By Travis Persaud

“It's like a mini minivan!” my wife exclaimed when she realized the rear doors were of the sliding variety. “Yup, that's pretty much what it is,” I confirmed.

While Mazda may call the completely redesigned 2012 Mazda5 a “multi-activity vehicle,” it will forever be known as a pint-sized minivan. And that's perfectly fine.

It's Mazda's second best selling vehicle in Canada behind the Mazda3, on which its underpinnings are based, has seating for six (three rows of two) and enough cargo capacity for the everyday family in a much smaller package than the minivans you're used to seeing (its overall length is 4,585 mm compared to the Dodge Caravan at 5151 mm).

And it looks pretty darn good for a “practicality first” vehicle.

Mazda incorporates its “Nagare” design language, which they say takes its inspiration from nature. Looking at the elegant waves flowing across its sides and the subtle raised hood around the headlights, they nailed it and raised the design bar for competitors. (Not that that's a hard task, given the utilitarian look most vans are given).

I tested the GT (starts at $24,395; the GS begins at $21,795) with the optional five-speed automatic transmission (replaces the six-speed manual for $1,200) and Luxury Package, which includes leather seating and power moonroof (brings an added level of serenity to the cabin, and is worth the extra $1,790). The interior is very clean without too many extra buttons to get your head around —simplicity that works exceedingly well across Mazda's entire lineup.

The three rows of seats work really well too. The second row mirrors the first with two captain chairs; very comfortable and roomy. And the backbench doesn't try to cram seating for three, so while it's a bit smaller than traditional vans it's not as tight with two passengers.

Plus, sightlines are fantastic. Pillars are placed with care, so backing in and out of spaces and making tight turns aren't a neck craning exercise.

Under the hood is a 2.5L I4 engine with 157 HP. So, while it's far from a world-beater, the drive is quite nimble and smooth for a larger-ish vehicle; somewhat surprising, until you remember it is based off the Mazda3. Turning felt light and responsive to my hand movements around the steering wheel, and suspension is tuned for a cushy, soft ride. And fuel efficiency is quite good — I averaged 9 L/100 km after a week of mainly city driving.

The redesigned Mazda5 is a near-perfect people mover in a stylish body with an above average driving experience.

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