by Matthew Wilson
Sometimes a minivan is just a minivan. Often times it's boring and no amount of "swagger" can redeem its soccer mom list of daily tasks. Many can also recall fond childhood memories of long road trips for the annual family vacation to Wherever, Florida. Still, the very idea of owning a minivan for any driving enthusiast is hardly a goal they look forward to achieving. Perhaps the problem here is that minivan is simply the wrong minivan.
Instead of stopping off at the local Chrysler/Dodge/Toyota dealership, perhaps the most suitable answer awaits you over at Mazda. Redesigned for 2011, the Mazda5 MPV has been updated with all-new sheetmetal, a new engine, and a new dash. The exterior styling is the Japanese automaker's most dramatic take on their Nagare "wave" theme. And while that design language never quite worked on models such as the Mazda3, it gives the 5 a necessary sporty look.
Based off Ford's global C1 platform, it also shares several components with the Mazda3. And yes, your eyes are working just fine because the Mazda5 is slimmer than the conventional minivan as it was designed to better fit the narrow streets of Europe and Japan. As a result, it drives and handles more in tune with a sport sedan. Equipped with a 2.5-liter inline-four with 157 hp and 163 lb-ft of torque, it's mated to either a five-speed automatic with manumatic shifting or a six-speed manual. No, that's not a typo as the six-speed is standard on the Sport trim only.
The automatic is the only transmission offered on the Touring and Grand Touring. Mazda deserves full applause for the manual option, even if it's just for the base model. Fuel economy is also quite decent coming in at 21/28 mpg city/highway. With a 0 to 60 mph time of 9.0 seconds flat, the Mazda5 provides an overall solid combination of sportiness and efficiency for a minivan. Inside are three rows of seating that can accommodate up to six people. Interior space for backseat passengers is smaller than that of, for example, the Dodge Grand Caravan or Honda Odyssey.
But really, how much of that extra space is justifiable on a daily basis? The dual sliding doors make access extremely easy and the middle row of seats recline, slide forward and fold flat. The third row, although a bit tight for comfort, also folds flat which allows for increased versatility. With Ford about to launch the upcoming C-Max (which also shares a history with the C1platform), it seems that the MPV segment may just be the answer for those unable or unwilling to pay for the added cost of many CUVs and who also don't need the goliath amount of extra space.
Pricing starts at $19,195 and a fully loaded Grand Touring, complete with sunroof, xenon headlights, heated power mirrors, Sirius satellite radio, and leather seats, comes in at just $24,670. Interestingly, Mazda has decided not to offer a built-in navigation system, stating that their customers prefer to spend the money on a portable navigation unit. The 2012 Mazda 5 is, quite simply, more of a mini-minivan. Granted, it's not as large as most other minivans, but how much extra room is really needed for those 2.3 children, a dog, and all of your stuff for daily driving, save for the occasional road trip?
The combination of sportiness and efficiency, all-around user-friendly accessibility, and even a six-speed manual makes the Mazda5 all the more desirable when shopping for a family minivan. Perhaps in the near future, a minivan is not just a minivan. It's an MPV.