The 2014 Mazda5 is the perfect minivan for people who don't want a minivan. First off, you can tell yourself that it's not a van at all, despite its dead-giveaway sliding doors. After all, Mazda doesn't call its little Mazda5 a minivan, so why should you? Second, if you get the Sport model, like our test car, you can order it with a very un-minivan 6-speed manual transmission, opening up the door to equally un-minivan shenanigans.
With only 157 horsepower, the Mazda5 is hardly speedy. However, with the Miata, Mazda proved that speed isn't essential to fun, and the manual lets you easily make the most of the little 4-cylinder's power. The dash-mounted shifter looks a little odd, but it's easy to reach, and the smooth clutch and shifter work in tandem to help you feel like you're accelerating like crazy, even if the reality is a little different. However, the manual also lets you better explore this van's surprisingly good driving dynamics. The sharp steering and firm suspension combine with the small size to let this van behave more like a sporty hatchback than a practical people mover.
Fuel efficient and affordable
Yes, practical. There's plenty of room for six people, and the sliding doors means you can slip into tight parking spots without worrying about carelessly dinging someone's door. The 4-cylinder engine is also fuel efficient, handily beating larger minivans in city fuel economy, and topping most of them on the highway, too. It's also inexpensive, starting at just a little more than $20,000, and topping out at around $30,000 if you go for the fully loaded Gran Touring model. It also looks good, especially in darker colors that hide the goofy black grin on the grille.
The downside is that Mazda limits the fun manual transmission to base Sport models. If you want a factory navigation system, Bluetooth, or even a trip computer in your van, you're looking at the Touring or Grand Touring models, both of which only come with a 5-speed automatic. There are other compromises, too. Unlike full-sized minivans, the miniscule cargo room behind the third row means you can carry cargo or six passengers in the Mazda5, but not at the same time. The Mazda5 is also notably loud on the freeway, and you can forget about minivan staples like power sliding doors or a power hatch; they aren't available.
Despite these limitations, there's still a lot to like about the Mazda5. While it'd be nice if the manual transmission was more widely available, enthusiasts are probably just grateful the option exists at all. Interestingly, the small minivan market is expanding thanks to the recent introduction of the more family friendly 2014 Ford Transit Connect Wagon. If we're lucky, Mazda will respond with a new version of its little van. Here's hoping.