Mazda 5 so family-friendly

Iain Dooley says the new Mazda 5's appeal is more than skin deep.

The compact people-carrier has come a long way in recent years. The concept has moved on from being little more than a bloated tin box. For some, compact multi-purpose vehicles (MPV) have replaced the traditional five-door hatchback as the family car.

It helps if your offering looks attractive – when it first appeared, Mazda's 5 was one of those streamlined, visually-appealing models that tempted buyers away from conventional family cars.

Mazda's designers did a great job of concealing the car's spacious cabin under a streamlined body, and the second-generation model continues this trend. Adopting exterior styling cues from recent concept models and current production cars, this latest Mazda5 also offers improved comfort and refinement for a growing family.

From the driver's seat it's very much like Mazda's 6. Surrounded by familiar and logical switchgear and instrumentation, only the 5's lofty seating position gives the game away. Look over your shoulder, however, and you're reminded of this car's superior versatility.

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With not one but two rows of seats, the Mazda5 offers families all the space they could need. Access to the second row is excellent thanks to twin sliding rear doors. The middle row of seats should be good enough for both adults and children, while the rearmost row is better suited to the latter. An easy-folding mechanism allows quick access to that third row, while headroom fore and aft is more than adequate.

Don't want to use the third row of seats on a daily basis? That's not a problem thanks to Mazda's clever 'Karikuri' system, which enables you to flip the second-row seat cushions and change the seat count from three to two. Then there's the ability to fold the third row – changing the car's boot status from merely big to really big. A generous sprinkling of cabin oddment storage spaces completes the family-friendly aspect of this car.

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Mazda's focus on space and practicality should be applauded, as it makes the 5 one of the best in its class. Factor in a robust, durable and attractive interior and it couldn't be more family-proof.

But what about the driving experience? So often something that's a distant second, Mazda has done well to make the 5 feel like a conventional car. With its long wheelbase the 5 already has the upper hand over most conventional cars when it comes to ride comfort and stability. Agility isn't a given in this sector though, as long, tall cars rarely fair well on the open road.

Thankfully the Mazda5 bucks this trend and proves to be a surprisingly agile and responsive car. Its steering delivers plenty of weight and feel, while pitch and roll through the corners has been reduced to almost family hatch levels.

Mazda offers a pair of petrol engines plus, from early 2011, a diesel motor. The 114hp 1.8-litre and 148hp 2.0-litre petrol engines are refined and while the latter will be the obvious choice for power users and also gains an engine stop-start feature, the 1.8 is no slouch either.

The 2.0-litre motor's direct injection also mans a sub 160g/km CO2 rating and fuel economy that's a whisker over 40mpg. When it appears, you can expect 50mpg-plus from the 1.6-litre diesel unit and an even lower CO2 rating.

For now, buyers seeking a solid, practical and attractive-looking family wagon would do well to put the Mazda 5 on their shopping list. With alloy wheels, electric windows, air-conditioning and a decent audio unit a few of the items of standard kit, plus powered sliding doors, affordable sat-nav, leather and climate control options, the car's appeal is more than skin deep.

Model: Mazda5 2.0 TS2, from �18,895 on the road

Engine: 148bhp 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol

Transmission: Six-speed manual, driving the front wheels

Performance: 0-62mph 11 seconds; top speed 120mph

Economy: 40.9mpg

CO2 Rating: 159g/km

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