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The second-generation Mazda 5 faces tougher than ever opposition, with established rivals like the Ford Grand C-Max controlling the MPV segment

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Prior to the Mazda 5, the company’s interest in MPVs in Britain began in 2000, when it introduced both the imaginatively titled MPV and the Premacy to the UK. The MPV was a VW Sharan/Ford Galaxy rival, while the Premacy was a smaller car, and forerunner to the 5; it was based on Ford’s ‘C1’ (Focus) architecture. The Premacy remained on sale until the Mazda 5’s debut in 2005, making this the second-generation 5 model. We were moderately fond of the previous Mazda 5 and its innovative interior and sparky drive.

This new model made its UK debut towards the end of 2010 in petrol form only with a choice of 1.8-litre or 2.0-litre power, the latter available with Mazda’s stop/start technology. The diesel followed soon after, which, given that the 1.6-litre diesel version has a claimed fuel consumption figure some 35 percent better than either the 1.8 or 2.0 petrol models, ought to make it even more competitive.

Unusually for this sector, the 5 features sliding rear doors

Like its predecessor, the 5 is a medium-segment MPV, seating up to seven. Unusually for this sector, the 5 features sliding rear doors, a functional minivan trend followed by none of the Mazda’s major rivals, except, in its latest generation, Ford’s Grand C-Max. We regard the Ford highly, and it was a European Car of the Year finalist. We’ll see if a similar outcome awaits the Mazda.

The 5 is offered in three different trim levels: the TS is only available in the entry-level 1.8-litre car, while the TS2 and the Sport versions are available in the 2.0-litre petrol or 1.6-litre diesel.

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DESIGN & STYLING

Mazda 5 character lines

One of our reviewers succinctly but none too flatteringly summarised the Mazda 5’s design, when they first saw the rear of it, by saying, “I thought it was a SsangYong Rodius.” Which goes to show that the search for distinctiveness does not always guarantee an appealing visual result. But at least Mazda has made an effort with the design of this seven-seat midi-MPV, which is not the world’s easiest class of car to decorate, given the dictates of its function.

To our eyes, though, it is at least a prettier effort than Ford’s Grand C-Max. At the front, the family face has been studiously applied, so it is the 5’s flanks that wear its most noticeable design elements: the ‘air on water’ strakes, which light picks out as highlights. Whatever your thoughts on their appeal, they do at least seem to reduce the visual bulk of the metalwork beneath the windowline, which is the point of the exercise.

The search for distinctiveness does not always guarantee an appealing visual result

This generation of Mazda 5 is the first designed after the most recent bout of pedestrian impact legislation, so the rounded nose kicks out further, and includes more crush space behind it. Cuts around the edge of the bonnet reduce the visual bulk of the 5’s front end. The vents are fake, the foglights are not. Wrap-around lights are a conscious effort to reduce the visual bulk of the car around the rear three-quarters. It works reasonably well, too.

The boot has a usefully low loading sill, and no lip, either. A chrome exhaust pipe is a cheap option, as is the ‘sporty’ rear spoiler. We’re not convinced it adds too much sportiness, but it may go to keeping the rear window grime-free.

INTERIOR

Mazda 5 dashboard

No matter how fine the engineering beneath the Mazda 5’s skin, compact MPVs live and die by the quality of their interiors. The 5 gets off to the same excellent start as the new Ford Grand C-Max by having a sliding rear pair of doors. They add complexity and weight, 
true, but when it comes to ease of access to the rearmost seats, particularly in tight parking spaces or if you’re placing or extracting small children, they are invaluable. They open onto a middle row of seats that slide fore and aft (and so are capable of giving as much legroom as you could reasonably ask) and can be tipped forwards to allow access to the two small third-row seats (for kids only) or folded flat.

The central row ostensibly offers three chairs, but the middle one is small. Its base can be folded beneath the seat base of the seat beside it and the back folded clear, creating daylight between the two outer seats and allowing a gap through the middle. It’s an intelligent solution, albeit bettered on the Grand C-Max, where the seat back also folds away entirely.

Compact MPVs live and die by the quality of their interiors

And in the front? The overall feel and perceived quality are not class leading. A Citroën C4 Grand Picasso’s cabin is more interesting and a C-Max’s feels more deftly finished. But the Mazda – you would expect no less – has buttons that operate with efficiency and ease.

It’s just short on class, especially for its price. More than the single front 12-volt power socket and aux-in jack socket would help ease the use of portable electronic systems, too.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Mazda 5 diesel engine

The 1.6-litre diesel in the Mazda 5 develops 113bhp, a modest power output for a car that weighs 1555kg when we tested it. Even using Mazda’s 1490kg claimed weight as a measure, this is a 76bhp-per-tonne car and isn’t endowed with sparkling acceleration; 60mph arrives in 12.6sec. Nevertheless, on the road, in-gear progress doesn’t feel as lethargic as the figures suggest.

Less impressive, though, is the refinement of this eight-valve diesel engine. Whatever changes Mazda has wrought have not brought about the reduction in noise levels it would have hoped for – or, if it has, then too little soundproofing has been applied between the engine and the cabin. Wind and road noise are also present, but whether at higher engine speeds or at idle, noise from the motor is prevalent.

