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Clever Dude Reviews the 2013 Mazda Mazda5 Grand Touring

2013 Mazda Mazda5 Grand Touring

When you’re writing a car review, your tendency is to want to compare it to other vehicles in its class. What do you do when it’s the only vehicle in its class? Such is true with the 2013 Mazda Mazda5 Grand Touring (herafter just called Mazda5) that Mazda loaned to me for a week in April. It’s a “mini minivan”, or as I’ll call it here, a “microvan”, but due to its size, it’s even unique in HOW you can use it. For example:

  • Need comfortable room for 4 adults (or some kids) and TONS of luggage? The Mazda5 is your vehicle. With comfortable front and 2nd row captain chairs, easy access, and a buttload of cargo room with the third row folded flat, the Mazda5 is a pretty good road trip vehicle.
  • Need room for 5-6 for local driving, but don’t need a more cargo space than for some groceries or maybe a small stroller? Good, the Mazda5 works.
  • Need an economical mix of people OR cargo hauler? The van can do EITHER of these, especially with the 2nd row captain’s chairs folded down flat.
  • Need to haul 6 adults and luggage? Possible in a full-size minivan (e.g. Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna), but not in the Mazda5, due to the lack of space behind the 3rd row. And this is its biggest fault, but more on that soon.

I have a friend whose wife told me she wanted to cry when she thought they would be getting a Mazda5 (but they opted for a Toyota Sienna instead) because it wasn’t as big or luxurious as she expected. I understand, because minivans today are closer to size of cargo vans of decades ago. But the Mazda5 is actually only 5 inches longer and an inch narrower than the original Dodge Caravan introduced almost 30 years ago! How our tastes have changed, right? I remember a friend with the old Caravan and 6 of us teens didn’t complain about space because nothing bigger was available.

View from the driver’s seat back.

I think one of the main reasons small cars and wagons haven’t caught on in the U.S. compared to the rest of the world, especially Europe, is because we have bigger options that don’t cost much more, or we can at least justify in some way. “Safer” or “we can afford $100 more per month for 6 years” or “we’re going to eventually need the space”, etc. But I tried to use that same reasoning for the last 7 years to get a full-size truck (e.g. F-150, Ram 1500) instead of my mid-size Honda Ridgeline, but I just couldn’t accept the reasons…or price.

Comparisons

So if this is more like a “microvan” than a minivan, what do I compare it with? A station wagon? An SUV? A minivan? Well, what better way than to go directly to Mazda’s website and see what it compares itself with. In this case, 3 other vehicles came up:

  1. Honda CR-V EX-L
  2. Toyota Rav4 Limited
  3. Honda Odyssey EX-L

Interesting company to place yourself in: two 5-seater compact SUV’s (called CUVs now) and an 8-seater minivan. As far as price and size, I’ll stick more to comparing to a CUV than a minivan, especially since a comparable Odyssey has a bigger engine, more seats, tons more space and costs about $11,000 more than the Mazda5.

But the comparison to the CR-V and RAV4 are actually pretty important. The Mazda5 is close in size to those two, as well as price and fuel economy. All three have 4 cylinder engines, although the Mazda’s is the weakest and it weighs a couple hundred pounds more. So it’s actually an interesting study to compare a CUV to a microvan, since there’s nothing else to compare it to (in America).

From the back with the third row up. Enough room for groceries, or maybe some carry-on luggage.

Fuel economy is actually worse on the Mazda than the other two, but I bet it’s the transmission, the lack of power and the weight combined to drag it down. Sometimes adding a bigger engine can actually improve fuel economy, especially when your vehicle is expected to haul a lot of weight. But on the plus side, because the Mazda has a longer wheelbase (i.e. more room between the front and rear wheels), it has more usable space inside. In addition, it has lower ground clearance, so it’s much easier to slide in and out of, as well as load stuff in without getting dirty on a bumper. Overall passenger volume is similar, but remember this can haul 6 people vs 5 in the other two contenders.

But again, we have to get back to the use cases: For what will you be using the car? Honestly, I don’t see much point in a small SUV/CUV when it doesn’t really get you much more compared to a wagon than higher ride height, usually less MPG, and more inconvenience for loading people or stuff. If you’re in a region with a lot of snow, they can offer AWD/4WD, and the higher ground clearance does help, but a wagon, like the Jetta’s, or even a Subaru will do the job nicely and probably be more safely (lower center of gravity=more control). So if you don’t need the height or AWD, the front-wheel-drive Mazda is an equal here.

