Mazda2 adds charm, fun to an economical subcompact
The 2011 Mazda2 Touring is a small car, but far from a blah econo-box.
Starting at just $14,180 for the Sport model and a still reasonable $15,635 for the tested Touring model, the Mazda2 is a fun drive.
This is small, riding on a 98-inch wheelbase and just 155.5 inches long. That’s 6 inches shorter than a Honda Fit and 14 inches shorter than a Nissan Versa, but 5 inches longer than Toyota’s Yaris. That adds to its charm and entertaining driving characteristics. This one was an electric neon green that virtually glowed in the parking lot.The Mazda2 handles so well it’s fun to flick in and out of traffic and slip into the tiniest of parking spots. You feel totally in control, unlike most midsize cars and all SUVs.
Slip the Mazda2 through its five-speed manual gearbox and you can make the car zippy and entertaining, or simply an economical way to get to work. There’s no denying you’re short of horsepower. The 1.5-liter variable valve timing four-cylinder runs with precision, but only has 100 horsepower. I thought that would make this lackadaisical, but I could out-accelerate a fair number of cars from a stoplight without it getting too noisy inside from overuse of the low gears.
Once you hit fourth gear, you’ll realize you’re down on power. But by then, you’re cruising at 40 mph. Then you can sit back and watch the trip computer tell you what kind of great gas mileage you’re getting. I commonly saw it hover in the 38 to 40 mpg range.
Ultimately I got 30.6 mpg in about 60% highway driving. While good, it was a bit disappointing because the computer said I was getting 32.3 mpg and the car is rated at 29 mpg city and 35 mpg highway by the EPA. Still, my gas fill-up for the week was about $20 short of the norm and I still had about a half-tank of gas left. For comparison, that’s better than both the Fit and Versa, and about the same as the Yaris.
One reason for the good mileage is the Mazda weighs just 2,306 pounds. That’s another reason it’s so nimble.
But with an independent suspension up front and semi-independent rear, the Mazda rides like a small car, getting jittery on our bumpy city streets. On smoother roads, the car handled and rode well.Braking is nothing special, but then you don’t have a lot of weight to contain here. The Mazda, like the other cars in this class, uses disc brakes up front and drums in back. A skid-control system also is standard on the Mazda2, which rides on 15-inch tires and wheels. That’s the size you used to see on compact to midsize cars before those began growing a few years back. The good news is those smaller tires will cost a lot less to replace three or four years down the road.
Inside, the Mazda looks and feels like a value-oriented car, but it does have power windows and door locks, something only a few others at this price have standard.
The well-formed seats are black cloth with red piping for a touch of style, while the dash is a black plastic texture that looks inexpensive. Still, you’re only paying a bit more than $16,000 for this, including its $750 delivery charge.
In addition to its comfortable seats, the biggest pluses inside include a heater that fires up quickly and warms the car thoroughly in just a few minutes. Controls are simple, with three overlapping round gauges that include the digital trip computer readout. In the center stack is a CD player, radio, volume control knob and below that three climate control dials.
The lone oddity was the radio. It would not turn on for the first 5 minutes of any drive. The station and volume would light up on the radio face, but no sound. After the car warmed a bit, on would come the volume.All Mazda2 models are four doors, with a hatch and wiper. The extra doors make it easy to get in and out of the back seat, but that rear seat is mainly for the under-10 crowd and baby seats. You can fold the split rear seat backs down for more storage, although there’s already a pretty reasonable 13.3 cubic feet of space there. Putting the seats down is easy, but in cold weather, they did not re-latch easily.
Other interior amenities are a tilt wheel with radio and cruise controls, power plugs, and bins between the seats for storage and change. While interior lighting is fine up front, there is no dome light, so there’s little light in the back seats. That would make fastening a youngster into a seat somewhat challenging in the dark.
The Mazda2 is an excellent value for young buyers, or folks needing a second, more economical car. Don’t judge it on horsepower alone, give it a drive. You’ll likely be surprised.