2008 Mazda5 Review at 7,500 Miles: Questions Answered, Honda Odyssey vs. Mazda5

So we just rolled past 7,500 miles on our 2008 Mazda5 Touring. It goes to the dealer tomorrow for the maintenance. Just last night, my brother in law was in town and took his first ride in it and it got me thinking I should answer the few questions from the comments here and here and make another post.

If you missed the pre-purchase post or the couple month followup, check them out.

So do we still like it now that it is full of kids’ toys and isn’t as clean as it once was? Now that it no longer smells brand new?


It is still the perfect car for our family of 4 in the city. One question in the comments was about life with 3 kids and some gear…. I would say it is not optimal. The 3rd row is really the trunk, you get one or the other. Sure, you can fold down one of the seats and split the difference, but really, it won’t be enough. If you have a child small enough to live comfortably in the 3rd row, you are likely still carrying more gear for that child that one would like, so it becomes a space issue. With 3 kids, it could be a good second car, but as a primary car it might be tight.

That being said, I personally feel that people should purchase the smallest car they can deal with on a daily basis, and for the few road trips or big trips to home depot or what not, one should rent a car. If you are subscribing to that concept, then the Mazda5 might be a great car for a family of 5, especially if not all 5 are in the car all the time. For our family of 4, the Mazda5 could do a cross country road trip without issue. If we had 3 kids, I would just rent a minivan for the trip, put the miles on someone else’s car, and not drive a giant mostly empty car for the remaining 350 days of the year, sucking down fuel and moving an extra 1,000 pounds around that you aren’t using. (Assuming the Mazda5 weighs 3400, and the Honda Odyssey weights 4550).

The other question was about high speed stability and the lack of traction control/stability control. Short answer, in my humble opinion, the Mazda5 will out-handle a Honda Odyssey in high speed emergency maneuvers without question, regardless of the lack of electronic driver aids.

Long answer.

A little background, I am an instructor with the Audi Car Club of North America and call the Chicagoland Chapter my home. As an instructor, we take students out on area tracks and teach them high performance driving. We provide classroom instruction, a slalom exercise, a threshold braking exercise, and a lane toss exercise. Then we take the student out on the track and teach them how to deal with the car at speed.

My Audi does have ESP, which in the case of Audi uses a yaw sensor to determine the movements of the car, compares that to the steering input, and if they are not in line, the system will apply the brakes on the corner of the car necessary to bring the 2 lines back together. If is amazing in the snow and the rain. If the Mazda5 had such an option, I would have purchased it without question. It can do amazing things, and it is a nice safety net. But I am of the thought that a properly trained driver can do a lot.

Traction control is usually only in play at low speeds, IE when you floor it from a stop sign and the wheels spin. Many systems are not involved in a high speed emergency lane change or anything so I am not worried about that. Would I like traction control? Not really. I would like a proper differential on the front axle, but hey, it isn’t necessary. If I induce wheel spin, I just lift a hair until traction is regained and that is that. Would it be nice in the snow? Sure, but I have found a set of snow tires makes a far bigger improvement, and it works in all aspects, driving, stopping, turning, etc. Buy snow tires if you live in a snowy area, and this applies to all cars. But that isn’t the point here.

So comparing the high speed maneuvering abilities of a Mazda5 and a Honda Odyssey. Disclaimer: I have not had a pucker moment in the Mazda5. I have in other cars, but not the Mazda5. I am ok with that. I have tossed the Mazda around the occasional Chicago pothole at 40-50 mph without drama. I also have never driven a Honda Odyssey. That being said, I still feel confident saying the Mazda5 will win hands down.

First off, the Mazda5 is over 1,000 lbs lighter (3400 vs 4500). I also have a 1985 VW Jetta, and that car is ~2,300lbs. Trust me, you can feel the weight difference. The difference in weight is insane when you talk about handling, braking, and acceleration. Less weight means less work for the engine on acceleration, so you don’t need as much HP. Less weight means less work for the brakes, which convert energy to heat and will have a limit. Less weight means less work for the tires, as they are the only things touching the ground. When you slam on the brakes at speed, you are putting a LOT of weight on the front tires. Then you try to steer, and the tires just can’t do it. This holds true for all cars. Tires can’t do multiple things at once very well. And the more weight you put on the tires, the less likely they are to do what they are asked. So the weight of the Mazda5 will inherently make it a better handling car. Don’t get me wrong, engineers do amazing things in suspension tuning to make a big car feel nimble, but you can’t engineer around physics.

Second, the size of the Mazda5 compared to the Odyssey is significant. Obviously that is the reason the people get the Honda over the Mazda. But that very size is going to be a liability when you need to toss the car around the debris that just fell off the truck in front of you at 70 mph. The size combined with the weight will, again, in my humble opinion, give the Mazda5 the edge.