If you need to haul 6 people quite often, then an SUV isn’t an option unless you opt for a bigger one with a third row and a bigger price. But have you tried to access or ride in those that do offer a third row? This year at the DC Auto Show, I made it a point to climb into the third rows of a dozen SUVs and I think the Land Rover LR4 is the most accessible and comfortable for adults (due to its boxy shape). The Mazda has a boxy-ish shape, which makes shoulder and head room in the back comfortable enough for the average adult, assuming the 2nd row passengers slide their seats up a bit. And visibility in all 3 rows is excellent. Try peering out the little portholes in an SUV on a long trip and you’ll feel claustrophobic in the first mile!

Both rear rows folded down.

Luggage with the second and third rows folded. See next photo:

You can see how much more room you have for cargo with the 2nd row folded. And for comparison, below is our SEAT Altea XL wagon from Holland:

20130330_103621

Note that the wagon didn’t have a spare tire, so the same luggage (minus 2 bags) fits nicely in the Mazda. Wagons and small vans really CAN do what you need!

Ok, we established the Mazda does well when you don’t need height, AWD and when you need to haul more than 5 people, and I mentioned that it’s great with hauling STUFF, whether with just the third or both 2nd/3rd rows folded flat. It has more cargo room than the Honda and Toyota by a sizable amount, and it’s squarish and accessible. I mention the geometric shape because with some of the CUV designs today, it may say X amount of cargo volume, but the slope of the roof makes it unusable (e.g. Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, Lexus RX).

But ultimately, if you want a long-term van for a family of 4 where you MAY have a 5th person for the ride AND you need to haul more than just a few groceries, it’s hard to argue someone out of a full-size minivan, or an SUV with a third row (even though you’ll probably use it once a year at most). We’re not Europe where small, nimble vehicles reign supreme; we’re America where we have big roads, big stuff and big journeys. It doesn’t matter if 90% of the time, it’s just 1-2 of you in the car 🙂

The Interior

Apologies for the slanted photo. You can see it’s rather monochromatic, with a bit of reddish stitching in the seats. Not too many buttons, but a nice screen would help for both infotainment as well as a rear camera.

Ok, so I compared it without really deciding a victor, mostly because it’s comparing tangerines and grapefruits (see what I did there with size?). So let’s look more at the Mazda5 on its own. Back when I reviewed the Mazda3i last year, I wasn’t very impressed with the interior. However, I was comparing it to a fully-loaded Kia Rio (for the same price, mind you). But I saw a very similar interior layout in this Mazda5 as that Mazda3 and my first impression was bland. However, as I drove it longer, and forced myself to look at it differently, I felt that the Mazda’s dash and center stack layout was ergonomically inclined and simple. Materials were somewhat cheap, but fit was tight and it felt like an interior that would last for many years.

My biggest gripe, which has been for Mazda and Kia both, was that the passenger seat couldn’t be adjusted vertically. This seat didn’t sit too low, so it wasn’t as bad for my wife as the other test cars, but c’mon, realize short people need to see over the dash on the passenger side too! Also, while I was much more pleased with the radio readout on this Mazda (e.g. for satellite radio) compared to the split screens on the Mazda3, there is no option for navigation or even an infotainment screen. I think on all the other reviews of the Mazda5 I’ve read in prep for my own, that’s one of the biggest gripes (other than power and lack of space, fully loaded). It’s like Mazda isn’t ready to fully invest in the big options, but I think having fully-loaded Mazda5’s in the showroom with really nice dash layouts and nav systems, still $10,000 or more cheaper than bigger competition will start bringing in the customers.

Features

As I mentioned, there’s no Navigation option. Basically, when you order the Grand Touring model like I drove, you have it all. I had the added “Compass/Autodim rearview mirror with Homelink”, which worked well at night, as well as the rear bumper step plate, which you want so you don’t scuff your painted bumper when loading or climbing in and out the back. Other than that, you can add a cargo cover, a remote starter and not much more. With the competition, whether a CUV, SUV or minivan, you can start tacking on all kinds of crazy factory options like rear-seat entertainment, 5000 cupholders, etc. But with this Mazda, what you see is what you get.

