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When we were planning for our first child, we were looking to replace a car that was on its last legs. We eventually settled on the Mazda5 - a decision that I'm still happy about two years later.
The Mazda5 looks like a small minivan, and is based on the platform of the Mazda3 - a compact sedan. The result is a roomy interior (a third row can fold down for cargo space or up for extra seating) and car-like handling. It's priced in the same range as the Mazda3 hatchback (cheaper still if you get a used one-year-old model), and it gets similar mileage - close to 30mpg on the highway. I'm not sure why it hasn't received more attention or popularity, apart from being highly rated by Consumer Reports, but the Mazda5 is a very nice choice for small families on a budget.
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