Cars that are hard to criticise usually fall into two categories: so boringly efficient you can find nothing much of real interest to say about them, or so good you get embarrassed praising them.
The Mazda5, however, is a seven-seater people carrier that falls between both these stools. It is good without making you sit up and applaud; and it is efficient to the extent that you take a lot for granted.
Its looks do not help greatly. It is low slung and, despite etches of design flair here and there, it echoes far too much the silhouette of a converted van -- an impression emphasised when the rear/side sliding doors open up to the interior. That is a harsh comment but a few passengers made it, so I reflect it here.
If ever a modern people carrier hid its lights under a bushel, this one does. Because at its heart it is a more than decent package.
There's a willing and reasonably spritely 1.6-litre 115bhp engine, a nice dash which bears all the hallmarks of a modern Mazda, a dullish rear cabin (what do you expect, really?) and a comfortable enough drive.
So? Well, there are no real distinguishing marks; nothing to make you remember it (except the sliding doors, maybe, which are great by the way). The biggest compliment I can pay it is similar to ones that used to be paid to the likes of the Toyota Corolla and the VW Golf back along the years: excellence without excitement.
Now that might sound la-di-dah from the former owner of a Corolla (and a Golf for that matter), but there is a bitter reality to be faced here.
Cars need distinguishing marks like never before. They need to be different because people are shopping around like hell and the middle ground is overlooked when it comes to jotting down highlights.
I think its looks are its biggest drawback -- a few passengers wondered if they'd want it in their driveways. That, too, was a bit harsh but take a look at what is making the running out there. There's the Ford C-Max (fine looks) and Grand C-Max (okay); the Peugeot 5008 (excellent); Renault's Scenic; Citroen's Picasso; Nissan's Qashqai -- all stylish -- and I hope you see what I mean.
Yet the Mazda5 is absolutely on the ball when it comes to the practicalities. There's a lot of useable space in the cabin -- more than some rivals -- with the proverbial scarcity of luggage room when all seven seats are occupied.
Out on the motorway and highways this swept along grand and smooth. We were comfortable and snug. Because it is relatively low-slung compared with most of its competitors, it has more the feel of an estate. I thought, as a result, it should have handled a good deal better for that. It didn't.
However, the driving position is excellent and, unlike many of the more sharply designed rivals, the level of rear-view vision (wing mirrors especially) was excellent.
I have to say this is becoming a bit of a problem with some cars. The designers hold sway to such an extent that these little pearl drops of wing mirrors provide only a glimpse of what's going on out there.
The other concern I had on this was the diesel. The 1.6-litre appeared, on the face of it, to be carrying a heavy burden for its size. But that was most definitely not the case. Alright, I'd have liked more pep, perhaps, but in the real world of driving, one's needs are relatively modest. This surpassed my expectations by a considerable amount.
The key thing about the engine was its flexibility, so I wasn't changing up and down gears like an orchestra conductor.
Mazda does a lot of things right. I would say it doesn't get credit for a lot of stuff. I mean, here is a perfectly acceptable people carrier that ticks so many of the boxes, yet it didn't have that bit of outstanding innovation or attraction -- call it the X-factor.
And I say that despite being cosseted in leather trim (mine was the top-of-range Sport version) and plenty of comfort.
The sliding side doors were great for access and reduced the amount of lateral space required to embark and disembark.
It protrudes just 159mm, making parking particularly easy in those tight spots that always seem to be the only option.
The Mazda5 is the sort of vehicle you can run cheaply because the maker has a good reputation for reliability. It is the sort of vehicle that will stay the distance long after one or two flashier rivals have had their day in the sun. That is what you are buying into.
My point is that there is no reason you can't have that and a bit of brio as well. Then you'd have a real prospect on your hands.
Mazda5 people carrier, seven-seater, 1.6-litre diesel (1,560cc, 115bhp), sixspd manual gearbox, CO2 of 138g/km; VRT is 16pc. €156 annual road tax.
From €24,995. Sport version on test €29,995. Delivery, related charges extra.
Sliding rear doors, use of space, engine, seating arrangements, easy access, lots of cubbyholes and storage areas.
Uninspiring looks, poor handling, hasn’t allure of rivals.
Air con, electric windows, electric/heated wing mirrors, front, side, curtain airbags (for all three rows).
Range topping Sport version tested had leather seats, 17in alloys, electric sliding doors and heated seats.
The anticipated best seller will be the SE version, which has Bluetooth, climate control, rear parking sensors, cruise control and 16in alloys.
Others to consider
Opel Zafira, Nissan Qashqai+2, Toyota Verso, Peugeot 5008, Volkswagen Touran, Ford Grand C-Max, Renault Grand Scenic.
Star Rating 77 / 100