The South African family car market is a competitive one. Buyers can choose between family sedans, go-anywhere SUVs and practical MPVs, let alone the various rivals in each category. The second-generation Mazda5 is a player in the MPV sector, and hopes to attract buyers with its mix of space, style and versatility. But does it have what it takes? By DEON SCHOEMAN.
The Mazda5 is only one offering in what is becoming an increasingly crowded sector. As compact MPVs (multipurpose vehicles) go, punters can also choose from an array of rivals that includes Renault’s pioneering Scénic and Grand Scénic, Peugeot’s eclectic 3008 and more conventional 5008, and Toyota’s Verso. If you need something even bigger, there’s also the Chrysler Voyager to consider.
So what would make a family want to choose the Mazda5 ahead of its rivals? Well, let’s start with the styling … Yes, I know, styling is very much a subjective issue. So I accept that some of you will love the looks of the Mazda5. But for me, it’s one of this MPV’s weakest points.
It starts off promising enough in front, where the deep grille, bold air intakes and slanted headlights create a strong Mazda identity. But from there, things go a pear-shaped.
I suppose the designers wanted to steer clear of the slab-sided look from which some MPVs suffer, and the strong shoulder line does more than enough to add some visual muscle. But those wavy contours and a pronounced scallop spoil the styling broth.
Mix the prominent wheel arches into this styling broth, and the result is unnecessarily fussy and completely over the top. But wait, as they say in the classics, there’s more. The supersized rear looks big and bland, with a rear overhang that saddles it with an awkward and ungainly appearance.
Fortunately, that’s where the bad news ends. The interior is one of the best in the MPV business. And after all, it’s here where the owners will spend most of their time. For the driver, there’s a cockpit with car-like ergonomics and a great seating position, while passengers can make the most of an interior that can be configured in a variety of ways.
Effectively, the Mazda5 offers three rows of seats: two front bucket seats, a second row with two individually adjustable seats divided by a walk-through aisle and a third row with two seats. A seventh seat folds down into the aisle between the second-row seats when required.
The interior can be divided between seating and cargo space in many different ways, ensuring a high degree of versatility – exactly what an MPV like this should offer. An those rear sliding doors offer easy operation and excellent access. But practicality isn’t the only high point here.
Also impressive is the level of luxury and standard kit. The test car we had was the midrange Active, which still offers a long list of features that include air-con, remote central locking, electric windows, a multifunction steering wheel and a decent CD sound system with MP3 capability.
Most of all, the interior feels inviting, spacious and comfortable – a great place for adults and kids.
So, what’s the Mazda5 got under the bonnet? Well, this two-litre petrol engine is the only choice. Mazda rates it at 106kW and 180Nm, which sounds about average and suggests equally average performance.
Mazda claims a combined cycle fuel consumption figure of 10.8 litres/100km, while the CO2 emissions rating stands at 194g/km. Drive is to the front wheels via a six-speed manual gearbox, while the suspension combines front MacPherson struts with a multilink rear layout.
But it’s on the move that the Mazda5 serves up its biggest surprise.
I have to be honest: I expected to be bored stiff behind the wheel of the Mazda5. But here’s the thing: This car goes like the clappers and it’s really fun to drive. The engine feels much livelier than the stats suggest, and a combination of sharp throttle mapping and shortish gearing means the Mazda reacts to the loud pedal with glee.
So, while the spec sheet shows a zero-to-100km/h sprint time of 10.8 seconds and a 194km/h top speed, the Mazda5 feels more athletic than that. It handles pretty well too, showing off confidence and composure when cornering and offering a decent ride without resorting to soggy damper settings.
The steering feels wooden and over-assisted, but turn-in is accurate enough and, given its size and bulk, the Mazda5 is more manoeuvrable and user-friendly than expected.
The secret to these pleasing dynamics lies in the Mazda’s low mass. At only 1 ,40kg, it achieves a 74kW/ton power-to-weight ratio, while its road manners also benefit from a low centre of gravity.
Okay, so I don’t like the styling, but the rest of the package is very convincing indeed. It lives up to all the MPV expectations, but also delivers a clever cabin layout, an excellent ride and enjoyable dynamics to the package. Which just goes to show: Never judge a book by its cover.
Add keen pricing and a five-year service plan to the deal, and the Mazda5 becomes a very attractive proposition indeed. Did I say attractive? DM
Mazda5 2.0 Active
In-line four-cylinder, 1,999cc, DOHC
106kW at 6,000rpm
180Nm @ 4,750rpm
"Joyfully to the breeze royal Odysseus spread his sail and with his rudder skillfully he steered." ~ Homer