But that’s not bad. It keeps it affordable, and doesn’t lure you in with promise of a low MSRP, but then entice you to tack on $10-20 grand in options, like with the Odyssey, Sienna and others. It does come with a USB port, rain-sensing wipers, hidden storage in the 2nd row seats (where you can hide the cupholder tray), leather seats, heated front seats, xenon headlights (usually an expensive option elsewhere), fog lights, automatic climate control, Siruis satellite radio, power moonroof, steering wheel controls and a bunch of safety features., all for $25, 620 including delivery ($795). Seriously, compare that price and options list with a CUV and see how well they truly stack up. Make sure to compare cargo space, ease of entry/exit, comfort (for everyone), and visibility (which I will add that Mazda definitely should get with the times and add a rear camera).

Oh, and I’m going to complain again about Mazda’s bluetooth system. While it paired up quickly, it doesn’t download your phonebook, so I couldn’t say “call wife cellphone”. I had to save every number into its system one-by-one. That’s a no-no for me, and I ended up just using my earpiece instead. However, streaming Pandora came through quickly and crisply, as it did in the Mazda3.

The Verdict

I was excited to get my butt into a Mazda5 for a long time because I was truly intrigued by them. I think my biggest disappointments were lack of space behind the third row and lack of a few competitive features. Otherwise, this van was a joy to drive, the engine was quiet after startup (which says a lot for a four-cylinder) and very comfortable to drive. While my city mileage was only in the high teens, once I got it out on the highway, I got the average up close to 27mpg, ending closer to 26mpg for the full 100 miles I put on the van in the week I had it (had it been a week later, I could have put on about 600, but I didn’t know my schedule at the time 🙁 ).

After a trip to Europe with my parents and 10 days in a station wagon, I have come to appreciate the versatility of a wagon (and a microvan, if done right) versus an SUV. CUVs/SUVs almost never see off-road except a dirt parking lot at a concert, and they don’t haul much better than a wagon. There’s this idea that bigger is better (ahem), and when it comes to cars, including minivans vs microvans, it doesn’t always apply. If Mazda would invest a bit more into options and a bit more space behind the third row, as well as some more power, the Mazda5 could be a big contender. But for a family of 3-4, or some other unique situations (delivery business/family hauler?), the Mazda5 should be on your must-shop list. However, I will warn you that when you sit in a Mazda5, then a Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna, it’s night and day. But think about the cost and what you REALLY NEED, not what you think you’ll need…or want. The Mazda5 has what most families need at a price much more affordable than bigger vans.

Brought to you by Clever Dude

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4 Comments

  • This looks like an EXCELLENT option for people who have 2 kids of their own but haul friends’ kids pretty frequently. Many families who have minivans only have 2 kids, so there’s a great market for this.

  • I have a 2009 Mazda 5, and I love it. I am 6’3″ so smaller cars are a tight fit as a driver, but this one works well and I don’t brush my head on the roof. And it is comfortable for me on 6 hours drives to the in-laws. I have fit 5 full size guys for short lunch runs & 4 adults and 2 kids for hour long drives and running around.

    My favourite was loading it up with 16 bags of cedar mulch at Costco (3cu ft bags to boot) plus a few bags of potting soil on top. The back was completely full, and it stared to ride a bit low, but it didn’t complain. I have used it to carry a fridge, and on another occasion a full size washer and dryer.

    It gets my vote for versatility!

  • @Alex and Jenny, glad to hear your observations and personal experience. Living in DC, I see a wide variety of vehicles, and I’m surprised to see as many Mazda5’s (and Honda Ridgelines for that matter) on the streets, and I’ve always wanted to know what the owners lifestyles and uses are for them. So comparing it to a CUV is actually an appropriate comparison by the sounds of it. Thanks!

  • We bought the redesigned 2012 Mazda5 and love it. We have two kids 13 & 19, so we didn’t need tons of storage. We were able to fit a weeks worth of luggage and supplies for a recent trip to Cape Cod.

    We were downsizing from a full size mini van, but didn’t want to shell out $25-30k for a CUV. This was perfect for us.

    And as an added bonus it is a Mazda, so it’s a blast to drive!

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