To say that the subcompact market is heating up in North America is an understatement. As little as five years ago this was a market buyers and automakers alike largely ignored. Sure, subcompacts were booming elsewhere, but the mentality from the car companies was always along the lines of “Americans will never embrace a subcompact car with a small footprint and modest power.” Isn’t it funny how a recession that just won’t go away and an ever-present threat of high gas prices was all it took to catch the American consumer up to what the rest of the world already knew?
The Mazda2 debuted as a 2011 model, and is a carryover for 2012. The question was, could Mazda inject its ‘Zoom Zoom’ mantra into a low-cost, low-power subcompact where buyers value price and fuel economy above all else? Read on to find out!
The Mazda2 is offered in one body style only, a five door hatchback. What immediately grabs you is despite being a five door, just how tiny the 2 is in person. Despite its tiny size, the car is every inch a Mazda. In fact, I found their now trademark smiling grin of a front end actually works on this car. All around, the Mazda2 is full of character that one may not expect in this class of car. The greatest hurdle any car company has when it comes to building a subcompact is to avoid a cheap looking car, and here Mazda excels. Smart, swoopy styling offset by alloy wheels, halogen foglights, rear spoiler and chrome exhaust tip all add up for a no-excuses exterior. It’s proof you don’t have to spend a fortune to buy a car that gets the details right, that you can still look smart and not advertise you bought Mazda’s cheapest car.
Our test car was finished in ‘Spirited Green Metallic’. Yes, it is eye-catching, and the car really pops in it. Whether or not that is a good thing is up to you. During my week with the Mazda2, no one had anything good to say about the color, and it didn’t help when a friend told me it looked like I was driving a giant snot. But that’s us old, cranky Generation X’ers talking. I have no doubt this color speaks to a younger, hipper crowd than us.
Inside, you can have the Mazda2 in any color you like, as long as it is black. It’s a sharp contrast to the lime green exterior, somber and serious. The Mazda2 offers decent room and comfort up front. I am 6’1″ and had all the room I needed. As for the backseat? Not so much. The seat itself was too flat, too firm, and was way too claustrophobic for a person of my size to spend anytime back there. The amount of luggage room was a disappointment, providing much less room than its competition. Gauges and controls are easy to read. It was actually shocking at just how simple the interior of the Mazda2 was.
The Mazda2 is powered by a 1.5L four cylinder engine rated at 100hp. Buyers can choose between a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic. Our test car was equipped with the 5-speed manual. Around town the Mazda2 shined, easily zipping through traffic with ease. On the highway, passing moves take a little bit of thought and planning, as you’re not just going to drop a gear and whip past traffic. But the 2 revs freely and never seems to mind a good workout, in fact it seems to revel in it. The slick 5-speed manual only enhances the experience. Add in a featherlight curb weight, quick steering and a well tuned suspension and you have a car far more entertaining than its price would suggest. Our test car was fitted with snow tires for a winter that never really came to New England, so I can imagine with its standard all-season tires would be even more entertaining. There is a purity in driving the Mazda2 that recalls modest British and Italian sedans of the past. And decades later, slow cars that are a thrill to drive fast still holds a strong appeal.
The Mazda2 is offered in two trim levels, the base Sport and top-spec Touring. Our test car was the Touring model, which comes standard with 15″ alloy wheels, rear spoiler, foglights. cruise control, trip computer, leather steering wheel with audio controls and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with a jack for your MP3 player. With a center armrest as its sole option, our Mazda2 Touring rang in at $16,820USD including delivery. It’s hardly news that many subcompact car buyers are requesting premium car features be made available to them, and it is here where the Mazda2 really falls down. Apart from the armrest, the only option missing on our car was an auto-dimming rearview mirror with Homelink. That is it. Features like Bluetooth, satellite radio, navigation and heated seats simply cannot be had on a 2, while the competition does offer it.
As such, my feeling is the Mazda2 will serve as a niche car in an explosive market. The Ford Fiesta, which is related to the Mazda2 is more powerful, gets better highway fuel economy, and is available with features you cannot have on the 2. So it’s not a surprise that for every Mazda2 sold, Ford sells five Fiestas. But I digress. All this talk about features and all takes away from the general goodness of the Mazda2. For the price of admission Mazda is charging, you simply will not find a more rewarding car to drive. Period. And there is a jack for your iPod, and a 12V plug for your portable GPS. For the enthusiast lamenting the loss of simple, straightforward and affordable yet practical cars that are fun to drive, the Mazda2 is the answer to your prayers.