Overview: The Mazda 5 has its class—the mini-minivan with proper sliding doors—all to itself in the U.S. The model was first introduced to America roughly a decade ago as a roomier cousin to the contemporary Ford Focus and Mazda 3, and it was redesigned for 2012 with new sheetmetal, an updated interior, and mechanical tweaks that included adding one forward gear to the since-discontinued manual transmission.
The front-wheel-drive 5 seats six in three rows of two. Although no seventh chair is available, it nevertheless provides much of the flexibility of a full-size minivan in a tidier package that’s easy to maneuver in traffic and park in the daycare or supermarket lot. The only powertrain is a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, but neither benefits from Mazda’s latest Skyactiv weight-reduction and efficiency technologies. Fuel-economy ratings are thus only 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway. (A six-speed automatic would help, too.)
It remains the only new Mazda available for sale today that hasn’t moved on from the Nagare styling language, as the rest of the lineup has been refreshed or redesigned to adhere to the gorgeous Kodo aesthetic that debuted with the introduction of the Mazda CX-5 crossover in late 2011. We drove a loaded 2015 Mazda 5 Grand Touring model for this review; compared with lower trim levels, it adds leather upholstery, a power sunroof, rain-sensing wipers, heated side mirrors, automatic HID headlamps, and heated front seats. The GT also gets features from the mid-level Touring, such as 17-inch wheels, side-sill extensions, Bluetooth, rear parking sensors, a trip computer, and leather garnishes for the steering wheel and shifter.
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What’s New: Since last we reviewed the 5 for 2012, the model switched up its paint offerings, gained an interior USB port, and added LED turn-signal repeaters on the side mirrors and available backup sensors. It also lost one of its unique selling points, at least among enthusiasts like us, when the six-speed manual transmission was dropped for 2015. The manual was limited only to the base Sport model, but it added an extra measure of involvement to a vehicle type that’s generally considered boring.
What We Like: Despite being outdated in terms of Mazda chassis technology, the 5 nevertheless is still relatively fun to drive—a rarity among anything whose primary mission is hauling family and gear. The steering is lively and somewhat talkative, and the van is imbued with an agility that’s exceedingly rare among the sliding-door set. The automatic is also, yes, outdated, but it at least offers rev-matched downshifts for when you’re feeling sassy on the way to Chuck E. Cheese. The pricing is also friendly, as the top-spec Grand Touring still comes in under $26K, about three grand below the entry-level full-size minivans from Honda and Toyota.
What We Don’t Like: Well, there’s no manual available anymore. And the automatic transmission has only five speeds in an era when six, eight, or even nine is the norm. While the 5 was fairly nice inside when the second-gen edition launched a few years ago, Mazda’s current interiors are now in another stratosphere in terms of design and materials. (We named the Mazda 3’s the best interior for under $30,000, in fact.) The 5 also doesn’t have the hushed cabin of most larger minivans—unsurprising given its compact-car roots—and the tidy size means it also lacks those vehicles’ ultimate cargo- and people-ferrying abilities.
Verdict: Practical and fun, more people should buy one. If we’ve convinced you, better get a move on, as the 5 is being discontinued for 2016. Now’s the time to swing a smokin’ deal.