Special Coverage

Ward’s Auto Interiors Show

Of all the categories in this year’s Ward’s Interior of the Year competition, the “Popular-Priced Trucks” category (stickered under $34,999) was the most contentious among editor/judges.

The battle was so close it took a long and arduous debate to confer the top prize on the Mazda5 cross/utility vehicle.

Judges were effusive with praise for the Mazda5, with one staffer calling it “one of the most functional vehicles ever.” Another judge said the functionality provided by the Mazda5 made it a good alternative to a minivan, much like a European “microvan.”

On the pricing front, there was no contest. Our fully loaded Mazda5 Grand Touring model stickered just over $25,000 – way under the cap. And the base Mazda5, with all the trademark versatility and loads of headroom, starts at under $18,000.

With a lively, fuel-efficient 4-cyl. engine and room for six, the Mazda5 is the kind of ute many Americans will crave as gasoline prices soar.

Granted, the Mazda5 is not a “truck” by traditional standards, such as the Ford F-150 or Chevy Silverado.

But today’s automotive landscape has undergone such monumental change, a truck is no longer defined by its body-on-frame attributes, but rather its utility. Ward’s classifies the Mazda5, as well as front-wheel-drive minivans and cross/utility vehicles, as light trucks.

The Mazda5, particularly its interior, could very well redefine trucks for a new generation of consumers.

It offers all the convenience of a car, truck and minivan, combined. Sure, the third row is cramped, but no moreso than in certain fullsize SUVs. One editor said it was amazing Mazda was able to squeeze a third row into a vehicle that measures a scant 181.5 ins. (461 cm) in length.

Nipping on the heels of the Mazda5, according to our scoresheets, was the Nissan Murano, which also earned generous praise from judges.

Writes one editor: “Nissan takes design risks, if you will, which most Japanese OEMs do not. I really liked the look of the interior.”

Judges describe the Murano’s interior as “modern and elegant” and even “beautiful and striking.”

But in the end, the Mazda5 won the close race because it did many things really well – and looked great in the process.

bpope@wardsauto.com