With so many cars looking like everything else on the road, it's refreshing to get into a new model that really has no match. The Mazda5 combines the drivability of a small sedan with the usefulness of a minivan, a unique combination that works very well. From the outside, the Mazda5 looks quite futuristic with a steeply raked windshield, rising beltline and clear-lens taillights. Standard 17-inch alloys and fog lights add to the sporty styling.

The Mazda5 is not a big car - about a foot shorter than a Honda Accord - but the interior space is impressive. Seating is available for six in three rows of two. The third row is a tight squeeze for adults, but the second row can move forward to provide some additional legroom. The best part is you still get a minivan's sliding doors - an excellent addition that nets you a wide opening without needing lots of space around the car.

With the third row in place, cargo room is adequate for a few grocery bags, but it folds easily to provide space similar to a midsize SUV. Fold the second row flat and the Mazda5 is all you need for a trip to the home improvement store.

Along with all that utility for people and cargo, you also get a machine that's reasonably fun to drive. Step on the throttle and the Mazda5's 153-horsepower engine gets it moving quickly. The chassis is shared with the sporty Mazda3, so the Mazda5 inherits many of the same qualities, with tight steering and impressive handling.

Our test Mazda5 was the top-of-the-line Grand Touring edition. For roughly $26K it offers such high-end features as xenon HID headlights, leather trim, Bluetooth connectivity, a power sunroof and a navigation system. The Grand Touring is only available with a 5-speed automatic, but still averaged 26 mpg in 300 or so miles of testing.

If you're looking for a more frugal or frisky people and cargo mover, the Mazda5 could be a smart solution.

MSN Autos

© 2009 Microsoft

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