 seconds, but feels quicker.  Where it really shines is in the corners.  It’s a play date for mom and dad every time they slide behind the wheel, driving dynamics are crisp and confident.  Combine that with the smaller footprint of the car and daily surgical shopping strikes become more enjoyable.

While the vanlette doesn’t roll much in corners, the ride quality remains surprisingly comfortable.  The thick leather-wrapped steering wheel communicates a decent amount of feedback from the tires.  Road noise is on the higher side of average cruising at highways speeds, in town it’s not an issue.  Fuel economy is EPA rated at 21 city, 28 highway.  Very few family friendly machines offer up this combination of utility, handling prowess and economy.

Mazda5, 2011

From the Driver’s Chair

It’s easy to find a comfortable driving position with a tilt/telescoping steering wheel.  Interior plastics are hard though they look decent. With only a little silver accent trim, the black cabin feels a bit dark and monochromatic.  Order the “sand” color for a much cheerier lifestyle.  Hope your kids are cleaner than mine.

Grand Touring comes with automatic climate, those in the second row get their own fan control.  The cluster of buttons on the instrument panel takes some time getting used to but it’s hardly iDrive. Loads of info (like interior and exterior temp plus sound system data) is crammed into a red LCD display strip on top of the dash.  It’s a bit busy but workable.  At least it’s polite, saying “hello” and “goodbye” at the appropriate times.

Mazda5, 2011

A few little gripes.- There’s no 12v power port in the middle row for the kids to charge their iPads (5 doesn’t come with a factory DVD entertainment system).  There’s only one seatback map pocket too.  To max out the utility mission this car promises, every seat should have storage on it’s backside.  You can never have too many of those…

With rows two and three folded flat there’s an impressive amount of cargo space to tote old clothes and toys to Goodwill (guess what I did this weekend).   However, the front passenger seat doesn’t fold flat to accommodate surfboards and such.  For folks in the Midwest, that’s probably not much of a problem…

Go With the Flow

You may have noticed the unique sweeping lines embossed on the side panels.  It’s inspired by Mazda’s Nagare concept car, which itself was inspired by wind and water.  I have to admit I was cool to the look at first but I’ve grown accustomed to it in the past week.

Mazda5, 2011

Sometimes smaller is just better, and in the 5s case that’s true.  Tap 20 grand from the kid’s college fund and it buys a base model 5. This fully optioned Grand Touring goes for $24,670 (plus tax of course and license).  Fun and functional, Mazda5 is the perfect tool for small families that live large.  Don’t leave it off your test drive list.



  1. Mike says:

    Great review of the 5. Do you know, is there any talk out there of Mazda putting the Skyactive engine & transmission into the 5? I’d give this car a very serious look today, considering my growing family. But if Mazda added the higher MPGs and performance that Skyactive is supposed to deliver, I’d almost certainly be sold on it.

    • TV says:

      Hi Mike,
      I don’t know of any immediate plans of doing the SKYACTIV thing to the 5 but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It adds cost and considering sales of the 5 aren’t huge, it might be something they leave to the next gen before it’s offered.

  2. maximus says:

    I love this vehicle, and this is coming from a guy with no kids or dogs or lots of stuff to haul around. I guess if i was in the market for a family vehicle this would be on my list. How come this car is so under the radar, I think this is the perfect sized vehicle for the average family of 4. unfortunately the top trims are not available with manual transmission, Why? Are we coming to the end of manual transmissions in general?

  3. FinalBlue says:

    I really wish more automakers would bring their MPV’s to the America; They have the potential to be really popular. I think the only reason they haven’t really caught on yet and the people haven’t demanded more is because Mazda, the only player in the segment right now (now that Kia has abandoned the Rondo), is a fairly low-key brand.

    Ford, one of the few brands brave enough to bring MPV’s to the U.S, is making a mistake by making the upcoming C-Max a hybrid/EV only machine (which limits its appeal somewhat to people who don’t like the higher price hybrids generally have/people who are fearful of EV’s), and other manufacturers are missing a big opportunity by not capitalizing on the smallish family transport market. I think that if MPV’s were embraced by more conventional brands, they could actually eclipse compact crossover sales.

    Aside from the somewhat drab and ergonomically cluttered interior (as others have mentioned), and the controversial exterior (personally, I like it), I can’t think of a single dig against the 5. It’s fuel efficiency is comparable to that of most compact crossovers, and it’s kept it’s price down quite well. It has what the majority of small families need and want in terms of versatility/usefulness (case in point, the notches for trash bags in the fold-out bin. I remember having plastic bags to throw candy wrappers/empty juice boxes in in my mom’s Quest when I was little, and it’s really cool how Mazda thought of a way to better accommodate stuff like that) in a compact, affordable package. The fact that the 5 is fun to drive is just icing on the cake.

  4. GusGT says:

    I rode in a 2009 Mazda 5 and thought it wasn’t bad. TV, your description of “rocket-booster” tail lamps for the previous version is right-on! The new model has a much improved appearance. The wind & water swoop on the side looks interesting in the video, I’m curious as to the in-person view. The Mazda smile is something I just can’t get use to. So, what’s the difference between a station wagon and a mini-mini van?

  5. jlkdmd298d says:

    I really like this vehicle and test drove one recently but found the interior to be rather dull. The black interior is very drab. I wish there were some chrome accents or brushed silver trim somewhere. An option package for parking assist or navigation would be nice. I want a more welcoming interior.

  6. pereflight says:

    This ride seems pretty perfect for my expanding family. It’d be really nice to have the space to keep my drums in the back and still have two back seats available. Unloading the drums out of my matrix at 3 in the morning after a gig so I can drive the little one around the next day is getting very old. My only concern is the road noise. My matrix is super loud on the highway and it drives me a bit batty. Do you think the Mazda road noise is any quieter?

    Keep up these great reviews. Really enjoy em!

    • TV says:

      Welcome to the site! I think the 5 is quieter (but I’m going off of memory). Best bet is to test drive on the route you normally drive. Pavement is all over the map as far as loudness, here in the Pacific NW some of the surfaces are crazy noisy. I’m guessing your drums would fit with the 3rd row down as long as your kit isn’t huge.

  7. Elliot says:

    I’ve seen no lack of ability to maneuver traditional minivans, dually pickups, delivery vans or 18 wheelers on the highways around or the roads through the crowded urban settings I’ve traveled. Trying to merge from a short ramp into four lanes of 10mph over speed limit traffic with five people + stuff squeezed inside a small vehicle with an I think I can engine does not sound like a happy time.