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.

Beyond the engine, the most apparent change is the styling, an adaption of Mazda's Nagare design direction, a look the automaker is moving away from in the future. While the fascia could double for a Mazda3, the 5's unique bit is a set of swoopy lines that arc along the profile, which adds a welcome bit of flair. Exterior modifications result in slimmer dimensions all around. Length has shrunk an inch, width has dropped 0.1 inch, and height falls 0.6 inch. Mazda also says the new model is 22 pounds lighter than last year, but we'll have to take their word for it. Our tester weighed 3399 pounds.

For the most part, the interior works brilliantly. The manual sliding doors are easy to actuate, only needing a slight amount of pressure to shut. There are few blind spots when the car is empty, and the armrests on the front seats add a nice touch of comfort. You'll find cargo nets and compartments hidden everywhere, including under the second row seats.

Relative to the established minivan set, the tiny size makes the Mazda5 easy to maneuver through cramped streets and parking lots. It's rather fun to throw around, thanks to responsive and communicative steering. The 5 ran a 28.7 second lap around our Figure Eight, which is a tenth faster than that 2006 model. Its lateral acceleration has improved by 0.01 average g, too. A bank robber may enjoy this as they flee.

They'll be cramped in the backseat, though. While the second row offers plenty of space, the third is definitely for small children. Executive editor Ed Loh claimed to have "ate his knees" while subjecting himself top third row testing. He also found quality in the back poor, adding, "You feel every seam, gap, and bump in the road, as you're sitting directly over the rear wheels." The paradox is that if you fold the third row flat, you have tons of cargo volume (27.5 cubic feet), but one less seat than the Mazda3.

Aside from a few grievances, we like Mazda's mini minivan. It offers a unique and more sensible way to transport people and goods. And it does so with good value. Our tester totaled $23,180, while the base model with the manual starts at $19,990. That and the updates for this model year make for a better car -- even if there is no comparison yet.


2012 Mazda5 Touring
Base price $21,990
Price as Tested $23,180
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD, 6-pass, 4-door van
Engine 2.5L/157-hp/163-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 3399 lb (56/44%)
Wheelbase 108.3 in
Length x width x height 180.5 x 68.9 x 63.6 in
0-60 mph 9.1 sec
Quarter mile 17.0 sec @ 81.5 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 128 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.79 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 28.7 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 21/28 mpg
Energy consumption, city/hwy 160/120 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 emissions 0.82 lb/mile
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