Mazda 5 2.0D sport

Flexible and agile carrier remains a strong proposition.

One glance at the Mazda, and you’re left in no doubt about its identity – unlike the chunky Nissan, the 5 is a conventional compact MPV.

The model first appeared on UK roads in 2005, and was an instant winner with Auto Express, netting the class title in our New Car Honours 2006.

But that was nearly three years ago, and a raft of new rivals have modernised the traditional people carrier since then.

In order to keep up, the firm gave the 5 a mid-life facelift earlier this year.

The seven-seater still has the same boxy shape, upright stance and swept-back headlamps as the original model, but look carefully, and you’ll spot the revised bumpers and LED tail-lamps. Overall, it’s an inoffensive design, yet it’s nowhere near as distinctive as the Qashqai. However, the 5’s exterior does have one feature that makes up for the underwhelming styling: sliding doors. Not only do these create a wide opening, they also make access simple, even when parked in a tight spot.

Inside, there’s an extremely well packaged cabin. It uses what the company calls a ‘6+1’ seating layout, and serves up incredible flexibility. The two chairs in the middle row slide, fold flat and feature lift-up bases. One of these opens to reveal a storage cubby, while the second has a flip-out cushion that forms the seventh seat.

Occupants in the third row will feel less cramped than in the Qashqai, thanks to greater head and legroom. However, while there’s more space, adults will still find anything other than short journeys a chore.

And when all seven seats are filled, you will only be able to squeeze in 110 litres of luggage. However, as with the Nissan, the chairs fold easily into the floor. Up front, you sit much lower than in the Qashqai, although the driving position is excellent and the high-mounted gearlever has a slick, short shift. The dash is well laid out, and the materials are of a decent quality. Crucially for a family car, the Mazda has plenty of cubby space, easily beating the Nissan.

Once on the move, the 5 comes into its own. It slices through corners with agility, while sharp steering, strong grip and good body control all add to the entertainment.

And while our test track figures show the Mazda trails the Nissan for outright pace, in the real world the difference isn’t as clear. The 141bhp 2.0-litre diesel is also smoother and less intrusive than its rival’s.

So, the Mazda has excellent driving dynamics, a well thought out interior and competitive pricing. Is it ready to show the young upstart that new ideas aren’t always as clever as they seem?

Details

Price: £19,695Model tested: Mazda 5 2.0D sportChart position: 1WHY: The 5 mixes MPV space and versatility with engaging driving dynamics.

Economy

With a list price of £19,695, the Mazda has an immediate advantage over its rival. CO2 emissions of 159g/km also help keep costs down, while choosing a 5 as a company car will result in a lower tax bill than for the Qashqai+2. Routine servicing will set you back £870 over three years – a saving of nearly £50 over the Nissan. Better still, Mazda finished 11th out of 30 in Auto Express’s Driver Power 2008 dealer survey. It’s not all good news for the Japanese car, though. After 36 months’ use it will have held on to only 36.1 per cent of its new value, while our fuel returns of 34.8mpg fall short of the 46.3mpg claimed by the manufacturer.

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