Second & Third Rows

The second row is pretty easy to get into, and the seats slide forward and back independent of each other. With these seats in their rearmost position, my knees didn't touch the driver's backrest, but that's partly because the rear seats are pretty low to the floor, which raises the knees. Even so, I was pretty comfortable; the second-row backrests recline a generous amount, which helps. Some riders found the cushions slightly too firm.

At the pull of a single lever, the seatbacks tilt and the whole seat slides forward to ease third-row entry. As is typical, the third row has the least space. Though headroom is decent, legroom is unworkable for someone my size. There's practically no foot room Ч let alone legroom Ч unless you move the second row forward farther than any passenger would want. It makes more sense to put the smallest people in back, of course.

The sliding second row is critical to fitting more than four people in the Mazda5, because all legroom is shared. Actually getting that many in the car will depend on passenger size and placement, and it's best not to approach it casually. If you don't hold a strategy session ahead of time, it just won't work.

There's a lot that's good about the Mazda5's seating situation, including swing-down inboard and outboard armrests for each of the front and second-row seats, plus user-friendly sliding and folding mechanisms. The seat fabric is nice, too. There are modestly sized storage compartments under the cushions of both second-row seats. One of them can accommodate the center tray, which provides two cupholders and a storage net if you like, or stow it to provide a narrow aisle between the seats; just flip it 180 degrees then drop the seat cushion back down.

When you boil it down to passengers and space, unless you're carrying six people, the Mazda5 might not have an advantage over a five-seat crossover. It depends on whether you'd rather have three backseat passengers sitting abreast, or have two in the Mazda5's middle seat and one in the third row Ч with whatever legroom he or she can muster.

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