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2010 Mazda Mazda5

Tim Odell February 23, 2010 Mazda Reviews, Road Test Reviews 43 Comments

mazda5

Life has a funny way of sneaking up on you. The night I took this picture, I became an uncle and my brother became a father. Meanwhile, my own first progeny is (hopefully) a few weeks away. An unplanned ten pounds of diaper ruination doesn’t have the Missus and me scrambling to shop for family trucksters yet, but it struck us as all too symbolic when the flat-pack crib wouldn’t fit in the WRX wagon. The signs are all around: grownuphood is upon us.

Thankfully, we live in a post SUV world. Sort of. Ladder-frame truck based behemoths are on the wane, but their successor in the family hauler role has yet to be anointed. The amorphous “crossover” leads, but the last few years have shown it slowly melting into more wagon-like forms. That wagons are The Hoon’s Choice is a foregone conclusion, but when it comes to hauling more stuff than ass, for the price, there’s no beating a van. The question is, how do you get the utility of a van without feeling like you’ve given up on life?

Mazda has the anwer.

Our 2010 Mazda5 Touring arrived sporting a price tag of $22,480 and a hue we’ll henceforth refer to as press car red. It’s powered by a 2.3L four cylinder backed up by a five speed auto. 2011 will bring a Nagare-ized 5, but in the meantime we’re talking about a model that’s largely unchanged since 2006. Which, really, is fine by us. The Mazda5 is based on the widely praised compact Mazda3 chassis, a solid contender for hot hatch value.

The Touring trim gets you a solid “acceptable” in terms of feature load: power everything, cruise control, sunroof, and a six disc audio system with aux in and Sirius satellite radio. Leather, satnav and DVD entertainment are available in Limited trim. All-in-all, the controls, plastics and upholstery have a very Target feel: not especially high-end, but hardly bargain-basement. Value is the word.

If we’re to evaluate this as The Hoon’s Family Hauler, we’ve got to take issue with a light beige interior (“sand” they call it). It’s a pleasant hue and a welcome departure from typical shades of gray, but was already showing stains with under 3500 miles on the clock. We’d consider it the interior of choice for two groups: those who are already walking around with stains on their shirt, or those with unrealistic expectations for their children.

With segments busting left and right, the Mazda5 creates its own niche somewhere between compact wagon and minivan. It’s got three rows of seats, but only seats six. Conversely, you could look at it as the smallest six-seater around. With the way-back seats down, the cargo area is huge, able to contain two rambunctious boxers with room for a third. With them up, the trunklet is good for one row of grocery bags and not much else. Thankfully, the back seats fold individually, giving room for five with their gear piled up one side. Just make sure to put the smallest member of your party back there; tell him it’s his special fort or something.

Under the mini captains chairs in the middle row are decently sized storage bins and a cool flip-out center console/basket thing. The middle row folds flat as well, leaving room for bikes or surfboards up the side. Just don’t let your friends see it with all the seats folded down; you’ll spend every weekend from here to eternity helping people move.

Ok, you get it. It’s got all the benefits of a van at 7/8ths scale, but how’s it drive?

Knowing the 5 is based on the Mazda3 chassis, we came in with high expectations. Regarding the chassis: satisfaction accomplished. Excluding sportwagons, the Mazda5 is the best handling people mover we’ve ever piloted. The suspension’s perfectly damped and as firm as it could be without earning a dreaded “stiff” label. It leans, but nowhere near what you’d expect. Essentially, it drives like a well-sorted budget hot-hatch, begging you to chuck it harder into the next turn. Just be sure to press the “DSC Off” button, which is bafflingly far away from the driver and close to the spouse. It’s especially baffling as there’s a row of unused switch blanks down and to the left of the driver. Should all this corner-chucking get out of hand, we’ve verified a mid-corner lift will get the backend to rotate in a surprisingly graceful fashion.

While the chassis is top-notch, the powertrain is less so. Maybe we’re asking too much of a budget people-mover, but the 5 just doesn’t sound good. At idle the engine sounds grumbly and the power steering sounds like the Power Loader from Aliens. Unlike some four bangers, the engine note doesn’t improve with speed.

The market is thick with driver-friendly, quick-shifting, rev-matching paddle-actuated six or seven speed automatic transmissions. The Mazda5’s five-speed slushbox is not among them. It exhibits the frustrating, delayed cog-fumbling that leaves us opting for three pedals.  Using the manumatic gate quells some of our gripes, but not all. Miraculously, you can get the Mazda5 with a stickshift. Seriously, like, even in the real world. 1,000 Hooniverse Points, right there.

The transmission wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t backing up an engine that’s next to useless below 4000 rpm. The 153hp 2.3L four-pot works hard for its money getting the Mazda5 to do anything but plod. While the Mazda5 will never be accused of being a fast car, but it’s no slow, either; it’s just that you’ve got to keep the engine in a rev range I prefer to reserve for cars I don’t own.

