Until the Mazda 5 came along, the normal seven seater offering was some colossal bus. Mazda being Mazda, it went its own way and conjured up the surprisingly car-like Mazda 5 from the smaller Mazda 3 hatch.
Crossovers seem to reign when it comes to seven-seater cars these days, but Mazda has stuck to its guns with a more traditional “people carrier”-style vehicle. Yet of all the Mazda range the 5 nets the least satisfactory buzzScore. Does Mazda’s sporty ethos not translate, or are there deeper problems?
With the Evans family rammed into a 5 for the day, we’ve had a hands-on with a brand new 5 to see what it’s really like.
Mazda is only offering the 5 in two versions at the moment – a 2.0 petrol and a 1.6 diesel, both in “Venture” trim. Equipment levels aren’t spartan – there’s climate control, cruise control, a 5.8″ screen encompassing a TomTom satnav and reversing camera, USB and Aux connectivity for your music, Bluetooth connectivity, tinted glass – we could go on for quite a while. For 20k it’s quite a roster.
There’s plenty of little nooks and crannies for glasses, phones, drinks and change, armrests for the front seat dwellers, folding trays for the middle row of passengers – all in it’s an engaging place to be. From a driver’s perspective the only niggle was that the satnav screen could do with being canted over to the driver a few degrees, like the information centre above it.
Middle seat access is provided through a large pair of sliding doors which are very useful when fiddling about with baby seats – particularly on a blowy day. If the rear seats are up though, there is a rather awkward access path created by folding away the centre-seat bolster and backrest.
While it’s quite car-like to look at from the front, the appearance from the B-pillar backwards is quite buslike and bland. The styling scallops do little to break up the vaste swathes of metal and the very rear has a most unfortunate whiff of the Ssangyong Rodius about it that, once seen, is impossible to shake off.
As a driving experience, the 5 is quite poor. As a motorway hack it’s relatively acceptable with light steering and bump-soaking suspension, but on the bits between motorways and destinations it’s not a whole lot of fun.
The steering – which is light and effective on motorways and in car parks – is woolly and imprecise on quicker intermediate roads and cornering cab become an unfulfilling guessing game. The clutch and gearbox are similarly turgid, while middle-row passengers experience significant wallowing with unsupportive seats.
We drove the 2.0 petrol model and in this application it isn’t pleasant. Through the gears it gets to speed just fine – if rather hoarsely – but changing your cruising pace requires more from it than is necessary. It’s barely able to hold a constant 70mph on the flat in 6th. The torquier diesel would be a better bet, not least because the 5 just isn’t at home on the sort of roads a more powerful petrol is best suited to.
The 5 may be no worse than the bussy 7-seaters, but a car-like experience it is not.
Like many other 7-seaters, the 5 falls short on useable space when used as a 7-seater. This fairly standard buggy was bought because it fits in the boot of a Mk1 MX-5, yet with the back row of seats up it doesn’t quite fit in the boot of the Mazda 5 – so if there’s more than 5 of you, you’ll want to wait until the kids are walking (particularly since non-children need not apply to be back row passengers).
With the rear seats down – and they fold flat with no fuss at all – there’s plenty of room for everyone’s stuff. However, the middle seat on the middle row is miniscule and seems to offer barely any support – and it’s totally off-limits if there’s a child seat in that row.
So really, it’s reduced to being a usable four-seat car. And if what you really need is a four-seat car with a big boot, there are plenty of other things on sale that drive like cars because they are actually cars…
Price as tested: 19,995
CO2: 159 g/km (175 per annum)
The 5 is a tale of two cars. On a motorway it’s a relaxed cruiser and an enjoyable place to be. Off the motorway, it’s a van with windows.
It’s not outright terrible to drive, but the gulf between the experience any other Mazda offers (and Mazda makes just about everything drive nicely) and what the 5 offers is gaping. The 2.0 petrol engine just isn’t suited to the task either – it thrives on the kind of vigour the car cannot satisfactorily sustain, to say nothing of your middle row passengers’ comfort while doing so.
You can’t argue with the amount of kit you get for your money. The sliding doors are extraordinarily useful too, and if there’s seven people in your car that all fit in the seats and are capable of walking by themselves, you could do worse than waving 21,295 at Mazda for the 1.6 diesel. If there was a 2-litre diesel option, it’d be even better.
Just don’t expect it to be akin to a 7 seat version of the new Mazda 6 Tourer.
For more, why not read our full review of the Mazda 5, with reviews, user reviews, stats, photos and videos?