The best car for small families has been under our noses all along.
Note: This article references the sport model of the 2012 Mazda5. Details and accessories will vary based on exact package and model year.
I didn’t want – and couldn’t afford – a minivan or large SUV, but I did want flexibility in seating and cargo.
Was I doomed to tiny car purgatory for the rest of my days?
The Mazda5 has three rows and seats six people. This is not a huge car, and you aren’t going to want to force your great grandmother to ride in the way back. You’re probably not going to conceive her next grandchild there, either. But for kids or short trips, the third row is an absolutely passable seating option.
You can fold the entire second and third rows flat, or pick and choose. We once fit a seven-foot Christmas tree with room for a carseat as well. With the third row folded down I can have a tea party with my daughter and half of her stuffed animal collection. There isn’t a lot of cargo space with the third row up, but it’s enough for a few grocery bags.
I’ve found installing car seats in the Mazda5 to be a relative breeze. Installation is rock solid because the second row is captain’s chairs, and they can be adjusted slightly. A rear facing car seat at a newborn angle is a fairly tight fit, and mostly likely best suited for the passenger side. Once your kids have solid head control (if your seat allows) you can make the seat more upright and have a decent amount of room.
Unfortunately, the manual says the second row seats must be as far back as possible if car seats are installed, which makes the third row a harder sell to other passengers. I have also read some complaints about belt fit with boosters in the third row, so proceed with caution if you plan to have booster-age kids back there. You may have to try a few booster options to find one that works. LATCH is available in the second row, and both the second and third rows have tether anchors.
I love nooks and crannies in a car, the more secret and hidden the better. And the Mazda5 did not disappoint me. Each middle row seat cushion lifts up to reveal storage, though it can’t be accessed with car seats installed. You can still keep emergency kit gear in there, as long as you won’t need to get to it quickly or while incapacitated. Inside one of those storage areas is a center console that can fold out to go between the seats. It features cup holders, a tray, and a mesh basket. It’s a little too low for my six year old to reach from her car seat, but it does provide a great surface to put a bin full of toys to be within her reach. The mesh basket is perfect for emergency clothes that my kids probably outgrew six months ago.
There is a console between the front seats that is the perfect size to hold a bunch of CDs. If anyone ever listened to CDs anymore. I wish it had a lid on it. It will also hold 34 receipts, one empty diet soda bottle, a few rocks and wilted flower “gifts” from your kids, the wrappers from the several candy bars you ate on the sly, and one ink pen.
There is a storage compartment under the floor of the cargo area that is perfect for an ice scraper, rope, a bottle of water, or those candy bars you’re hiding. There are also two small, semi-hidden cubbies back there.
The sliding doors give it the convenience of a minivan in tight spaces, but without the bulk that vans bring along. The upholstery on my Sport model stains pretty easily, but let’s be honest, my kids could ruin just about anything. The Touring/Grand Touring models have features like leather, heated seats, back up cameras, and bluetooth.
I love this car. It’s not perfect, it’s not huge, but it is exactly the car I need for the amount of money I had to spend. The gas mileage is good for a six-passenger vehicle. I’ve taken two camping road trips from North Carolina to New York with only a preschooler for company, and found it to be roomy and comfortable enough for our needs. Unfortunately, the Mazda5 was discontinued after the 2015 model year, but there are great used car deals to be had.
Rhiannon Giles is an overwhelmed mother who only occasionally considers giving her children to the circus. She has a sarcasm problem and writes regularly at rhiyaya.com. To keep up with new posts and see some of her favorites, join her on Facebook and Twitter.