Underrated and largely under the MPV market radar, the mk 2 Mazda 5 is anything but an underachiever. Especially in 2.0-litre DISI form, as Jonathan Crouch discovers.
Ten Second Review
Gone are the days when all People Carriers really had to do was to come up with clever ways to carry people. Today, in the face of competition from Crossovers, SUVs and ever more versatile family hatches, MPVs have to be a bit more exciting and aspirational. Especially if they want a slice of the medium-sized volume sector where Zafiras, Scenics, C-MAXs and Picassos hold sway. This second generation Mazda 5, now availa promises to be exactly that.
We're born, we grow up, we get married, we have kids, we buy a People Carrier. There's sometimes a crushing predictability to the path life takes isn't there? 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. Not that it has to be like that of course. MPVs can be cool, stylish and fun but they just have to be a bit cleverer about it. And this second generation Mazda5 is one seven-seater with its thinking cap on. Though half a million examples of the original Mazda5 were sold worldwide, it was always something of a minority choice in the UK, forgotten by a Zafira, Picasso and Scenic-buying 7-seat mini-MPV target audience constantly preoccupied by dirty nappies, first steps and forgotten PE kits. And this despite its unique provision in the mini-MPV class of the kind of useful sliding side doors that until this car's introduction in 2005, had been limited to much larger People Carriers. Hence the need in 2010 for a MK2 model able to keep much of what made the original work but wrap it in a package more likely to get noticed.
Whatever you think about Mazda's 'Zoom Zoom' advertising programme, it does at least have some basis in fact. By and large, Mazda's are better to drive than products from most rival brands, a dynamic standard that's even more noticeable when applied to genres like MPVs that have no right to be sporty at all: as is the case here. You can't create a sportscar out of something so big and high-sided, but you can make something surprisingly enjoyable to drive. Something that can really reward on the backroads home once you've dropped the kids off at school. In this class, only Ford's Grand C-MAX can rival this car in this respect. The reasons why have to do with what Mazda calls a more 'linear feel' to the whole driving experience, smoothing out everything from braking to steering to suspension so that the car flows with you through the bends with much less bodyroll than you'd normally expect from a people carrier, thanks to a 17% increase in chassis stiffness. It also helps that refinement is excellent thanks to a 10% drop in wind noise over the old model, the 6-speed gearbox is slick and that, as with most MPVs, you sit a little higher up at the wheel for a more commanding view of the road ahead. That helps when parking too, as does the fact that there's a tight turning circle, just 11.2m kerb-to-kerb. Unusually for a car of this kind, it's petrol rather than diesel power that receives the most emphasis, with most green pump buyers likely to opt for either an entry-level 115PS 1.8 or the 150PS 2.0-litre unit rather confusingly badged 'DISI' - short for 'Direct Injection Spark Ignition', on test here. For diesel fans, there's a 115PS 1.6 that though frugal and flexible, isn't especially fast, needing 13.7s to complete the rest to sixty sprint. The 2.0-litre petrol version is of course plenty more rapid, covering the same increment in 11s on the way to 120mph, but even here, the feeling is never one of exceptionally rapid progress. Torque - pulling power - is more what this car is all about, one reason why it can boast an unbraked towing limit of 600kg.
Design and Build
The Mazda5 is certainly one of the better looking MPVs but don't expect there to be as much space as in a Galaxy, S-Max or Sharan-class large MPV. That said, it can offer a cabin much larger than any vehicle just 4.5m long has any right to provide. For the Mk2 version, the twin sliding doors are bigger (and boast optional electric power) to reveal a wider aperture than normal, making it easier to access the rear seats via the low, wide step and lean in to make sure the kids are buckled up. Inside, the Karakuri seat design is really very clever. The seats in the centre row slide so you can customise legroom, though you'll need to be a child to properly fit into the small centre seat in the second middle row. When not in use, it can be very neatly folded out of the way to create a spacious 4-seater cabin using the same kind of seat-eating-seat system that you'll also find in a Ford Grand C-MAX. The floor rises to the rear, theatre-style, to ensure passengers in the second and third rows have an unobstructed view ahead. If you're planning to use the third row of seats, you'll probably want to take advantage of the way that the middle centre seat backrest can hinge out of the way to create an access corridor to the very back of your Mazda5. Here, the two occasional third row seats that fold out of the floor when needed are, as with all 7-seater MPVs in the compact class, really designed either for children or reasonably agile adults on very short journeys. Of course, if you are using this third row, then there won't be much luggage space on offer behind it - just 112-litres in fact, though there is a very shallow concealed underfloor compartment to keep valuables away from prying eyes. Fold down the boot-mounted seats and you free up the 426-litres on offer. A total which of course can be extended further if you're able to further fold down the middle seating row - to free up 857-litres (floor to belt-height) or 1,566-litres (floor to ceiling). At the wheel in what Mazda calls a 'driver-centric' cabin, you sit behind a windscreen more steeply raked than you'd expect from a people carrier, adding to the sportier feel that the designers were obviously trying to create. It's not the plushest cabin of any car in this sector, but it is very well laid out, with the deeply recessed circular instrument clusters flanked by a compact and space-efficient centre console that houses audio and climate controls. And there are plenty of storage compartments dotted around for small items, including six-cupholders, two bottle-holders and an 11-litre glovebox.