We pulled just under 20mpg in a mix of errand running and high speed freeway cruising. We expected better, given the 21/27 rating, but we’re willing to chalk it up to a combination of our harder than the EPA driving style and the engine being hardly broken in yet.

Too much complaining? Maybe. After all, the base (read: stick-shift) Mazda5 starts under $19k. A lot of car for not a lot of money, as they say. Maybe we’re just cranky because we wish Mazda would put this shared-with-the-3-chassis to good use and build a Mazdaspeed5. We could re-publish the same review, but replace the last four paragraphs with heaps of praise for the 263hp direct-injected turbo mill.

Transition from prodigal youth into semi-responsible grownuphood is all too often accompanied by settling. The tyranny of practical matters wrings the fun from our habits, leaving us with only the options that checked off the right boxes. And yet, the Mazda5 checks off all the boxes, but hardly feels like settling…in fact, it can be a friggin’ blast at times. Maybe this grownup gig won’t be so bad after all.

  • HeinzInc

    Hey, if it's built on the Madza3 platform, it's fine by me. My next car would be a 3 if the new Focus wasn't coming out in a year or two.

  • I had a Mazda5 rental over Christmas. I was pleasently surprised. It's not quick, but it will move. I found myself going 85 mph unwittingly on the A-4 CA-57. It's roomy, and for short trips adults were fairly comfortable in the 3rd row according to my mom and sister. Cornering was excellent for a vehicle its size and height. I took a freeway onramp at near-freeway speeds with a big grin on my face and my wife white-knucking the "Oh shit" handle.

    The manual shift was horrible. There was more delay on the shift than on a NASA project. So, I just left it in D and let the trans do its thing. It would hunt a bit, particularly up hills, but it was better than having to plan my shifts 5 minutes in advance. The only time I did use the manual shift satisfactorily was coming down the hill from going to the Palm Springs tram. I was able to force the car to downshift to use engine braking.

    Great job on the write-up and congrats on your impending doom poo factory.

    • I remembered your holiday rental when I saw this post, and thought "small world… hey, wasn't that what Mr. and Mrs. Engineerd rolled up in at DuPars' coffee shop…?" It's always nice to hear opinions from people about cars they know they are giving back, so they don't have to embellish to justify their purchase…

      • That's why I like rental cars. As long as I keep in mind they are usually the base model, and that 10,000 miles on a rental is like 50,000 miles on any other car, they can be a great way to experience different cars. I don't feel bad about flogging the crap out of them, and I don't feel too bad if it's a chunk of crap. I can just give them back. Plus, as you point out, I didn't buy it so I can be more honest with myself about what it is and what it isn't.

    • Deartháir

      Ha! Someone just reported this comment for vulgarity. Should that viewer come back to survey their fantastic work, they should be informed: this does not qualify as "vulgarity" by Hooniverse standards. While we do not encourage swearing, we also do not prevent it, except in the event it becomes excessive.

      In this instance, that is the actual name of the grab-handle on the passenger side. It is called the "oh shit" handle. If that's the vulgarity the person reporting the comment is referring to, it is not us you need to complain to, but rather your member of parliament. Complain to your MP! Send a letter! (If you do not have an MP, then you are out of luck. I'd suggest complaining to your congressman or senator, but we all know the American government doesn't actually work anyhow.)

  • We had a fleet of MPVs with the exact same upholstery – these vans were used as shuttles. That upholstery shows everything. Everything.

  • I find it shocking when I hear that certain cars still come with traditional 5-speeds. Its much better being shocked by this than appalled by the cars that go Doppelkupplung.

  • omg grip

    So basically, wait for the Focus platform based “minivan” and pray for an ecoboost 4 cylinder?

  • Excellent write up! We tested one of these before buying the T&C and I loved it. The missus put the kibosh on it for the simple reason that we have four teenagers and it’s just too small for our family’s needs. The enthusiast in me pushed back for a while, “C’mon sweetheart, how often will you need to carry seven?” etc. In the end she got her way (THIS, gentlemen, is the secret path to a happy marriage, btw). At the end of the day she was absolutely right but if we had one less child this would have ended differently.

    Also, congrats on your pending Fatherhood. Get ready for a wild ride!

    • Yeah, you'd have a hard time making this work for 3 kids if any of them are beyond grade school.

      Still a near-perfect car for pretty much any young family.

      • If they can be convinced that they don't need a van the size of a tennis court. I've been trying to convince my married-with-two-small-children friends to try it out, and they keep making noises about wanting more space to take guests with them on trips. I say, "Is it worth the extra bulk and thirst for the two times a year that actually happens?" but so far to no avail.

