The Drive

The Mazda5's 2.3-liter four-cylinder has to rev pretty high to get the car moving quickly. Our car had the optional five-speed automatic transmission, which adds $1,440. The five-speed manual might eke a little more acceleration out of the engine, but you'll need to work that stick. The automatic, likewise, has to shift to lower gears to hit the necessary revs. With four adults aboard, plus the driver (insert wisecrack here), the engine had to work harder Ч and audibly so Ч though it's reasonably smooth. I felt the weight in diminished acceleration, but I didn't consider it a problem. I'm not quick to call any vehicle underpowered, but some people (and most car reviewers) would deem the Mazda5 as such. Throw in some hillier terrain, though, and I suspect I'd agree. Front-wheel drive is the only choice.

Mazdas are known for being sporty, and if a car can be sporty without being quick, the Mazda5 is, in some regards. Compared with minivans, it's no contest, because its small size and relatively short wheelbase make the Mazda easier to fling about. It also rides lower than the average crossover, creating a more grounded feel. Unfortunately, I can't judge the roadholding very well, because our car had winter tires well before the arrival of the cold temperatures for which they're needed. The result was squirmier handling.

Ride quality is also pretty good. Even though the wheelbase is shorter than a large van's, it's longer than the average compact crossover's, which helps with smoothness. Either by design or default, small crossovers ride more firmly. Wheelbase be damned, the turning circle is competitive at 34.8 feet.

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