Can good looks and a sporty driving experience make MPV practicality more desirable? Steve Walker checks out the Mazda5.
We're born, we grow up, we get married, we have kids, we buy an MPV. There's a crushing predictability to the path life takes sometimes and even today, with the nuclear family looking less and less like the default option, this chain of events will have a familiar ring to it for many people. The MPV is seen both as great facilitator of successful family life and as the type of car that happens to people when their commitments finally nail the coffin lid shut on their desires. It doesn't have to be like that though. MPVs can be cool, stylish and fun but they just have to be a bit cleverer about it. The Mazda5 is one seven-seater with its thinking cap on.
Ten Second Review
The Mazda5 looks a sensible option for those needing MPV practicality but still wanting nice aesthetics and a fun drive from their family car. It's a compact MPV with up to seven seats and sliding side doors that help it stand out alongside rivals. Mazda has also pushed the stylistic boat out, giving the car some adventurous detailing and the suspension is set-up for a sporty feel on the road.
The original Mazda5 was a car that never really achieved the sales success that it deserved. Despite critical acclaim for its attractive design, spacious cabin and the sliding rear doors that made it unique in the compact MPV class, it failed to really grasp the attention of buyers. The reason for that can be summed up in familiar terms: terms like Zafira, Picasso, Scenic, Touran and Verso. The competition was fierce and the Mazda5 was a leftfield option often missed by a target market constantly preoccupied by dirty nappies, first steps and forgotten PE kits. The latest model keeps much of what made the original work but wraps it in a package that's more likely to get noticed.
Mazda is a manufacturer that makes great play of its sporty side and even its more practical models have tended to have something of that flavour about them. This Mazda5 is no different and features a steering system modified for a sharper, more linear feel than was evident in the previous model. The suspension benefits from increased spring rates and lightweight stabilizers which improve stability at speed and keep body-roll in check. Power is derived from a select line-up of petrol and diesel engines with Mazda particularly proud of its 2.0-litre DISI petrol unit which comes fitted with i-Stop stop/start technology. It's a 148bhp engine capable of covering the 0-62mph sprint in 11s. The other petrol option is a 1.8-litre 113bhp unit that takes 12.8s to do the same but is priced at a more accessible level. The diesel option is a 1.6-litre unit with 115bhp.
Design and Build
Mazda didn't revolutionise MPV design with this Mazda5. The basic shape is in line with most of the other models in this sector but it has sought to enliven the look of the car with bold detailing. What we have is one of the larger models in the compact MPV class with a 4,585mm overall length of which 2,750mm is wheelbase. At the front, the 5 gets Mazda's sporty headlight and bumper ensemble with huge grinning aperture at its centre combining the grille and air-intake. The real point of interest comes down the flanks where two delicate lines arch up over the front wheelarches and down the flanks in a wave-like pattern. This is the key element of the design language Mazda calls 'Nagare Flow' which was debuted on a series of concept car including the stunning Furai. It's not often that the styling of an MPV becomes a major point of interest but the Mazda5 is an attractive vehicle by the standards set elsewhere in this sometimes frumpy area of the market. The question is whether the car is practical with it. The sliding side doors are an unusual inclusion, particularly in the compact MPV sector, but they have their advantages. There's no change of eager children remodelling the panelwork of adjacent cars in the rush to get out and the doors slide back to reveal a wider aperture than normal, making it easier to access the rear seats and lean in to make sure the kids are buckled up. The doors are powered by electric motors on some variants, adding an extra level of utility. The actual cabin is a 7-seat affair in most models but there is a 5-seat option. All the rear seats fold flat whichever version you choose and the seat backs are wider than in the old Mazda5 to enhance comfort. As usual in this class of vehicle, there's not much of a boot with seven passengers on board but a big one when you're only seating 5. There's 434 litres below the parcel shelf with the third row seats down and 1,485 litres with the second and third rows folded.
Market and Model
Safety is a big issue in any car but particularly so in an MPV and the Mazda5 has been designed to conform to the highest standards of occupant and pedestrian protection. The car is based around a special energy absorbing structure. The door impact beams have been strengthened compared to the old model and an advanced headrestraint design is used to help prevent neck injury. There's also Mazda's ESS Emergency Stop Signal which warns drivers behind of sudden braking by rapidly flashing the hazard lights.
Cost of Ownership
As well as appealing to MPV buyers who'd be buying something sportier if their growing families permitted it, the Mazda5's flowing lines produce top class aerodynamic performance, helping to lower running costs. For a relatively big vehicle, combined cycle economy is OK with the 2.0-litre DISI petrol unit returning 41mpg with the aid of its i-Stop stop/start technology. The 1.8-litre petrol gets 39mpg with CO2 emissions of 168g/km compared to 159g/km from the 2.0-litre model. Most however, will want to consider 115bhp the 1.6-litre diesel variant which manages 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and puts out 138g/km of CO2.
People carriers are usually more concerned with carrying people successfully than attracting attention with audacious design innovations and rightly so. The latest Mazda5 doesn't do anything too over the top but its sleek lines and curvy detailing do add an element of interest that's often missing from the MPV class. Sliding side doors, the potential to seat seven and a focus on sharp driving dynamics will also give it a fighting chance of hitting the compact MPV big time.