Although they talk about the 1st gen 5, they should have at least mentioned the 2012 as it still falls within their price range and has a host of improvements over the earlier model:
I cross-shopped used Ford Flex, but the wife couldn't abide by the styling.
Yesterday our 2012 5 broke 10k miles during the drive home from Indy. Other than a few niggles (27mpg at 70mph isn't exactly steller, and on a conference call I was on with my bluetooth headset my boss told me to mute my phone when I wasn't talking as the wind&road noise were too loud :/ ) we're still VERY happy with the Mazda.
2010 Mazda5 Sport
So, after doing everything in our power to avoid minivans, now we offer one as a gem. What gives? Well, it starts with the availability of a third pedal and a vertical stalk that's used to select five forward gears by hand. By default, such an archaic device requires a higher level of situational awareness and driver involvement in vehicle operation, and coincidently, that's exactly what driving enthusiasts crave. They crave it so much they'll often sacrifice horsepower or optional equipment just to have that interface, all in the name of physically manipulating internal moving parts to induce forward motion. Fascinating.
Having spent an entire paragraph talking about the philosophy of shifting gears, you might expect there isn't much else to like about the Mazda5. Itís true that to get the manual in the Mazda one must opt for the base Sport model, and that means living with the bare minimums--power windows, locks, cruise control, auto climate control, CD player, traction and dynamic stability control, anti-lock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution, front, side and head airbags, electroluminescent gauges, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and sexy seventeen-inch alloy wheels.
Look a little further and you can probably find this base model with the optional DVD entertainment system, in-dash CD changer, and fog lights. In fact, the only notable differences between the Sport and top-of-the-line Grand Touring are some paint and trim enhancements, Xenon headlamps, heated leather seats, an available moonroof, and thatís about it. Base model, indeed.
Since itís not necessarily wanting for features, the Sport must get the crap engine then. Actually, it gets the only engine available for the entire line--a 2.3-liter four cylinder making all of 153 horsepower and 148 pound-feet of torque. If that doesnít sound like much of a mill to power a family vehicle, youíre right. Itís not fast, but itís also not as dinky as one might expect. Compared to the considerably larger Traverse, the Mazda5 has 1300 less pounds to deal with.
Itís only available with front-wheel drive, and with the manual gearbox it doesnít suffer as much parasitic power loss through the driveline. As a result, the Mazda isnít much slower than the Flex, and itís rated for 28 miles per gallon on the highway.
But it still looks like a minivan, right? Well, perhaps a minivan that does the Insanity workout every morning. Its edgy lines and lack of chrome give it a leaner, more sculpted look. The narrowing of the side glass as the roof and beltline meet in the back adds to the 5ís sleekness, but that also presents a problem.
Passengers in the first two rows have cushioned backsides and legroom to spare, allowing them to enjoy the smartly arranged, handsome interior. But the Mazda closes in around the pair of seats in back, which are a snug fit even for children. It doesnít help that the 5 is smaller than the average minivan, but even the clever interior packaging canít magically create space where none exists. Occasional trips with six passengers (the Mazdaís maximum headcount, since a middle-row bench isnít available) and minimal cargo are plausible, but long-distance rear seat occupants taller than Prince are not recommended.
Minivan though it might be, beneath the distinctive sheet metal and three-row seating lives the spirit of a Mazda3. That car provides the basis for the 5ís underpinnings and we can appreciate that lineage in the way this people mover carries itself. We don't smile when driving minivans, but blipping the 5ís throttle to execute a slick 4-3 downshift in preparation to accelerate through a long, sweeping 40 mile-per-hour right hander, leaning left as the g-load and tire noise builds, feeling the suspension squat and settle without excessive body roll as the engine (eventually) pulls man and machine past the apex--only then do we look in the rearview mirror. Are there really four additional seats and two sliding doors back there? Doesnít matter, weíre still smiling.
And thatís not even the best part, because the 2010 Mazda 5 Sport was $20,000 brand new. Today, the same machine can be had for as little as $15,000. It comes up a little short on space and power, but for a family of five with a driver who yearns for something more from the journey, this could be the best-kept secret on the market.
The Mazda5 is head and shoulders above the Flex and Traverse in the fun-to-drive department. For usable passenger space and comfort with appreciable power and some cornering composure, the Traverse is the vehicle of choice. Distinctive styling with rich accommodations, supreme comfort, and just enough poise to be interesting is the exclusive domain of the Flex. Three family oriented machines with three different approaches to one very important job, and though weíd all like to get rowdy with something naughty and Italian, in the end itís family that matters most.