Scott Sturgis’ Driver’s Seat: Mazda5’s promise not fully realized

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2014 Mazda5 Sport: Some things never change.

Price: $21,010. Includes an optional rear bumper guard, destination charge — and not much else.

Conventional wisdom: likes that it is “easy to park and maneuver; sharp handling; affordable price; easy third-row access; plenty of storage and cargo space for its size” but not that it “seats only six; tight legroom up front; missing common convenience and safety features; four-cylinder engine is taxed by full passenger/​cargo loads.”

Marketer’s pitch: “Minivan. Mighty possibilities.”

Reality: I want to like this little van. Really, I do.

Still the same: While Mazda has slowly revamped its lineup — a new Mazda2 joins the handsome 3, 6 and CX-5 models — the 5 seems to remain the forgotten stepchild of the lineup.

What is it?: The Mazda5 is the lone microvan offered on this side of The Pond — well, either pond, that is.

With three pairs of seats in three rows and a pair of sliding doors, it suggests a combination of sportiness and family hauling. Journalists seem to fall over themselves writing good things about it.

It looks like fun with room for some people. Sadly, it’s neither.

Shifty: Moms and dads who want a people hauler with a clutch will love the stripped-down Mazda5 Sport I tested. It comes with a six-speed manual standard. But its gears are a little far apart, both in the physical moves one’s arm must make, and in transmission ratios that put the power in the wheels. And so we get …Moms and dads who want a people-hauler with a clutch will love the stripped-down Mazda5 Sport I tested.

It comes with a six-speed manual standard.

But its gears are a little far apart, both in the physical moves one’s arm must make, and in transmission ratios that put the power in the wheels. And so we get …

Acceleration?: Yes, that’s in the form of a question; even revving the Mazda5 to the top of its gears didn’t seem to make it hurry.

Wind it out in first and the shift to second saps all the momentum; same goes for second to third.

The 2.5-liter four makes 157 horsepower, roughly equal to what a 20 percent smaller SkyActiv CX-5 2.0-liter engine produces.

Fans of the old Volkswagen Bus or Vanagon may appreciate the leisurely charm of the 5.

On the road: The late, great Sturgis Family Mazda MPV that took its final exit ramp in May — on a flatbed, after breaking down on I-95 — handled with more sportiness than the Mazda5 does.

In fact, when we started shopping for replacement vehicles after the MPV was laid to rest, I tested a used Mazda5.

It had some issues that made me think the dealer’s example hadn’t been cared for, but ever since I first tested one in 2008 as a loaner car, I just found them not just underpowered and undersized — but underfun.

Friends and stuff: The third row is not as bad as some three-row crossovers I’ve recently tested. But the Mazda5 space is not overly generous. Sturgis Kids 1.0 and 4.0 humored Dad and sat in tandem on one short trip. The legroom was snug. The middle row captain’s chairs are comfortable and feature armrests, but the way, way back seats are small and headroom is tight.

Behind the third row, cargo space is very dear indeed. And even with the third row down, only 44 cubic feet of space becomes available. So essentially, what you have is a small station wagon that allows you to carry four occupants comfortably and have the space behind as well.

Retro: People who want a stick have to settle for a stripped-down Sport version. This did not even offer a trip computer, so one has to fill the tank and do the math to calculate fuel economy, like in the olden days.

Play some tunes: The button-down stereo reminds operators why touch screens were inevitable. No fewer than two dozen buttons adorn the entertainment system, and that’s without navigation. Still, on the bright side, Mazda stereos provide nice sound.

SkyPassiv: While the Mazda5 has a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, it is not part of the company’s delightful SkyActiv charmers, which have boosted fuel economy without much loss of performance. A four-wheel-drive CX-5 crossover with a SkyActiv 2.5 returned 27 mpg for me on a test last year. A front-wheel-drive with a SkyActiv 2.0 produced 32 mpg.

Fuel economy: The Mazda5 I tested had no trip computer. It is rated at 21 mpg city and 28 highway. I averaged 24 mpg in a review of a 2012, and not much has changed in that time. (I didn’t fill the tank all the way, so I never got to do my own calculations.)

Where it’s built: Hiroshima, Japan.

How it’s built: Its predicted reliability is excellent, according to Consumer Reports.

In the end: It’s noteworthy that in a 2012 review I called the Mazda5 “peppy” and “zippy.” But times change, and vehicles have come a long way since I started reviewing more than three years ago.

The Mazda5 could be so much more, with about an extra foot of length and a 2.5-liter SkyActiv engine. In fact, such a niche Euromodel seems like the logical place for Mazda to try out its first diesel, something it’s been threatening to do in the 6 for a while now.

But the Mazda5 is like getting a C- paper from an A student. You know the kid’s put his heart and soul into it, but, sorry — it’s just not there.

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at

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