2006 Mazda MAZDA5 Sport 4dr Minivan (2.3L 4cyl 5M)
This is a combination that's been missing: a crisp-handling stickshift minivan from Japan. (Ok, it's available in automatic, too.) I want a reliable car that's fun to drive, but I don't want to have to rent a truck to bring home a TV or take newspapers to the recycling center. Mazda has taken the compact chassis of the Mazda 3 and mounted a little minivan on it -- the size of a station wagon, but the three-row seating and sliding doors that define a minivan. The performance is not that of a 250hp six, but neither is the gas mileage. Thanks, Mazda, for bringing the 5speed model to the US, not just to Europe. The Mazda 5 is sibling to the spunky Mazda 3, not the sedate Mazda MPV.
5-speed in a minivan; base car at $18000 is great value and features (ABS brakes; alloy wheels; power locks, windows, mirrors; CD player) for the money; sliding doors; low floor; interior configuration flexibility; upright seating for comfort and good visibility; emergency brake where it belongs.
Altezza-style taillights and 17-inch wheels are self-consciously stylin'. Interior fabrics put durability first. Heavy switchblade fob-key combo will wear out pants pockets.