Smallest, least-expensive model upholds Mazda's fun-to-drive mission. And it's adorable, to boot.
It isn't fast, is limited on space and comfort and lacks the flash of some B-cars already on the market, but the new '11 Mazda2 is a blast to drive and will limit trips to the gas station.
The Mazda2, sold in other markets for years but new to North America, joins an increasingly crowded B-car segment in the U.S. It faces longtime leaders such as the Toyota Yaris,Fit and Versa, as well as the new Fiesta.
Distinguishing itself is essential, and in many ways the Mazda2 succeeds.
Available only as a 5-door sedan, the Mazda2's design, with its short overhangs and swept headlamps, is not as distinctive as some competitors, but it fits's understated, performance image.
says the car's styling “conveys stability and inspires confidence.” But one encounter during the test drive in Montreal inspired no confidence.
While at a stoplight, two men in a nearby car wave frantically. Thinking we were going to get a manly thumbs-up, our mood sours as they shout, “What an adorable car,” before darting away.
Regardless, we warmed up to the exterior over the course of a couple days. It's not going to wow anyone, but its non-polarizing style is something owners likely will appreciate over the long run.
The interior is far more impressive. A circular motif carries through the gauges, vents, audio readout and shifter boot.
The seats are a little quirky, with a checkered gray pattern in the center of large dark gray, and supportive, bolsters. But red piping surrounding the checkered fabric provides an aura of sportiness.
Switchgear is well laid out and intuitive, but the rotary climate controls seem a little dated. A few well-placed intersecting lines on the dash break up the monotony of what otherwise would be a large gray expanse.
Like other cars in this class, rear-seat room is tight. An average-size male would be ill-advised to squeeze into the back for anything other than a short ride.
But that's not uncommon in this segment. There's only so much that can be done to sculpt out extra passenger space in a car that's a mere 155.5 ins. (395 cm) long and 66.7 ins. (169 cm) wide.
The shifter takes a little getting used to, as it extends horizontally from the center stack, similar to the a setup in theQuest, Prius and Sienna.
Two transmissions are available — a 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic, with the manual a better match for the Mazda2's 100-hp 1.5L 4-cyl engine.
One-hundred horses is not a lot these days, and the Mazda2 is outgunned by its competition. But what the car lacks in grunt, it makes up for in driving dynamics.
Mazda prides itself on building fun-to-drive cars and strives to carry that into the Mazda2, its smallest and least-expensive model.
The Mazda2's steering is spot on, with minimal input needed in navigating twisty roads at high speeds. The car also is remarkably nimble at lower speeds and easy to coax into tight parking spots.
The suspension features MacPherson struts up front and a torsion-beam axle in the rear, providing a sportier ride than most competitive makes.
The Mazda2 makes an excellent choice for buyers looking for a B-car tilted toward performance, but those seeking a smooth ride should look elsewhere.
Given the low output of the engine, Mazda engineers went through great pains to cut weight from the car, shedding some 220 lbs. (100 kg) compared with the previous model sold outside North America.
It may not seem like a lot, but it cuts the curb weight to 2,306 lbs. (1,046 kg) when equipped with the manual.
Despite its diminutive size, the Mazda2 comes with a laundry list of safety features, including antilock brakes, brake assist, electronic-brake force distribution and stability and traction controls.
Additionally, the Mazda2 will be the first Mazda in North America offered with the auto maker's brake-override system, which prioritizes the brake pedal over the accelerator when both are pressed simultaneously.
Likely a preemptive strike against unintended sudden acceleration followingMotor Corp.'s recall problems, Mazda says the system will be offered on all its vehicles in North America during the '11 model year.
In U.S. dealer showrooms now, the '11 Mazda2 combines the auto maker's signature “zoom-zoom” performance philosophy with frugality, and that's a matchup that could have strong appeal for many B-car buyers.