"Wild looks aside, the seven-seat Mazda5 is good to drive, versatile and competitively priced."
You have to give Mazda credit for trying to make a people carrier look even a little bit sporty. Mazda has clearly made a real effort to get the 5 MPV stand out from rivals such as the Ford C-MAX, but it must be said that the results are decidedly mixed. But, if you can see past the quirky wavy lines that flow their way along the bodywork (inspired by water, wind and nature, don’t you know), you’ll find that the 5 is in fact a very sensible people carrier, with smartly designed flexible folding seating that has multiple possible arrangements. There's a set of very convenient electric sliding doors and a ride that stays smooth and comfortable on any road surface you may encounter. You get a big boot, but it's not a true seven seater, with the seventh spot – in the middle of the second row - really only usable for small children. However, the 5's compact dimensions make it a doddle to park and drive through urban streets. It's a well built, practical and functional family car.
The Mazda 5 comes with a choice of two engines – a 148bhp 2.0-litre petrol and a 113bhp 1.6-litre diesel. The latter is a better all-rounded and is quicker even though it has less power. The handling is good thanks to accurate steering, with only a bit of body roll when cornering, so the ride is generally comfortable for all passengers. The steering is also light enough to make it pleasurable to drive around town, while the elevate driving position and decent visibility make it very easy to park. On rougher, uneven roads the 5 feels stable and trustworthy, with very little wind, road or engine noise getting into the cabin at any speed. In the 2.0-litre petrol model, the gears are spaced out a bit too widely, so you’ll be moving up and down the gears a lot, especially when you’ve loaded the car up or are travelling uphill.
It doesn't take long to realise that the Mazda5 is built more with passenger comfort than driver entertainment in mind. Body control may be better than you’d expect in a people carrier, but the suspension does feel pretty soft. This means it may sacrifice some engagement for the driver, but you can drive it over potholes with very little fuss for anyone along for the ride. As you’d expect for a seven-seater, the back row is really only suitable for kids, but they can easily be folded down and the rest of the interior feels pretty massive. The middle seats aren’t particularly wide but there is plenty of head and legroom. All seats are suitably comfortable and supportive but the middle seat in the second row should be reserved for small children – not adults.
Mazda came fourth in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, just shy of a podium finish, beaten only by Jaguar, Skoda and Lexus, so its reliability credentials are there for all to see. However, the Mazda5 actually placed 134th out of the top 150 cars in the UK, so the three-year-old model is probably ready for a refresh. That said, the 5 does feel robustly constructed inside. In terms of safety, the new 5's predecessor scored the maximum five-star Euro NCAP crash safety test rating, so you can expect the current model to match that, with electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes, brake-force distribution, emergency brake assist, ISOFIX child seat anchor points and a full range of airbags fitted as standard.
There are no less than 45 individual storage comparments in the Mazda5, and with the second and third rows of seats folded flat, the boot expands to a class average 1,566 litres and a flat loading floor. With only five of the seven seats in place, you still get 426 litres, but that reduces to just 112 litres with all seven in place. There's also a good-sized cubby tucked away underneath the boot floor behind the back row of seats that's ideal for stashing smaller objects. Sliding doors on MPVs may be common now, but Mazda was one of the first to introduce them with the 5. The 5's sliders are electrically powered and only come out a tiny 159mm away from the body when open, making access in and out very easy for rear passengers, even in tight parking spaces. The middle seat of the second row can also be removed to allow easier access to the rearmost seats, which can then be replaced with a large storage bin that folds out of the side seat. Handy.
Value for money
Priced on par with rivals such as the Volkswagen Touran and Toyota Verso, the Mazda5 has an impressive equipment list that includes air-conditioning, alloy wheels, electric sliding doors and Mazda's i-stop stop-start engine technology. Resale values in the used car market should be reasonable and the Venture Edition model – the only one currently available in the UK - has enough gadgets to find a good deal. At least you can rest assured it won’t depreciate any faster than it's rivals.
Alas, the Mazda5 isn’t as wallet friendly as it could be for an MPV. The 2.0-litre DISI petrol engine returns 40.9mpg fuel economy and emits 159g/km in CO2, so it’ll cost a good £155 in annual road tax. Out of context this sounds reasonable for such a big car, but falls below current industry standards. The 1.6-litre diesel engine fares better, returning closer to 60mpg with CO2 emissions of 138g/km. So if you’re planning big mileage, the diesel makes much more sense and stands up better to its rivals. Insurance premiums are average, too, so the Mazda5 won’t break the bank but neither will it work that hard to save your pennies.