A few notes on the end of the Mazda5, whose U.S production has ended and is being sold off on these shores in favor of Mazda’s CX-5 and CX-9 SUVs. (Full disclosure: A 2010 Mazda5 hauls my family on a daily basis):
• When the Mazda5 finally sells off, there will be no three-row passenger vehicle available with a manual transmission in the United States. If this was a type of vehicle you wanted, you should have bought one by now.
• While it was never a blockbuster, the Mazda5 had a sizable fan base in close-in suburbs. People who bought Mazda5s — and I’m not just counting myself — did so because it was a smaller vehicle that could still hold six people in relative comfort. It wasn’t as gas-thirsty or bulky as a real minivan; I get a lot of larger SUVs around my house for testing, and many still don’t match the Mazda5 for real-world usability. And it was wickedly affordable, often selling for less than $20,000 new.
When the Mazda5 disappears, so does an era of inexpensive family haulers. The next cheapest new three-row models are the Mitsubishi Outlander SUV or a deeply discounted, long in the tooth Dodge Grand Caravan. (The most affordable, reasonable alternative? A base Kia Sorento, starting around $25,000).
• Other automakers sell similar vehicles around the world with great results, (outside of the United States, the Toyota Prius V has a third row). Chevrolet even planned to launch its own foreign mini-minivan here, the Orlando, until its dealers nixed it, worrying about undercutting the Equinox. There may be no more valuable option to consumers than having a usable third row of seats — and automakers want to ensure that value endures.
• The current Mazda5 has its flaws; it underperforms in some crash tests and its competitors have better technology. I liked the microvan styling of the previous edition better than the more recent “Kodo” look. You can’t even easily swap in the 2.3 turbo four from a Mazdaspeed 3 without extensive rewiring. At least I won’t have to worry about losing track of it in a parking-lot sea of lookalikes.