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Mazda 5 Sport

Can dramatic new look help put sliding doors star back in class contention?

Bosses have carved out a fantastic niche for Mazdaas a brand that produces great-value vehicles which also drive very well and look good. 

Amazingly, they’ve even managed to perform this trick on the 5 people carrier, which has always been a hit with the Auto Express team. A raft of new arrivals in the sector means the car has slipped down the pecking order lately – so do the recent changes put it back in touch with the class leaders?

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Video: watch CarBuyer's video review of the Mazda 5

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The jury is still out on the exterior tweaks. Gone are the old model’s simple and inoffensive lines, to be replaced by the visual equivalent of a slap around the face. The glitzy rear lights and creases that weave along the 5’s flanks are sure to grab attention, but not necessarily in a good way. We can’t help wondering if MPV drivers actually want to draw attention to the fact they are members of the family van club.

Sport trim doesn’t help, as it includes admittedly attractive alloys and lower side sills; the overall impression is that the car is trying too hard. Mind you, compared to the anonymous Toyota and ugly-duckling Ford, the Mazda does, at least, make a statement.

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Whatever you think of the exterior, you’re unlikely to find a great deal to complain about inside. While there are none of the expensive soft-touch plastics that inhabit the Toyota and Ford, the Mazda dash looks much more appealing than the unattractive finish in the Verso. Plus, there’s plenty of space – no matter where you choose to sit. The interior is no match for the Ford’s when it comes to quality and simplicity, but the 5’s price premium makes sense when you realise its heated leather seats come as standard. 

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On more practical matters, the Mazda is as good as it has always been. Access to the second and third row of seats is superb thanks to its sliding doors (powered in Sport trim), and the middle chairs slide and tilt, so the third row is as easy to get to as the C-MAX’s.

As with the other cars, the supplementary seats fold flat into the boot floor and are best suited to children, as leg space is at a premium. Also, headroom on the left-hand side is compromised by a belt anchor point for the row in front: tall occupants should bag themselves the right-hand spot.

By sliding the centre seats forward, though, it’s possible to find a solution that should give occupants of all three rows enough knee room. That logic applies to each of our contenders, however, so there’s little to set them apart. 

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As with the C-MAX, in the middle row the Mazda’s 60:40 split set-up has a centre chair that tucks away neatly beneath the squab of the adjoining seat. 

This offers the benefit of creating a ‘walk-through’ aisle when only six seats are needed, although the narrow middle seat isn’t as comfortable as the fully independent design favoured by Toyota. There’s not much between our trio in terms of luggage space, regardless of the seating layout. However, the 5’s tailgate doesn’t open as far as its rivals’, so tall individuals will have to stoop when loading the boot.

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Up front, the Mazda uses the same 1.6-litre diesel as its Ford cousin. With 113bhp and 270Nm of torque, it trails the 2.0-litre Toyota by 12bhp and 40Nm respectively. The unit is willing, though, as well as smooth and refined. 

Predictably, at the track the 5 couldn’t match the faster Verso for pace, but our in-gear tests give a more accurate reflection of the performance gap than the 0-60mph measure. Only a few tenths of a second separated the two Japanese models in our acceleration runs in fifth and sixth gears, and both finished comfortably ahead of the Ford.

The Mazda doesn’t get everything its own way, as longer ratios make the C-MAX a more relaxing long-distance companion. Sporty 17-inch alloys also result in more tyre roar, so the 5 is the least refined choice on test – confirmed by our noise meter readings. Yet away from the motorway, it displays the kind of dynamic prowess we’ve come to expect from the brand. Its snappy gearshift has the well engineered, mechanical feel of a sports car, and it reacts to steering inputs with real athleticism.

Body roll is well controlled for such a tall machine, and this doesn’t come at the expense of the ride, as it strikes a fine balance between handling and comfort.

There isn’t as much grip or steering feel as you get from the Ford. But the latest 5 has such a wide range of talents that it’s sure to give the Grand C-MAX a real run for its money.

Details

Chart position: 2
WHY: We were big fans of the original 5, and the latest version promises to be even better. Sliding rear doors and neat handling are supplemented by a sharp new look.

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