I'll be honest: I don't care for cars. But I love the Mazda 5. If you're looking for the best road trip car, this zippy six-seater with two sliding doors may be just what you need.
We discovered the Mazda 5 quite by accident in 2006, its first model year. I was thinking more about the Subaru Forester or perhaps a Subaru Outback wagon. But then one day, we were dropping a friend off at the airport, and on a nearby side street, we saw a bunch of new cars with dealer stickers in the windows.
I don't know what they were doing parked by the airport, nowhere near a Mazda dealership. But they caught our eye. The car has a sleek design, too tall to be a wagon and not as bulky as a minivan. Think of a bigger Toyota Matrix.
We started calling dealerships and ended up getting the best deal from a Mazda dealer about 100 miles from our house. He had the exact features and color we wanted, and his price was a few hundred bucks lower than anyone else in the area: about $18,300.
At this writing, we've had the Mazda 5 for three years. We've never had a serious problem with it, even on our epic, 4,393-mile road trip. It has enough power to meet our needs but isn't a total gas-hog. I think we usually get about 25-27 miles per gallon by driving with an eye for fuel economy.
On the interior, there are six captain chairs. You can flip the back four down to create an enormous cargo area. You can also flip up the bottoms of the seats to reveal additional storage areas. The two seats in the very back would probably feel cramped to the hugest adults, but will be plenty big enough for average-sized people.
It's fun to drive, and it's a new enough model to catch people's eye. An elderly couple in Tucumcari, New Mexico asked us if it was a hybrid (it's not, but it has that look to it). The maintenance guy at our church recently approached me in the parking lot and asked if he could look around the interior.
In summary: if you buy a Mazda 5, people will think you're cool and you'll have a great road trip.