    • I'm in the same boat vis-a-vis the "Grand" Caravan. Look on the bright side – you get all that utility and SHE drives it. At least, that's how it works at our house.

      • Yup, same in our house; it's "her car." I'm not ashamed to admit that I love the van, though. It all came together for me when we took the kids to D-land a couple months back. The kids all snug in the seats watching two different DVDs on the two LCDs, simply becaasue they didn't HAVE to decide on one (and I thought two DVD players in the van was overkill). Total and complete familial tranquility. Driving is certainly not engaging but it's kinda like wearing your comfy slippers on weekend mornings while you casually read the morning paper. You just sit back and let it all wash over you. It reminds me a bit of driving in my Dad's Cadillacs when I was growing up but with a lot more gizmos. Basically, it's as boring as a down comforter on a cold winter night and just as appreciated.

        • I'm not ashamed of my minivan love. We've had several, even before we had kids – everyone gave us shit until it was time to tailgate. I once tried to talk the missus into a full size conversion van, wanting that "rolling living room" mojo, but she abstains from large vehicles. Now whenever we, the three kids and the dog road trip, I'm glad that she stuck by her insistence on a more car like people mover.

          Of course, it helps that she encourages me to satisfy my four-wheeled lust in other ways.

          • When a couple of friends I had got married, she told him that he could chose one or the other: A conversion van, or an overstuffed recliner he could have in the living room.

            I told him that was an easy decision… Get the conversion van, and bring one of the captain's chairs into the living room!

            (completely off topic, but your comment made me think of it, and I think it was good for at least a little smile.

  • Ever since I realized kids were actually an eventual possibility for me, this topped the shortlist of family haulers I want. The future spouse, in spite of her "no minivans" clause (thankfully, no crossovers/SUVs either), approves of this, or at least is entirely fine with me driving one (then again, I think I get carte blanche on my own car as long as it's not outrageously stupid).

    Then again, after spending a lot of time around a very nicely equpped Town & Country (swivelling seats! multiple DVD players! I could play XBox!) over the past week, it's got a bit of (completely irrational) competition. To say nothing of the few wagons we still get.

    • I loves me some wagons (after all, I own two), but there's definitely no beating a van for usable space.

  • The wife and I have a Mazda Protege 5 to haul our kid and stuff around in. But she's already complaining that there's not enough space. I dig the Mazda 5, but only if we get a 5-speed. I've seen them, in person even, like, parked on the street. Supposedly they're actually "sporty" with the manual. And the best part is, people shopping for minivan-ish things don't want the 5-speed, so you can get a great deal on them.

  • BGW

    A rear-boxer minivan! Sign me up!

    We've been considering one to replace The Missus' Outback, but only if someone makes a proper "dog-gate" to keep the 75lb Idiothound from hanging his head over the driver's shoulder for the entire trip.

  • Hey, as far as I'm concerned, if it has A/C, it's not a stripper.

  • KVHnik

    I've been a distant fan of the Mazda5 since it was announce that it would come here. It's a nice size and it comes with a stick (fortunately, I'm married to a woman who HATES automatics…back off guys, she's mine!). Only wish that they brought it with the "jump seat" that is available for between the two middle seats in the rest of the world.

    As far as family duty, we've raised two kids to teenhood with nothing larger than a Subaru Legacy wagon and a Yakima Rocket Box. Heck, most of those years our largest vehicle was a 4 door VW Golf. Granted, if the herd was just one kid larger, I'd admit that some other vehicles would have been in order.

  • Congrats on the forthcoming kid! And that was a great write up.

    p.s: I am getting to be an old geezer as well, am turning 27 soon, who knows, I might actually get hitched to my 1.5yr GF. She like cars and can actually converse with me.

    • Jeebus man, put a ring on that finger, STAT! You don't find 'em like that often.

    • I will not lie that The_Missus' enthusiasm for cars (and tolerance of my antics associated with them) played a major role in us getting and staying happily married.

    • If you don't marry her, I will!

      OK, not really. But you get the idea.

  • Cool review! I am considering one of these myself. How was the legroom and headroom? My wife and I are both 6'2" and we have had issues finding a ride that has enough legroom in the front seat while having a baby seat behind it. Her parents have a new T&C and I had issues with headroom but had no problems in the legroom department.

    • I'm 5'11", 150lbs and it felt roomy, but an extra 4" might complicate things. You should go sit in one at a dealer.

      The middle row slides back, so you could conceivably slide it way back to buy some space. Also, the wheel telescopes and the seats have height/tilt adjustments.

      Worth noting that if you're wide, the seats in the 5 are not.

