New Car Review: 2012 Mazda 5 Sport

Front 3/4 view of blue 2012 Mazda 5 in motion
The 2012 Mazda 5. The last "mini" minivan?

You've probably noticed, but the "mini" has been gone from most minivans for a decade or more now. The Honda Odyssey is only 7 inches shorter than a 1964 Chevrolet Impala...and those were big cars.

Mazda's been bucking the trend all along...the vehicle once called the MPV and now the Mazda 5 has never suffered from mission creep. Sales, however, have suffered, as buyers shell out for the ever-bigger not-so-minivans.

For 2012, there's an all-new Mazda 5 and....Mazda's stuck to its guns. The 5 is 22 inches...almost two feet....shorter than the Odyssey...20 inches trimmer than the Toyota Sienna.

Blue 2012 Mazda 5 rear view in motion
The 2012 Mazda 5 has smoothly flowing lines that look even better in person.
Now, don't get us wrong. We love the Sienna (the Odyssey? Beats us. Honda hasn't put one in our hands in three years of TireKicker). But not everybody needs that much minivan.

The 2012 Mazda 5 is about the size of the minivan as it's known in Europe. How well does that work here? Well, we arranged to borrow one for a week from Chapman Mazda in Phoenix so we could see for ourselves.

The answer? It's terrific. Small size and lighter weight help make the new 5 a joy to maneuver in city traffic...and Mazda's commitment to building vehicles that are fun to drive doesn't have an asterisk after it that says "except for minivans".

157 horsepower from a 16-valve DOHC four is more than adequate to move this lighter machine, and even with a 5-speed automatic (as opposed to 6 or more), the mileage estimates are very good for a minivan (EPA says 21 city/28 highway).

The styling? Love it. There's character, fluidity, a sense of playfulness merged with purpose that promises you will have fun driving it. Take a glance at the picture below. That's a six-speed manual gearbox sticking out of the console. Yes, a minivan with a manual.  Just order the Sport model. It'll cost you $1,000 less than the automatic.

Oh, yeah....price.

2012 Mazda 5 interior
The 2012 Mazda 5 minivan interior with 6-speed manual transmission.

The big minivans start within a stone's throw of $30,000. The top-of-the-line Sienna we tested last year topped out at $45,000 and change.

The Mazda 5 Sport?

$20,195. That's with the automatic. $19,195 with the six-speed.

That's for three rows of seats (two seats per row...total of six), 16-inch alloy wheels, power mirrors, halogen headlights, rear wiper with washer, captains chairs, a fold-out table for the second row, automatic climate control, a 6-speaker audio system, tilt & telescoping steering column, power windows and locks and remote keyless entry.

$795 for delivery and handling and the one we borrowed from Chapman rang in at $20,990. It was absolutely stock...zero options. And it was terrific. If it had been a stick, it would have stopped ten bucks shy of 20 grand.

There are people who need every inch of room in the sumo-class minivans. But you might not be one of them. The Mazda 5 is the first of a new wave of smaller minivans (Ford's on the way with the C-Max, though that will be sold in hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions only, and there will be others), but there's no need to wait. The 5 is here now and it's very, very good.