Mazda has successfully taken the concept of the minivan into a downsized and sportier direction with the Mazda5.  This little 6-passenger runner offers family-hauling in a more fun and affordable and fuel-efficient manner.  Plus as we last tested it, there have been a number of improvements, but hardly enough to convince Americans that a smaller hauler can be better?

You can call it a compact crossover, a small wagon, or even a “mini” minivan.  Mazda calls it the ultimate multi-activity vehicle.  Regardless, the 2009 Mazda5 is a diminutive, 6-passenger people-mover that aims to meet the demands of fast-paced American family life. Since we first tested it back in 2006, it has undergone a noticeable update and a multitude of enhancements. But the Mazda5 still retains the same space-saver crossover philosophy that guided its initial creation.

Styling has been refreshed with a more aggressive front fascia that reflects the brands new “big smile” look. The grille, bumper, and headlights have all been updated.Though its wedgy two-box profile remains much the same, rear styling benefits from trendy LED-edged taillights, with a rear spoiler to drive home the brand’s sporting character, as do the standard 17-inch 5-spoke alloy wheels wearing V-rated tires. But, they must leave something to be desired in snow since our tester came with winter tires.

As before, the interior is a well-configured three-row cabin with fine fit and finish.  Interior materials are of solid quality. Up front, the most noticeable changes are the addition of upscale electroluminescence to the overlapping gauges, and a revised center stack. Controls remain big and functional. For family entertainment, there’s a six-speaker audio system with in-dash six-disc CD changer, and to avoid getting lost, the optional DVD navigation now has a more user-friendly touch-screen.

As before, the second row is comprised of two individual seats that both slide and recline, so head and legroom are comparable to larger SUVs. Rear air vents and controls are a recent addition and are standard. The 50/50 third-row split-folding bench is good for two kids, but that’s about it.  Putting an adult back there might be considered “cruel and unusual punishment,” but access for back-seaters is made super-convenient thanks to the minivan-style sliding rear doors. As for cargo, with the third-row seats down, there’s a very useable 44.4 cubic feet of storage space.  Drop the second row for a load floor that’s over five feet long with 70.9 cubic feet of capacity.

Power for the front-wheel drive Mazda5 comes from a carryover 2.3-liter dual-overhead-cam inline-4 shared with the Mazda3.  Output is 153 horsepower, 148 pound-feet of torque. A new 5-speed automatic replaces the previous 4-speed auto. Unfortunately, the base Sport is the only model with a 5-speed manual.

At the track we didn’t expect anything eye-popping, and that was confirmed with a long 0 to 60 of 10 seconds, almost 2 seconds slower than a Honda Element, and a quarter-mile in 17.7 seconds at 79 miles-per-hour. Though clearly without much “zoom-zoom” off the line, overall it feels peppier than the numbers indicate.

Handling, on the other hand, fits reasonably well with Mazda’s sportier image. The all-independent suspension delivers a more nimble feel than any crossover of comparable size. There is a reasonable amount of front-end push in tight corners, along with a fair amount of body roll.  But overall, the Mazda5 feels well-connected, responsive, and gives good feedback through the chassis - and that’s with winter tires!

For stopping, the Mazda5 uses 4-wheel disc brakes with standard ABS and Brake Assist.  Stops averaged a little long at 134 feet from 60 to 0, but felt very stable, smooth, and straight.

Being small we expect better than average for a crossover Government Fuel Economy Ratings and they are. A Mazda5 automatic rates 21 city/27 highway on regular gas. Owners say they are seeing 24.7 in typical driving. The Mazda5’s Energy Impact Score is a moderate 14.9 barrels of oil consumed per year, while its Carbon Footprint measures a low 8.0 annual tons of CO2 emitted.

Base prices for the Mazda5 start at $18,665 for the Sport model, climbing to $23,345 for Grand Touring trim. The 2009 Mazda5 comes at us with the same affordable, people-moving intelligence as before, but it’s now improved with a handful of purposeful updates.  This little crossover is an excellent alternative for families that don’t require a lot of vehicle, just a lot of convenience. Proving that smaller can definitely be better.



  • Engine: 2.3-Liter Dual-overhead-cam Inline-4
  • Horsepower: 153
  • Torque: 148 Lb Feet
  • 0-60 MPH: 10.0 Seconds
  • 1/4 Mile: 17.7 Seconds @ 79 MPH
  • 60-0 MPH: 134 Feet
  • EPA: 21 MPG City/ 27 MPG Highway
  • Mixed Loop: 24.7 MPG
  • Energy Impact: 14.9 Barrels Oil/Yr
  • CO2 Emissions: 8.0 Tons/Yr