Most cars have a party trick.  A gadget or a feature that makes them stand out in a crowd.  It doesn’t have to be anything outlandish like a built-in espresso machine or a gob-stopper dispenser.  Often it’s the simple things that make time spent with a car much easier.

And so it is with the Mazda 5.

Imagine yourself parked in a supermarket car park of your choosing.  You’re accompanied by four grizzling children and a week’s shopping.  To make your life complete, two kind souls have parked so close to either side of your car that you can only just squeeze between them.

What do you do?

If you’re driving a normal MPV, what usually follows is a series of dents in the doors of your neighbours’ cars as you try to squeeze your charges through a tiny gap and wrestle with their seat belts.  Probably accompanied by swearing.

However, if you imagined yourself driving the Mazda 5, you’d merely need to open one of the two sliding rear doors – one each side – and step through the opening to install a child in one of the seven seats.

Crisis averted.

The Mazda 5’s sliding doors are unusual in today’s market, most of its rivals having moved to conventional hinged affairs that need more space to open.  Each door needs just 16cm either side to slide open, and doing so reveals an opening 686mm wide by 1,083mm high with a low step to make climbing aboard even easier.

Although billed as a seven-seater, realistically the third row is likely to be reserved for children or an emergency pub run, and whoever draws the short straw and gets the narrow centre seat in the middle row also gets something of a (sore) bum deal.

However, Mazda’s ‘Karakuri’ functionality gives rise to plenty of options: the centre seat of the middle row can be folded forward to create an armrest, or folded away completely to create step-through access to the third row of seats.  The two outer seats can be slid or folded forwards to create additional leg- or cargo-space, and the seats in the third row can be folded individually to create a flat load floor.

In that configuration there’s 1,485 litres of space available measured floor to ceiling.  With all seats in place, the boot area drops to 112 litres, or a more useful 426 litres with just the rear seats folded.  There’s also a 6.3-litre storage bin under the seat cushion of the second-row seats.

Once installed, passengers are well catered for with a series of cup- and bottle-holders, air vents and even pop-up tables.

The driver hasn’t been forgotten in all of this.  All-round visibility is good, the steering wheel adjusts for both height and reach, both front seats incorporate armrests and the attractively cowled dials are clear and easy to read.

On the move, things are equally pleasant.  There’s a welcome suppleness to the ride and a sure-footed quality to the handling that keeps proceedings calm and composed.  Sure, you might be disappointed if you expected it to handle like an MX-5, but the Mazda 5 is bestowed with a decent amount of grip and co-operative steering.  It also benefits from a surprisingly slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox that makes the process of carting kids about the country more engaging than you might imagine.

Coupled with the general airy feeling to the cabin, the 5 begins to feel like a respectable place to spend time during a long journey, and we’d suggest that’s where the Mazda 5 would excel.

Two engines are available: a 2.0-litre petrol producing 150PS and 191Nm of torque, and a 1.6-litre diesel with 115PS and 270Nm.  While the diesel’s figures make it sound a little anaemic, it’s our preference of the two.  It’s a bit grumbly at low revs, and could use some extra sound-proofing, but with maximum torque arriving at just 1,750rpm in something of a tidal wave, it’s easy to row your way through the ratios without expending much effort.  It won’t reward attempts to win any traffic-light grand prix (as evidenced by its 13.7 second 0-62mph time), but with a car full of kids and a week’s shopping, the diesel retains its composure when the petrol unit requires a little more work.

Not surprisingly, it’s the most frugal, too, recording 54.3mpg against the petrol’s 40.9mpg.  CO2 emissions are equally favourable: 138 g/km vs. the 2.0-litre’s 159 g/km.

Unfortunately, it’s a little more expensive to buy than the petrol model.  The Mazda 5 range – which is now offered in a single grade called ‘Venture’ – starts at £19,995 for the 2.0-litre, or £21,295 for the 1.6 diesel.

Both are well equipped, with 17-inch alloy wheels, tyre pressure monitoring, power folding heated mirrors, privacy glass, remote locking, electric windows, climate control, cruise control, rear parking sensors and parking camera, TomTom satellite navigation, and a six-speaker stereo with Bluetooth integration.  In fact, the only factory option is metallic paint.

Would be nice to have a gob-stopper dispenser, though…

Entry-level Price £19,995 Price as tested £21,295
Engine 4-cylinder turbodiesel, 1560cc Transmission Six-speed manual
Power 115ps @ 3,600rpm Torque 270Nm @ 1,750rpm
0-62mph 13.7 secs Top speed 111 mph
Economy 54.3 mpg CO2 138 g/km
Dimensions 4585 x 1988 x 1615 (LWH) Kerb Weight 1490 kg