Freshly equipped with new styling and a more robust powertrain, the 2012 Mazda5 is ready to take on... Er, let's see. The Kia Ronodo was discontinued, right? So, the 5 has no real competition, at least until Ford's new C-Max shows up later this year. Sized like a crossover with the seating of a minivan, the Mazda5 is cross of both, with parts of wagon and hatchback thrown in. We have an automotive platypus. And despite occupying a nonexistent segment, it has been successful. The 5 is, coincidentally, Mazda's fifth bestselling vehicle.
Let's get the biggest disappointment out of the way first: Mazda has removed the factory navigation option. This would be fine as off-the-shelf units are handy and inexpensive, but the 5 has only one power outlet up front (the other one is back in the cargo area). If you have an aftermarket navigation unit plugged in, you have nothing to power a radar detector, or charge phones, music players, laptops, and so on.
That's it for disappointments. The 2012 model receives a larger, 2.5-liter engine which is borrowed, like much of everything under the bodywork, from the Mazda3. The I-4 makes 157 horsepower and 163 pound-feet of torque, or 4 more and 15 more than last year. For the loonies, Mazda has replaced the five-speed manual with a six-cog unit. For everyone else, including our tester, the five-speed automatic carries over with a numerically lower final drive, which boosts EPA highway fuel economy by one point, to 28 mpg. We logged close to 1500 miles of mixed city and freeway driving and saw 24.1 mpg.
Our tester accelerated as you'd expect. With a smidge of wheelspin, it reached 60 mph in 9.1 seconds, which, for the sake of arbitrary comparison, is a tenth behind the manual Ford Fiesta and right next to the Kia Sportage. The quarter mile mark passes in 17 seconds at 81.5 mph. The last Mazda5 we tested in 2006 did the same job about a half-second faster, but it had a manual transmission. At 128 feet, the new model stops from 60 mph nine feet shorter.