The Mazda5 has been one of those cars that barely puts a foot wrong but is unjustly overlooked by the British public. Maybe the latest diesel model can rectify things as Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The first generation Mazda5 was a quietly excellent vehicle but too easy to ignore. With this second generation car, Mazda has tried to make it stand out with more extrovert styling, an even cleverer interior and, in this diesel model, a refined package that'll manage over 54mpg and emit just 138g/km of CO2. The seven seats and twin rear sliding doors continue.
Don't be fooled for a second into thinking that a vehicle's relative popularity correlates closely to its inherent talent. The most popular cars are often those that are backed by the biggest marketing muscle. It's often the case that seriously rated cars slip under the public's radar and the Mazda5 MPV has long been a case in point. Rather crestfallen by the lukewarm response this meticulously developed vehicle received, Mazda went back to the drawing board and in 2010 launched the second generation 5, featuring more eyecatching styling, a smarter interior and a much improved diesel engine to boot. Could it succeed where its predecessor had failed, or would the Mazda5 follow the likes of the Toyota Avensis Verso and the Honda Stream into that strange blind spot the UK reserves for mid-sized Japanese MPVs? I'd like to think the Mazda5 1.6 diesel is a little too good for that particular fate.
To the undoubted chagrin of the Mazda engineers who have spent long hours working on this car's ride, handling and engine, the finers points of the Mazda5 diesel's chassis dynamics will probably represent a minor consideration in the overall buying decision. Its space, its economy, its safety provision and its styling will all count for more than how it goes down the road. But, for what it's worth, Mazda has done a very thorough job with this latest car. The 1.6-litre diesel engine isn't much of a powerhouse, its 115bhp output appearing somewhat underbaked for a car that can hold seven passengers. But it's the torque figure that's more important and, with 199lb/ft, this 1.6-litre Euro5 compliant engine pulls lustily above 1750rpm, though you'll need a few revs on the board when coming out of junctions to avoid falling out of that seam of torque. The sprint to 62mph takes a leisurely 13.7 seconds. Ride quality is a little firmer than I remember the old model being, but the counterpoint to this is that the Mazda5 now corners much more neatly thanks to beefed up spring rates and lightweight stabilizers which improve stability at speed and keep body-roll in check. The steering has also been tuned to give a sharper feel with better feedback. The diesel engine offers decent refinement at cruising speeds and Mazda claim that wind noise has been reduced by 10 per cent. The six-speed manual gearbox is mounted high on the centre console and features a slicker shift action than many sports hatches.
Design and Build
The latest design is a good deal more dynamic-looking than its somewhat forgettable predecessor, with a frontal aspect my five year old niece described as a 'happy fish'. Having looked at it a couple of times, there is something rather 'Finding Nemo' about its face. The twin sliding side doors are a feature carried over from the old model and every MPV should have them. Pass some legislation to that effect. There's no chance of eager children remodelling the bodywork 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. Although the Mazda5 is billed as a seven-seater, you can buy a five-seat variant should you so wish. All the rear seats fold flat whichever version you choose and the seat backs are wider than in the old Mazda5 to improve 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 - some 434 litres below the parcel shelf with the third row seats down and 1,485 litres with the second and third rows folded. With the back seats in place? A rather paltry 112 litres which is less than half the luggage space in a Ferrari 458 Italia.
Market and Model
On the inside, Mazda5 has a new dashboard that makes the front passenger area seem larger than before, a new steering wheel and centre stack, along with more comfortable seats, high quality materials and a new black seat fabric for enhanced quality feel. The third row seats are a 50/50 split design and can be independently dropped flat into the floor. Every Mazda5 gets a decent provision of standard equipment with even the entry-level diesel model (1.6D TS2) model featuring privacy glass, rear parking sensors, automatic climate control air-conditioning, automatic wipers and headlights, a trip computer and Bluetooth hands-free system. Range-topping 1.6D Sport models add 17-inch alloy wheels, a dark silver front grille, front fog lights, body-coloured side skirts and rear spoiler, leather seat trim, heated front seats, and power sliding rear doors. 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 while the door impact beams have been strengthened and an advanced head restraint design 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
Unlike its petrol-engined counterpart, the Mazda5 1.6 diesel doesn't offer a Stop/Start system, so you'll still be able to hear is engine thrumming away quietly at idle. Even without this feature, the 54.3mpg combined fuel economy figure isn't at all bad, although it would have been good to see a bit more shaved off the 138g/km emissions figure. By comparison, existing entry level diesel versions of the Volkswagen Touran and the Vauxhall Zafira both manage 134g/km so the Mazda isn't really moving the game on here. For a vehicle without much of a public following, the Mazda5 offers extremely strong residual values. Perhaps canny used buyers appreciate its reliability record, but three year used values are way better than an equivalent Zafira or Grand Scenic, helping further drive down the overall cost of ownership.
Bar perhaps access to the rear seats, the Mazda5 1.6 diesel doesn't excel in any one area. In truth, you could list its attributes and against these come up with a rival that delivers each more convincingly. Where the Mazda does appeal is in its blend of abilities, understated as they may be. It's a car that rewards the buyer who has done their homework, who realises that here is a vehicle with ultra-low whole life costs yet is far removed from the dull econoboxes at the bottom of the MPV market. All too often, the purchase of an MPV is a low involvement decision, predicated on factors such as which dealership is closest by or which is offering the easiest credit terms. This is a shame as Mazda has worked to create an interesting and genuinely thoughtful vehicle in the shape of the Mazda5 1.6 diesel and it's highly likely that this sterling effort will go unrewarded.