2011 Mazda 2 Review

Mazda proves you can do a lot with a little

2011 Mazda 2 Review
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If the Mazda2 proves anything, it’s that 100-hp can in fact be fun. That’s right, in case you haven’t heard, the newest and smallest car in Mazda’s lineup makes a piddly 100 ponies – almost a third of what you’ll get in some mid-size sedans.

FAST FACTS

1. The 1.5L 4-cylinder engine makes just 100-hp.

2. A curb weight of just 2,300 lbs makes the Mazda2 one of the lightest cars on the road.

3. Fuel economy is rated at 28/34-mpg (city/hwy) with the 4-speed auto, or 28/35-mpg with the 5-speed manual.

4. The 2 is Mazda’s first U.S. car with a brake override system.

But fun it is, thanks to an incredibly lightweight package, tipping the scales at just 2,300 lbs to start. That’s far less than almost anything else on the market (save a Smart car or a Lotus Elise), and a solid 250 lbs less than the Ford Fiesta, which shares the same platform.

STRIPPED OF WEIGHT, BUT NOT OF QUALITY OR FEATURES

Better yet, the Mazda doesn’t feel like a stripped-down runabout. On the contrary, the Mazda2’s interior puts many of its competitors to shame with a handsome design and excellent materials for this level of vehicle. Sure the seat fabric in the base Sport trim level isn’t thrilling, but the overall use of materials is quite good with piano black accenting on the center stack. The Mazda2 also seems to benefit from component sharing with the rest of the Mazda lineup, with substantial and high quality switchgear and soft touch buttons carried over from the 3. And even in base trim the car still comes equipped with power windows, locks and remote keyless entry.

Did you know we have a community of Mazda2 enthusiasts? Check out Mazda2Revolution.com!

Upgrade to the Touring trim and you’ll be greeted with much improved black cloth seats with red piping, a six-speaker (as opposed to 4-speaker) audio system, trip computer, plus a leather wrapped multifunction steering wheel with redundant audio controls and cruise control.

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Overall, the Mazda2, like its bigger siblings, displays a cockpit well above the competition.

SPACIOUS ENOUGH, BUT COULD USE MORE CARGO ROOM

Front seat room is spacious and even in the rear there’s adequate head and leg room two full-sized adult males. There’s 13.3 cu.-ft. of cargo room behind the rear seats, which is modest but not great for a hatch. More disappointing is that even with the second row folded the total is just 27.8 cubic feet, which is a chunk less space than the Ford Fiesta and way behind the segment leading Fit, which boats almost as much room in just its rear cargo area.

Outward visibility is excellent and like all cars of this size it’s excellent for zipping around urban centers and nabbing that tiny parking spot that folks in their behemoth SUVs think only a Smart car will fit in. Even visibility out back is good thanks to rear headrests that fold down over the rear seat when not in use.

Outside, the Touring trim (like out test car) also gets upgrades, which make a noticeable improvement on the overall look. Included in that list are 15-inch aluminum wheels (rather than steel wheels and hubcaps), a rear spoiler and fog lights. These small changes, along with some ultra flashy Spirited Green paint, really help the tiny Mazda look like more than a Yaris pretender. Without them, however, the 2 is a bit too blazé and even with them it seems Mazda has decided to shy away from its more polarizing designs in favor of a subtle offend-no-one look.

LIGHT WEIGHT LENDS ITSELF TO ZOOM ZOOMING

Mazda says the new 2 is Zoom Zoom concentrated, but its more accurately Zoom Zoom on a diet. That’s better still as this light weight machine harkens back to what made the original Miata so great – an absence of mass.

Yes, it will feel labored when loaded-up, but with just a pilot on board (which is how it will be driven most often), it is peppy. Again, passing on a two-lane highway isn’t going to be easy, but up to 60 mph its got real spunk – even with the 4-speed automatic. We can only imagine the 5-speed stick shift adds another 10 percent more fun.

It’s hard not to be disappointed by Mazda’s use of a 4-speed though. While its not “necessary” in once sense, a 5-speed auto-box, or a 6-speed unit like the one used in the Fiesta could further improve acceleration and add to those fuel economy numbers.

As it stands, you wouldn’t think the Mazda2 needs better fuel economy. The 2 is tied with the Honda Fit and right on the heels of the Toyota Yaris, boasting a total of 28-mpg city and 34-mpg highway (that number improved one tick to 35-mpg with the 5-speed manual). The only issue is that it (along with everyone else in the segment), is well behind the new Ford Fiesta at 40-mpg highway and with the subcompact segment headed towards a 40-mpg highway rating as the norm, there’s a worry the Mazda could quickly get left behind in the fuel economy race.

Along with helping to achieve those fuel economy numbers and make 100-hp seem appropriate, the light weight of the Mazda2 has other performance-minded benefits. It stops quickly and changes direction with ease – aided by some reasonably grippy 185/55/15 Yokohama tires. We even noticed that despite the more rudimentary torsion beam rear suspension (all cars in this segment have this setup), the Mazda2 was stable over bumps when cornering.

For those concerned with safety, the 2 offers what is pretty much standard equipment these days – although these items would have seemed quite advanced in a car of this price just a few years ago. Safety features include six-airbags, a tire pressure monitoring system, plus traction and stability control. The Mazda2 is also the first Mazda to come with a brake-override system.

As for the price, the 2 starts at $13,980 ($14,780 with the automatic) for the Sport model and jumps to $15,435 ($16,235 with the automatic) for the Touring trim. And that’s about it, with Mazda making your choices for you with little in the way of optional equipment beyond that. The price isn’t at the lower end of the list, that’s for sure, but it’s not outrageous either.

True, you can get a Nissan Versa or Hyundai Accent for right around the $10,000 mark, but those are bare bones models and you’ll have to spend at least $11,240 for a livable Versa and at $13,500 for the hatch. Keeping that in mind, the Mazda2 doesn’t seem too expensive any more.

THE VERDICT

In many ways you’re paying for what you get: a fun to drive, fuel-efficient package with a nice interior. Plus, you’re also paying for what you’re not getting, like a lot of dead weight.

Having already achieved considerable success overseas where it’s been on sale for years, even earning the World Car of the Year Award in 2008, the Mazda2 proves that in an age of cars that seem to be endlessly ballooning in size and weight, you can still do a lot with a little.

LOVE IT
  • Nicely equipped
  • High-grade interior (Touring trim)
  • Fuel economy
LEAVE IT
  • Minimal cargo room
  • Fuel economy good, but Mazda will need more to compete long term
  • Price

RELATED READING

Mazda2 Forum
2010 Honda Fit Review
2011 Ford Fiesta: First Drive
2009 Toyota Yaris
2009 Hyundai Accent GLS 4-Door
2009 Hyundai Accent SE 3-Door Hatchback
2009 Chevrolet Aveo5 LT Review

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