By June Neary
The Mazda5 demonstrates that a practical MPV can be just a little bit cool. June Neary reports.
Will It Suit Me?
We all have our own ideas on what makes a car cool. It's probably best to start with what makes one irredeemably naff. I once saw a fifty-year old guy sitting outside Harrods in a red convertible sports car - I won't name and shame the brand but I bet you can guess - with chest wig on display, trying to eye up language students. It forever tainted that model for me as a car bought by people who try that little bit too hard. The Mazda5, on the other hand, is the very antithesis of the try-hard vehicle. It's super-practical, low key and doesn't sport a prestige badge and in my book that makes it rather suave.
You can buy the Mazda5 as either a five-seat version with plenty of luggage space or a seven-seater with next to none when all the seats are in use. All the rear seats fold flat whichever version you choose and the seat backs are wider than in the old Mazda5 to improve comfort. There's 434 litres of luggage space 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 you'd get in a Ferrari 458 Italia. 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 an enhanced quality feel. The third row seats are a 50/50 split design and can be independently dropped flat into the floor.
Behind the Wheel
At 4585mm long, the Mazda5 isn't too much of a handful to nudge into a parking bay and even the base model gets parking sensors, which helps when you've got a carful of kids who are doing their best to distract you. The sliding doors are also a boon if you're worried about the little 'uns opening doors straight into somebody's pride and joy. I tested the diesel model and it's nicely refined at motorway speeds with a fair turn of speed. I particularly liked the six-speed manual gearbox with the gear selector mounted high on the centre console. The ride is a bit firm around town which seems at odds with its family remit, but the payoff is crisp handling, which can be fun once you've dropped the kids at school. 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 of f the 138g/km emissions figure.
Value For Money
Prices start at just over £18,000 for the 1.8 TS2 petrol version and top out at around £22,000 for the 1.6 diesel Sport that I've been driving. Every Mazda5 gets a decent stack of standard equipment with even the entry-level diesel (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 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. That's reassuring stuff to know when you've got your family on board.
Could I Live With One?
The Mazda5 features a lot of very smart ideas. Being a lower mileage driver, I'd probably forgo the diesel model and buy a petrol version, but it's hard to go too far wrong. If you're regularly going to be carting six passengers with you, I'd be tempted to go for something the next size up, but for a family of four or five, it's a great size, plus it can do the business if it's your turn as designated driver and need to get friends home from a night out. The best thing about the Mazda5 is that it gets the job done with no fuss, no unnecessary glitz or garnish and yet feels a polished product. It's also a good deal more fun to drive than its market positioning might suggest. I could certainly live with one. So much so that I'm racking my brain trying to come up with an excuse to extend the loan. Something tells me that Mazda may have heard them all before.