If only the 2.0-litre engine were more willing to take advantage of the Mazda’s fine chassis

You might hope for a bit more poke from the 1.8-litre petrol engine. It’s smooth enough in its delivery, but gets noisier and wheezier the more you ask from it. If only the 2.0-litre engine were more willing to take advantage of the Mazda’s fine chassis. The direct-injection unit is smooth and inear in its power delivery, yet it feels like some of its potential has been sacrificed in the name of lower CO2 emissions. Certainly the revised, taller gearing doesn't do it any favours, but it feels more like a slightly overwhelmed 1.6 than a 2.0; you can see why small turbos, such as VW's 1.4 TSi unit, are taking over.

We’ve no complaints with the 5’s brakes, which hauled it from 70mph to a standstill in less than 50 metres and from 60-0 in 2.87sec – a more than acceptable performance. They resisted fade adequately, too.

RIDE & HANDLING

Mazda 5 cornering

At low speeds comes confirmation that the Mazda 5 rides well and proves reasonably agile and comfortable - then again, you would expect nothing less from a well-sorted car in this class.

The fact that its pedals and steering are consistently weighted adds to the ease with which it can be stroked along. Up the speeds and the moderately comfortable ride continues, though it isn’t backed by the feel of sophisticated suppleness one gets in, say, the Grand C-Max or even the Peugeot 5008. However, the 5 can easily outpoint Citroën’s C4 Grand Picasso, whose focus on comfort comes at the expense of any body control – and that, conversely, makes it somewhat tiring to drive smoothly.

There’s not the same level of interaction as there is in the Ford Grand C-Max or Peugeot 5008

You would expect a medium MPV, as a family car, to have little to offer the keener driver, but the Peugeot 5008 and Grand C-Max both show that this doesn’t have to be the case. And the 5? Again, it’s not up to the standards of those two, but it’s comfortably the third most rewarding car in the class. Its electrically assisted steering is accurate and, at 3.0 turns lock to lock, as direct as you would want it to be. It’s stable around the straight ahead, then both steering response and weight build gradually and with satisfying linearity.

There’s not the same level of interaction as there is in the Ford or Peugeot, so it is an inert but not displeasing car to drive spiritedly. It’s a shame that the 5 seems to have lost some of its character, though.

MPG & RUNNING COSTS

Mazda 5

We’d steer potential Mazda 5 buyers towards the TS2 rather than the Sport specification of the 1.6 diesel Mazda 5, unless leather seats are a real priority. It misses very little else from the standard kit list. Even the entry-level car with the 1.8 petrol engine gets a decent roster of kit – the all important air-con plus electric windows all round, alloy wheels and plenty of safety equipment.

TS2 adds privacy glass, rear parking sensors, climate control and Bluetooth. The 5 comes respectably equipped in Sport trim, including those leather seats (of average feel), cruise and climate control and parking sensors. Like most Mazdas, the 5 is relatively light on options; you can’t get factory-fit sat-nav. Given the cheapness and excellence of many aftermarket nav systems, that is no bad thing

We’d steer potential Mazda 5 buyers towards the TS2 rather than the Sport specification

Against the 1.6 diesel’s natural rivals (Ford’s Grand C-Max in 1.6 TDCi Zetec trim and a Peugeot 5008 1.6 HDi Sport, all three of which share some engine components, interestingly), the 5 Sport looks a little pricey. The Ford looks like the bargain of the trio. However, the 5 – as befits a car that will sell in more limited numbers and to fewer fleets – is also predicted to retain more of its value  than the other two, making it marginally cheaper to run over that time.

Our 1.6 diesel test example proved frugal enough. We saw a respectable 41.2mpg on our touring route, and no less than 35.1mpg in overall mixed driving, still some away from the claimed average of 54.3mpg. Even with stop/start fitted the 2.0-litre petrol only manages to improve the 1.8’s official claimed average 39.2mpg to 40.9mpg.

The 1.8 and 2.0 petrol duo fall some way short of that, and only really make sense if you won't cover many miles. It's a hard call to make between which unit is better, but the larger engine does at least carry Mazda's i-stop fuel-saving tech, meaning emissions and economy are improved.

VERDICT

3 star Mazda 5 MPV

The Mazda 5 is a decent car in isolation - but in the marketplace it must face the excellent Ford C-Max and the very good Peugeot 5008, both of which have moved expectations in this hotly contested class forward.

The Mazda is a fine car to pilot, but there are better out there – notably the Ford and the Peugeot. And while the Mazda continues to have the benefit from sliding side doors, that novelty’s also shared with the Ford these days.

Revised 5 fails to hit the mark when measured against the opposition

While the cleverness of the Mazda’s interior remains, again it has been overtaken in the usability stakes by others that provide a genuine seven seats rather than the Mazda’s six and a half – you’ll have kids fighting to avoid the centre seat in the middle row.

Even if the kids are fighting in the back, the amount of road, wind and engine noise will do their best to drown them out. All that is not enough to dismiss the Mazda 5 outright, but it highlights the fact that a collection of virtues that was once good enough to make it one of the standout choices in the class is no longer sufficient to pull it on to the podium.

Mazda 5 2010-2015 First drives