      • You're 5'11"?! I thought you were MUCH shorter! 😀

  • I also had one of these as a rental car. Now I drove it across Missouri, from KC to STL and back, so it wasn't exactly a fun trip, but I really didn't like the feel of sitting in it. I felt I was sitting abnormally high up for such a small vehicle. In a minivan or a van, or something more substantial, that feeling would be OK, but for a small car, I don't know how else to put it….. it felt dorky.

  • Luntburger

    The Mazda5 reminds me of the Dodge Colt Vista.

  • So, the very next "Road Test Reviews" tagged entry following the "What new cars do you want us to review" post is a Minivan????
    Sell-outs…

  • matguy

    I keep thinking about starting a blog titled: Things we've fit in our 5 with the doors closed.

    So far:
    Decent sized love seat.
    King size headboard and frame (bigger than you might imagine.)
    Multiple desks (still assembled.)
    Twin mattress and box spring.
    Full size 1980's Pole Position arcade game (the front passenger didn't have a lot of room, but we both fit with all the doors closed.)

    It really is the Garage Sale browsers dream vehicle.
    (2006 Touring with DVD NAV)

    • Guest

      I need to transport a twin box spring with my Mazda 5 and was worried it wouldn't fit!
      Just wondering how you managed to squeeze the box spring in the back. Any tips would be appreciated!

      Cheers

  • Claus

    Got a 5 Diesel with manual gear myself (in Europe). First of all the DSC -button is logically placed left next to the driver – maybe it's a insurance issue in US so the driver can't accidentially shot it off?

    By the way, the Diesel versions are really good at low rpm and VERY responsive and fast!

    You didn't mention the genious slide doors (which VW Sharan is going to copy in next release). They beat every competitor in daily use.

    /claus

  • Don

    We have an '07 Mazda5 Sport (base model with 5-sp.) and we love it. Be warned, the 5 speeds are hard to find. We had to get ours from 700 miles away. The 5 speed makes a HUGE difference in the car – we test drove an auto version and didn't like it. With the 5 speed, it's actually fun to drive. The reviewer was spot on about the handling.

    Oh, also, we've seen over 30mpg on extended highway cruises – I believe we saw 34mpg on two tanks of gas on a trip to Southern California.

  • Mike

    Nice review. Thanks for posting it.

    My wife owned and loved a 2009 Mazda5 Sport MT until just over a week ago when a nutcase torpedoed her coming off a highway exit ramp at high speed. Destroyed the front end of the 5 completely. She walked away just fine with a little bruising from the seatbelt and airbag. Seeing the wreckage afterward, I'm amazed that the entire passenger compartment was intact and that the thing didn't roll over. She saw the guy at the last minute and managed to brake/maneuver just enough to prevent him slamming into her driver's door. The 5's handling and safety features saved her. In a normal minivan or SUV, she'd be in the hospital or dead.

    Yesterday, she bought a brand new 2010 Mazda 5 Sport MT, (at the exact same price that she paid for the 2009), and is a very happy camper. 🙂

    The Mazda5 is perfect for her. At the end of last year, she needed a vehicle for her business to be able to haul lots of cargo and still be able to haul the family around. She hates automatic transmissions, and hates leather seats and thinks built in car navigation systems are far overpriced and a ripoff. She drove every car she could find that was large enough for her needs and was starting to get depressed until, on a lark, the salesman showed her the Mazda5. We had heard of one, but never even seen one and never considered it. When she test drove it for the first time she was hooked. We bought it that day and never looked back

    To everyone who has complaints about the power, you really, really, really, need to drive the MT and ditch the AT. It is a HUGE difference. With the MT, the 5 is a joy to drive. My wife regularly hauls large amounts of cargo to farmers markets for her business and has no trouble at all in city or highway driving. Sure she isn't going to win any drag races, but with the MT, zipping around in city traffic, merging and passing on the highway, and parking in crowded lots is a breeze. With the MT and the suspension setup on the Mazda5, I'd wager it would beat pretty much any larger stock mini-van or SUV on any track that isn't a NASCAR oval. This thing quite simply is the best handling 6+ passenger vehicle I have ever driven, period. (and I've driven most everything up to and including a job as a tour bus driver at Elvis' home. =:-o ) You want to complain about acceleration and handling, then you try hauling thousands of tourists across busy thoroughfare every day for a summer and then climb into a 5 and see how she handles.

    Also, we've had absolutely no trouble locating Sport MTs. They are advertised as the loss leaders in every MAZDA add in the local paper. We paid $15.9K US + TTL for the 2009 and then got the 2009 for exactly the same price a year later. (The 10 has everything the 09 had plus the traction control as a bonus.) The value for the buck can't be beat. We literally could not purchase and new 6+ passenger vehicle off a dealer lot at a lower price, never mind the fact we would never find one we like better. 😉

    Anyway, hope this missive helped convince some folks to give the Mazda5 a go. (esp the Sport MT)