Market and Model
Mazda5 prices fall mainly in the £18,000-£22,000 bracket and around two-thirds of UK buyers likely to opt for a petrol variant. Those wanting a diesel will need to find a premium of around £2,500 to go from 115PS 1.8-litre petrol to 115PS 1.6-litre diesel, though to be fair, the diesel is higher specced. Anyway, what all that means in comparison to rivals is that listprice-wise in petrol form, you'll save between £1,000 and £2,000 on an equivalent Ford Grand C-Max 7-seater. The other most recent entrant in this segment, Peugeot's 5008, costs about the same as this Mazda in entry-level petrol form but quite a bit more if you want if you want a more powerful petrol variant. Only an older design like Vauxhall's Zafira is in any way significantly cheaper. And diesel? Well at first glance, a Mazda5 drinking from the black pump is one of the pricier alternatives in this class but not by much, plus it's better equipped than most of its rivals. Whichever Mazda5 you choose, a 1.8-litre petrol or a 1.6-litre diesel with 115PS or the 150PS 2.0-litre petrol variant tested here, you should find all the main expected equipment features in place. So you can expect to find air conditioning, cruise control, a 6-speaker CD stereo with Bluetooth, iPod, iPhone and MP3 CD compatibility, powered windows and mirrors and alloy wheels. Safety of course is an especially important issue in this class of car, so it's not surprising to find that this one has been designed to conform to the highest standards of occupant and pedestrian protection. The usual electronic traction, braking and stability aids are in place to try and stop you having an accident, plus there's Mazda's ESS Emergency Stop Signal which warns drivers behind of sudden braking by rapidly flashing the hazard lights. If you really can't avoid a shunt however, you'll be glad of twin front, side and curtain airbags and the two ISOFIX child seat anchor points.
Cost of Ownership
Slippery styling (a 0.30Cd drag factor's very sleek for an MPV) and frugal Euro5-compatible engines help this Mazda5 to produce very competitive running costs. If you owned a MK1 version, you should find this one to be about 4% more frugal and around 6% greener. Petrol buyers will need to know that the 150PS 2.0-litre model is actually slightly greener and more frugal than the 115PS 1.8-litre variant, returning 40.9mpg on the combined cycle as opposed to 39.2mpg, with CO2 emissions of 159g/km against 168g/km. That's due to the 2.0-litre model's neat i-stop stop/start system that cuts the engine seamlessly when you're in stop-start traffic or waiting at the lights, to produce savings of around 15% in both emissions and economy over the figures that this engine would otherwise produce. Go for the 115PS 1.6-litre diesel and you can expect 54.3mpg on the combined cycle and 138g/km of CO2. A centrally mounted gearchange indicator should help ordinary drivers get somewhere near to these kinds of figures on a day-to-day basis. Insurance groupings on the 1-50 groupings scale range between 12 and 16. Residuals won't be class-leading, but they will be better than most mainstream rivals. Servicing is every 12,000 miles or 12 months.
Styling and driving dynamics should never dominate the people carrying remit, but in recent times, it's been good to see both these things assume greater prominence in cars like this one. Sleek lines and curvy detailing certainly add an element of interest that's often missing from the MPV class and this Mazda5 will be better to drive than you'll expect it to be too. Add in the versatility of these neat sliding side doors, plus build quality and practical seat design that no rival can better and you've an often-ignored but very informed choice in the compact Zafira, Scenic and C-MAX-class 7-seat MPV sector.