Babble Best Picks:
2011 Minivans for the Family
Want to know the difference between all the minivans on the market? Babble asked me take each of them out for a spin to figure out which were best for which families. Most minivans got a thorough refresh this year, and many received better interior materials, more power, and higher fuel economy. After cargo capacity, safety is typically a minivan shopper's main concern. These large family haulers tend to do well on crash safety tests, and we included the results from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety's independent crash test results. To find out what others thought, we added the Consumer Reports score and their Customer Satisfaction rating when available as well.
We hope you find this information helpful in your search for a family crossover. Don't see your favorite vehicle on the list? Nominate it here! - Liane Yvkoff
Best minivan for urban families | 2012 Mazda Mazda5
MSRP: $19,195 – 23,875
FUEL ECONOMY: 21/28
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 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.
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.
By keeping it small and limiting the vehicle to the essentials, Mazda has made their minivan the least expensive one you can buy. It starts off under $20,000 and maxes out where most other minivans begin, around $24,000.
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. Opt for the black leather seats and manual transmission and you can even try to pretend you’re in a sports car.
SEATING + STORAGE
But 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. They also offer more room in the third row and cargo capacity than the Mazda5. With the third row up, you can expect only 6 cubic feet of cargo space, which is enough for a few bags of groceries and a small stroller, but not much more. The third row has a 50-50 split, and when folded flat opens up 27.5 cubic ft. of storage capacity, but you can seat only four at that point. (And you can forget about seats folding into the floor.) But to increase storage options, Mazda offers hidden compartments under the seats, which is a great way to store extra supplies or stash your purse or electronics.
ENTERTAINMENT + NAVIGATION
Mazda trimmed the options on the minivan, and a navigation system is no longer an option. (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, trip computer, and DVD player.