“You can’t always get what you want,” Mick Jagger famously sang, “but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.” It’s safe to say that the Mazda5 minivan was not the inspiration for that Stones classic, which first appeared on 1969’s Let It Bleed, a few decades before Mazda’s practical little hauler. But even so, those words are surprisingly applicable here.
Mazda’s U.S. management had no interest in selling the compact Mazda5 to Americans, but the company’s honchos in Japan insisted on it. And while the 5 has never reached Honda Odyssey-threatening volumes, it has enjoyed a measure of success, particularly in 2008, when gas prices shot up and the notion of a smaller minivan that still could accommodate six passengers suddenly seemed like not such a bad idea.
It’s still not such a bad idea, particularly with the upgrades visited upon the 2010 model, the most important among them being electronic stability control—the addition of which raised the esteem of the Mazda5 in the eyes of Consumer Reports, whose blessing undoubtedly means a lot to minivan shoppers.
Minivans in general are unlikely to inspire much passion, but the Mazda5’s relatively light weight and small size makes it a bit more nimble than its standard-size competitors—or the crossovers so many shoppers choose instead. There’s even an available stick shift (on the base model, anyway) for the truly sporty mom—or dad. Unfortunately, leather is reserved for the top-spec Grand Touring model; leather might not be so important except that the standard cloth—an attractive pale beige in my dark blue test vehicle—appears highly vulnerable to errant juice boxes. Perhaps Mazda should take a page from Volkswagen (and Audi, and Mercedes-Benz) and make an upscale vinyl (or, as the Germans say, “leatherette”) the base material.
Despite the Mazda5’s relatively compact dimensions, the second- and third-row seats are habitable by those who are well beyond the sippy-cup years. But luggage space behind the third row is lacking—that’s where traditional minivans have a big advantage. So the Mazda5 might not measure up if you regularly travel as a gang of six. But for families with only two kids, who need an extra seat or two for the carpool, the Mazda5 might be just what they need.