A mini-minivan with three pedals | The Mazda5 is probably one of the best values available today.
After putting off the inevitable for months, the time comes in most guys’ lives to upsize to a bigger vehicle. With a family comes responsibility and potentially kids, and as we all know, kids come with a ton of stuff. The required vehicle must have some style and sporting characteristics but at the same time cannot break the bank. The Honda Odyssey and Dodge Grand Caravan seem like the obvious choices, but it seems as though everyone and their neighbour already have a few of those – not to mention they can get up there in price.
This week I took out the 2014 Mazda5 GT, fitted with the Mazda corporate 2.5L 4-cylinder motor. This is the smallest true minivan on the market, and easily my favourite. This little 4-banger puts out 157 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque through the front wheels. A healthy and efficient powertrain, especially when coupled to the only manual transmission available in a minivan on North American soil. Yes, this is no mistake; this Mazda5 has a 6-speed manual transmission. The fact that this Mazda is a 4-cylinder means that fuel efficiency is also better than all of the “true” minivans available – I averaged just under 9L/100km over the course of my test week.
My tester was painted in a classy Meteor Grey Mica, riding on a set of stylish 17” alloys on 205/50R17 all-season tires (standard on the GT trim). I recently tested the 2014 CX-5 GT, which I adored for the implementation of the KODO design language. Although the Mazda5 uses the previous-generation “Nagare Flow” design language, which has been known for its slightly-wacky smile, it actually looks pretty neat and pleasant from all angles.
I do have a slightly biased love for Mazda, especially since over a decade ago, I learned how to drive manual on a Mazda gearbox. Because of this, rowing through the short gears in the Mazda5 took me back into the history of my driving career, bringing back memory after memory. As I mentioned when I drove the CX-5, I love how even though Mazda has gone away from the beautiful high-revving rotary engines I long for, they maintain the same snick-snick shifting in every single application bearing the Mazda badge. Honourable mention goes to the long-termer 2014 Mazda MX-5 we tested this past winter with its remarkable shifter.
Even though the Mazda5 GT does come with the 6-speed manual option, there are some things that it lacks. For instance, the top-of-the-line GT still does not come with a sunroof as standard equipment. Of course, for an additional $895, Mazda will be glad to install one for you from the factory. The interior is very nicely laid out with simplicity in mind, especially for those with crying kids in the rear seat. Air conditioning, power everything, and the snazzy Mazda flip-key are all standard. There is no intelligent key system in the Mazda5. The infotainment system has USB as well as Bluetooth connectivity and sounds reasonably well, but could be a bit simpler to use overall.
The strongest point with the Mazda5 is its versatility. The second-row bucket seating offers more than ample legroom, and the third row is actually usable for normal-sized kids. I do wish there were a couple more cupholders on board – their usefulness is seriously underestimated, especially on longer trips. This mini-minivan should be inspiring more competitors to pop up; the Kia Rondo is currently the only true fighter.
Ride quality on the Mazda5 is a bit stiff in comparison to what I would expect from a minivan, but of course, no other minivan has “zoom-zoom” in its DNA. The rack-and-pinion steering is wonderful levels of precise, the Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control systems give the 5 that cutting edge around corners. This small thing is surprisingly confidence-inspiring around the backroads. Holding gears and taking curves actually reminded me of the temporarily-discontinued Mazdaspeed3, a car that is a hit among the young enthusiast community.
The thing is, this 2014 Mazda5 is not exactly a minivan; it’s more of a low crossover with style and convenience. Mazda markets it as a 5-door “Multi-Activity-Vehicle”, and the six-speed manual makes it all that much more appealing. The new Kia Rondo is a tempting competitor, but the sliding doors give the Mazda5 an upper hand. The only thing my GT tester was missing was the optional sunroof, and that would put it right at the $25,000 mark. In fact, I actually checked out the current incentives, and most Ontario residents can automatically get $3,000 off, putting the price of a loaded-up Mazda5 right around $22,000. For a 4-cylinder vehicle that has a serious amount of versatility, the Mazda5 is probably one of the best values available today.
2014 Mazda5 GT