There is one vehicle that's part small car, part minivan. It's called the Mazda5.
Under the hood is the same four-cylinder engine found in the Mazda3 compact. In fact, the whole vehicle is based on the 3. But the Mazda5 has minivan traits, too, just on a smaller scale.
Sliding side doors set it apart from small SUVs. They make access to the two middle captain's chairs a cinch. Even the small third row is an easy scramble for a little one. It seats six officially, but it helps if some of the six are of a single-digit age.
For the parents up behind the wheel, the Mazda5 is much more fun to drive than any minivan. It's more like a compact wagon with extra room.
The base sticker price is $20,000 to $25,000 depending on trim level. Its fuel economy is rated at 21 to 29 miles per gallon.
Rising gas prices has some consumers thinking more about fuel economy when shopping for a vehicle. Car companies also have to think about fuel economy, as the government says their corporate average has to be higher in the coming years. For this reason, something like the Mazda5 makes sense because it's useful and practical but still pretty good on a gallon of gas.
Vehicles like the Mazda5 are popular in Europe. The so-called mini minivans can be found from many brands.
In the U.S., the Mazda5 is the only thing like it that can be bought for now. Later this year, Ford will be introducing the C-Max, a little more van-like with seating for seven.
The Mazda5 is not quite a van, not quite a car. It has strong points from both, which is just the thing to cart a young family around without breaking the monthly payment or gas budgets.