One thing I always look for during my junkyard expeditions is a manual transmission in an unexpected vehicle. Say, a Mercury Mystique or a V6 Camry with three pedals. In the early days of the minivan boom, some Dodge Caravans and Plymouth Voyagers with manual transmissions were sold (not to mention Toyota Vans and even Previas), but the Forces of Slushboxification essentially conquered the American-market minivan world by the end of the 20th century. Then Mazda decided it made sense to make an Americanized version of the Premacy to sell over here, and that this minivan would have a five-speed manual transmission (and, a bit later, a six-speed manual) as base equipment. This was the Mazda5, and a few of them actually made it out of American Mazda showrooms without automatics. Here’s one of those extremely rare vans, found in a Denver-area self-service car graveyard.
This Mazda5 was based on the first-generation Mazda3 (and thus is a platform cousin of the first-generation Ford Focus), and quite a few Americans bought those cars with the idea of shifting for themselves.
A few years ago, I decided I wanted to buy a 5 with a manual transmission. This proved nearly impossible, partly because they are extremely rare and partly because searching for one online is maddening (many car salesmen and private sellers believe that an automatic with a + /- next to the shifter is the same thing as a manual transmission, so filtering for transmission type is useless with these machines). As it worked out, I bought a small Japanese van with dual sliding doors and a CVT … and the steering wheel on the right side.
American minivan drivers have enough to do while driving that they don’t want to add the stress of choosing gears to the load, apparently.
The Mazda5 had room for six, and the sliding doors on both sides proved extremely useful when doing minivan-type things. On paper, it should have sold very well here, but through two generations, its best year was 2008 and only about 22,000 sold. In 2015, Mazda killed the it in the United States (though Canadian sales continued for a couple additional years).
The problem was that it was quite small by US-market minivan standards with far less interior space. Plus, with the captain’s chairs pictured above, it could only seat six people.
There was also the problem that most American families this century want to drive trucks, or at least minivans and hatchbacks with truck-like shapes. These were good vehicles, but they were designed with the Japanese market in mind.
Perhaps the lowered resale value due to an undesirable transmission type was enough to doom this car when something broke.
In its homeland, this van could be purchased with all-wheel-drive. Zoom-zoom!
Never lose your cool.