Minivans aren’t the same boring people movers your parents used for the soccer carpool. Auto manufacturers are working overtime to bring style to the staid market, and they’re packing them full of the latest technology inside and out. They’re hoping to appeal to a younger generation of savvy car buyers — with big families and gear in tow — who often reluctantly need to go big to go home.
The minivan market is a little smaller this year, but choosing the right vehicle is still a difficult decision. To help readers figure out the differences between each model, Babble asked me to compare all the minivans on the market. In addition to taking them for a spin, I examined the seating options and cargo capacity, and looked for family friendly technology options. For a more comprehensive review of each vehicle, we also cross-checked with Consumer Reports to find the Customer Satisfaction rating from current owners. — Liane Yvkoff
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Top minivan for urban families | 2013 Mazda Mazda5
MSRP: $19,195 – $23,875
FUEL ECONOMY: 21/28 mpg
The Mazda5 puts the mini back in minivan. In fact, it’s so much smaller than its competitors that Mazda is trying to rebrand it as a “multi-activity vehicle,” but its sliding doors keep it in the minivan class.
The Mazda5′s small size makes it a great option for families who need to increase their seating capacity (this model’s a 6-seater) but don’t want to step up to a vehicle the size of their living room. The relatively short length of the Mazda5 compared to other minivans makes it easy to maneuver and park in cities. In other words, it’s as close to a car that you can get while legally seating six. This year, manufacturers added a few safety tweaks, including rear-backup sensors on the Touring and Grand Touring models and turn signals integrated on the side-view mirrors.
Mazda may be the brand of “zoom-zoom,” but don’t expect sports car-esque acceleration. It is the only minivan on the market available with a 6-speed manual transmission, however, which for some drivers may make it more fun to drive. Otherwise, the 157-hp, 2.5L engine is paired with a 5-speed automatic transmission, and the Sport trim gives you a 5-speed automatic that you can shift on your own. On the upside, the small engine combined with the conservative size of the vehicle gives it the best fuel economy in its class, achieving an impressive 21 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, regardless of whether you opt for the manual or automatic transmission.
Another selling point for the Mazda5 is its style. It’s the least like a minivan of all the options on the market. With its shorter wheelbase and length, lower stance, and cute smiley-face grill, you’ll forget that you’re driving a car most associated with soccer moms.
By keeping it small and limiting the vehicle to the essentials, Mazda has made their minivan the least expensive on the market. It starts off under $20,000 and maxes out where most other minivans begin, around $24,000. For this reason, Mazda5’s demographic is a cult following of buyers who want the seating and convenience of a minivan without the size and high price of other people-movers on the market.
SEATING + STORAGE
The small size that makes the 6-seater Mazda a great choice for urban families could also be its biggest drawback. Other minivans seat at least 7, while a few even seat 8. Others also provide more room in the third row and cargo capacity than the Mazda5. Mazda’s minivan offers only 6 cubic feet of cargo space, which is enough for a few bags of groceries and a small stroller, but not much more. To extend cargo carrying space, its third row has a 50-50 split that when folded flat opens up 27.5 cubic ft. of storage capacity. However, you can seat only four at that point. (And you can forget about seats folding into the floor.) With limited capacity in the cabin, Mazda offers hidden compartments under the seats to create additional storage options, which is a great way to store extra supplies or stash your purse or electronics.
ENTERTAINMENT + NAVIGATION
To keep the price low, Mazda no longer offers a navigation system in this vehicle. (Customers were more interested in saving money and fuel rather than making the car an extension of their living room, so be prepared to use your phone or old-fashioned map to get around.) However, it still offers a range of optional technology conveniences, such as Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius XM satellite radio, and trip computer. Keyless entry and USB outlets are standard on all Mazda5 models. Keyless entry and USB outlets are standard on all Mazda5 models.
IIHS has not crash-tested the Mazda5.
Consumer Reports gives the Mazda5 a score of 88 out of 100, and 72 percent of owners said they would purchase the vehicle again.