Third, suspension tuning. As I said, I have not driven a Honda Odyssey, but EVERYONE I have ever met that has one loves it. So I am sure it is good. But I am confident in saying the Mazda5 drives like a car. It drives NOTHING like a Toyota Sienna, a vehicle I have put a few miles on in the past. So if the Honda is anything like the Toyota, I feel comfortable saying the Mazda5 suspension tuning is more agile and performance oriented when compared to a full size minivan. This again will give the edge to the Mazda5. The lower profile tires on the Mazda5 also help.

So handling wise, I am confident the Mazda will out handle the Odyssey in nearly all situations.

I also thing that every driver on the road would benefit from driver training, like at a driving school put on by the Audi Club, Skip Barber, etc. The driver is the best place to start when it comes to improving a car. All the modifications in the world can not make a poor driver good. But a good driver can make a poor car perform. The average driver has never done FULL threshold braking intentionally. They haven’t learned how to best avoid an accident like in the lane toss. They haven’t felt the weight transfer as they move the car through a slalom course. And knowing how the car is going to feel and how to control it will make all the difference, regardless of the car.

Other issues with the car? None. It has been great. I would still like 35mpg, but that isn’t happening in this market segment, so I am ok. We have had no problems to note, and I actually still enjoy driving it.

9 Responses
  1. Ari

    Hey, I think if you set cruise control at exactly 60 MPH you will get something like 31 MPG. Try it, it might work. It works for most cars….do it in a Prius and you get something like 65 MPG. I’m not saying it’ll work, I’m saying it’s a possibility.

  2. Mandy

    Hi. With what rental car company were you able to rent a Mazda 5? We are strongly considering purchase and want to rent before we buy this time around. But am having trouble finding a rental… We’re in CA. Thx!

  3. Mandy

    Oh hey, another thought for ya. I’m trying to justify getting the Mazda 5 for my family of 4, over waiting until April for the new Honda hybrid, the “Prius-buster”, which promises to cost less than 19k. Got any ideas for me, especially since we both share the view that we should have the smallest car possible with the best gas mileage?

  4. John

    Great review! Thanks for the long term “real world” POV. I am looking to purchase a Mazda5 for the same reasons you purchase yours. There will be four members to my family soon and the 5 is my definite choice for our next vehicle. We had a 2001 Odyssey that we sold last year because it was a gas guzzler and had too many mechanical issues. We bought a Mini Cooper and that car seemed to handle our family (parents and a 7 year old) of three just fine. We’ve been on weekend road trips and the Mini was confortable. Yes, all our luggage fit inside the car too. Yes, the Mini is tight on road trips but it worked well and nobody complained about space.
    We’ve been fine in the Mini Cooper and my compact sedan this past year. I don’t see the need for a full sized Minivan again. The Odyssey was great for road trips, but unless we take the In-Laws the Odyssey was just not necessary 95% of the time. I think the Mazda5 is the perfect size for a family of four in the urban jungle of Souther Cal.
    I look forward to your futre entries about the 5.

  5. Newton

    Mazda 5 is the best general purpose family car I’ve ever owned. Seats 2 adults and 2 children with a sizable amount of travel gear comfortably. Handles extremely well as the OP said, like a car. The little 4-banger will get up and go too – the car is light enough not to bog it down.
    The interior is roomier than the exterior would have you believe (how did they thwart the space-time continuum like that?). Much of the controls and dash have a cheap, “plasticky” feel to it, particularly the shifter, but it’s not bad enough to impact the driving experience.
    Under the hood, the cheap plasticky-ness continues with the engine cover, battery cover and inlet ducting. You will be replacing a couple of those plastic ‘rivets’, but they’re only a buck and a half. Changing the oil is not an ordeal as with some cars.

    All-in-all, we love this car.

  6. Natasha

    I’ve had a Mazda3, for 7 years now, and it’s a great little car, except the exposed brakes keep costing me at the mechanic’s in New England climate. Now that we have kids, I’m thinking about going to a Mazda5, for more carrying capacity, and I’m wondering if you’ve run into similar issues with the Mazda5. I’m not as familiar with how bad Chicago winters are for cars – I’m from the Boston area, and the salt and potholes are terrible… The mechanic tells me the open design on Mazda3 wheels is the problem; does Mazda5 have the same thing?

    1. Chicago has plenty of salt and potholes, no question. I am not sure what problems you have had, but we haven’t had anything too bad on the 5. I’ve swapped pads a couple times, and we might need to do new rotors soon, but in the 3 years/~45,000 miles nothing out of the ordinary. That being said, the brakes are the same between the 3 and 5 for the most part (I think the 5 has slightly larger rears, but I don’t recall for sure) as are the wheels, so in theory, the problem might remain.

      What problems do you have? Do other cars in the area have similar issues?

  7. Natasha

    They had to replace calipers and brake pads on the rear wheels, after they started overheating and rotors on the front. It has about 45,000 miles now (haven’t been driving much in the last few years). Mechanic says that basically there is nothing to protect these mechanisms from the salt and gunk that just get directly in there. Otherwise I’ve been really happy with the reliability – sounds like the same is true of the 5. I don’t know about other cars; we have a honda accord that does not have the same issues though.

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