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The Mazda5 Is the Greatest Minivan Nobody Bought

It’s been nearly 15 years since the Mazda5 first went on sale, as it was originally released in late 2005 for the 2006 model year. The Mazda5 was eventually sold for two generations, and it lasted through the 2015 model year, but it never really caught on with American consumers. I think that’s a shame.

First, let’s go through an overview of what the Mazda5 was. It was effectively a smaller minivan, a seven-eighths size Honda Odyssey or Toyota Sienna for people who just didn’t need all that space and all that engine power. The Mazda5 seated six people with 2-2-2 seating, or two seats in each of three rows. The original Mazda5 used a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder, and later ones used a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, with horsepower always right around 160.

Obviously, that power figure is well shy of the 230-plus horses in vans like the Odyssey and the Sienna, but the Mazda5’s smaller size made it acceptable. The 2006 Mazda5 was only 181.5 inches long, nearly two feet shorter than the 2006 Odyssey, and it weighed less than 3,400 pounds — an entire half ton less than the Odyssey. The Mazda5 also benefited from fuel economy gains over the Odyssey, adding 4 mpg in the city and 1 mpg on the highway due to its smaller size and smaller engine.

So why didn’t the Mazda5 catch on? Simple: it just wasn’t necessary. In Europe, where fuel prices are higher and distances are smaller and parking spaces are smaller and cities are narrower, smaller minivans like the Mazda5 are a success — but in North America, consumers just don’t have to worry that much about those things. If they can get a big minivan, they will — and they do. The smaller Mazda5 just didn’t have a place here.

But I like the idea of it — a smaller minivan for families who don’t quite need or want the enormity of a massive van. I also like that it felt nimble, it was priced well (the base price in 2015 was around $22,000, versus $30,000 for the Odyssey), and you could even get it with a manual transmission. It was a cool van, and a neat idea — and it’s a shame it didn’t take off.

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