Test Drive: 2012 Mazda5 Grand Touring

?Mazda5 features new Nagare design?

The first thing that you?re likely to notice about the latest 2012 iteration of the Mazda5 is its innovative and unique design. The Mazda5 is categorized as a multi-activity vehicle, with an exceptional level of versatility, class-leading performance attributes and credible fuel efficiency. It actually defies specific classification ? it?s kind of a mini-minivan, but in reality, it?s really much more. Let?s just refer to it as a MAV for the sake of simplicity.

Back to the Mazda5?s key appeal ? the Nagare ?flow? design language, which is essentially inspired by the elements and beauty of nature, particularly in the forces of wind and water. It displays a look of grace and elegance not found in any other vehicle being produced today. Mazda also refers to the styling philosophy as ?Seductive Smartness? ? an approach that sets it apart from the box-like images offered by more conventional competitors in the marketplace. The design team of the Mazda5 visualized the overall vehicle image as a single bead of water with ripples left intentionally on the surface, with the body?s lines expressing the flow of motion. The flow starts forward at the front grille and passes smoothly over the headlamps, hood and fenders, continuing over the sides of the body, rear combination lamps and tailgate in a consistent stream. The lines and motifs appear, disappear and reappear in a theme of change and fusion.

The five-point front grille shares the uniquely familiar face found on every Mazda, making it immediately distinguishable as a Mazda product, and lending it a dynamic and sporty expression true to Mazda?s DNA.? The ?flowing? lines of the hood and headlamps gather in the center of the grille to create a powerful sense of motion.? And the curved lines that form the mesh pattern adopted for the grille lend the impression that the mesh flows out from the center to the sides, which expresses the essence of Nagare design. Fog lamp bezels were designed to form a continuous line with the side shoulders and wheel arches to present a wide, dynamic image, which blends harmoniously with the gentle S-shaped contour established by the flowing lines off the sides of the front grille and up toward the headlamps.? In addition, the mesh pattern surrounding the fog lamps creates a design that flows back toward the rear of the vehicle.? The deeply sculpted form of the area around the hood and fog lamps gives the front a firm countenance emphasizing its aggressive styling.

The Mazda5?s interior also showcases the Nagare design influence, ranging from the lines above the dials and along the instrument panel to the stitch pattern in the seats and the design of the seat fabric. The overall ambience evokes the feel of a sporty, high-quality cabin, that focuses on the driver, positioning the peak of the meter hood as the tallest point, with all lines flowing from there, comfortably wrapping around the driver.? The instrument panel flows from the cockpit to the center panel and on to the passenger-side of the dash in a rippling effect that suggests a liquid composition. The same flow continues on through the lines of the seat pattern, which connects seamlessly with the second and third row seats, creating a strong sense of unity throughout. The twin deep-set gauges deliver a sporty flair, and the center panel is fitted with chrome plating and silver-trimmed control knobs that create a top quality look.

Okay, that takes care of the visual description of the Mazda5, but in addition to presenting an emotionally appealing design from, the production objective was to?make sure that it was fun to drive while also being versatile and practical. The sensual looks and exhilarating performance have no? compromising effect on the packaging. The Mazda5 provides roomy comfort, while being deceptively compact.

A low profile fuel tank, the compact multi-link rear suspension and stepped floor combine to provide a spacious cabin with three rows of seats, which may be configured to accommodate two, three, four five or six passengers. The second row offers separate captain?s chairs that slide, recline and fold flat and feature storage beneath the cushions, with the right middle row seat also providing a fold out basket for additional storage. Third row seats provide a 50/50 split, and can be tipped forward and folded individually to form a flat load area. Even with all seats up, the space behind the third row is large enough to allow stowing a standard-size baby stroller along with all of baby?s accoutrements. Seating is arranged in a theatre-style format.

The 2012 MAZDA5 is available in three levels of trim: an entry-level Sport, the Touring and top-of-the-line Grand Touring. The MAZDA5 Sport is available with either a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission.? The MAZDA5 Touring comes only with a five-speed automatic transmission and takes everything on the MAZDA5 Sport and adds even more goodies, while the Grand Touring model enhances the Touring model?s content by adding a power moonroof, xenon high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights, automatic on/off headlights, heated door mirrors, rain-sensing windshield wipers, anti-theft alarm?system, driver?s seat lumbar support adjustment, heated front seats, in-dash 6-disc CD changer, leather-trimmed seats and Sirius? satellite radio.

Power for all Mazda5 models is provided by a 2.5-liter, DOHC, 16-valve 4-cylinder engine with VVT and electronically controlled fuel injection that delivers 157 horsepower at 6,000 rpm along with 163 pound feet of torque at 4,000 rpm. Transmission choices include either a 6-speed manual gearbox (Mazda5 Sport only) or a five-speed automatic with overdrive. The engine resides up front in an East/West orientation, driving the front wheels.

My test Mazda5 came in Grand Touring trim finished outside in Copper Red Mica and inside in a Sand tone. The base sticker read $23,875 while the addition of a rear bumper guard and Delivery, Processing and Handling fee bumped the final total to $24,720.

SUMMARY: The 2012 Mazda5 represents an almost unbelievable value in an extremely attractive and appealing package. Pricing for the Sport level trim with the manual gearbox starts at $19,990 while the Grand Touring model begins at $23,875 and comes fully loaded at $24,875.

The design is truly an emotional one with the intriguing Nagare design flow offering the innovative wave motion pattern to the side panels, which blend with all of the vehicles other planes and lines with a sweeping continuity. Initially, the thought was that such unusual contours in the sheet metal would prove to be a bodyman?s nightmare, but in fact, the flow pattern is actually easier to match than a flat smooth surface. The ?B?, ?C? and ?D? pillars are all blacked out, projecting a floating roof imagery.

The interior is loaded with ambience and is truly driver oriented, while providing both comfort and support.

Acceleration is surprisingly ample ? even abundant for a naturally aspirated 4-cylinder engine, and the handling characteristics are genuinely equivalent to that of a sporty sedan ? the vehicle stays flat and planted in challenging, twisty scenarios. Safety features include: ABS, EBD, DSC, TPMS and LATCH.

The 2012 Mazda5 is an outstanding, lifestyle-serving vehicle that is both fun to drive and affordable. The frontal appearance displays Mazda?s ?smiley face? grille, which seems most appropriate.