Unless you’re talking about an exotic sports car, driving something small has typically been an act of endurance. But there’s no reason a subcompact has to “feel like a cheap penalty box,” says Dave Coleman, product development engineer behind the 2011 Mazda2.
Unless you’re talking about an exotic sports car, driving something small has typically been an act of endurance.
But there’s no reason a subcompact has to “feel like a cheap penalty box,” says Dave Coleman, product development engineer behind the 2011 Mazda2.
The five-door hatchback is the Japanese maker’s latest-generation subcompact, though the first Mazda2 to make it to American shores. A not-too-distant sibling of Ford’s new Fiesta, the Asian offering hopes to tap into a growing demand for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Though they started as part of the same small-car project, the Fiesta and Mazda2 diverged early on, notes Coleman, who says there are now only four shared parts. What they still have in common is a surprisingly efficient use of space that yields far more interior room than you’d expect.
Though decidedly different in exterior design, Fiesta and Mazda2 are strikingly handsome. Where they noticeably part ways can be found when you’re flying along Skyline Drive, a tight and twisty stretch of tarmac that cuts through the forests and fields inland from California’s Central Coast.
Don’t read too much into the numbers. The 2011 Mazda2 makes “only” 100 horsepower and 96 lb-ft of torque from its pint-sized 1.5-liter inline-four engine. But it’s no stone pony, offering a surprising amount of pulling power, especially if you opt for the six-speed manual gearbox that comes as standard equipment.
A four-speed automatic version likely will be chosen by a sizable share of Mazda2 buyers considering how few American motorists still know how to handle a stick. It’s not a bad choice, though we’d certainly prefer a five- or six-speed, especially under aggressive driving or when charging up a steep hill, like the one on Highway 101 where the little four-banger seemed pushed to the limits.
On the other hand, the automatic did very little of the gear-hunting that can drive owners of many other small cars crazy.
Mazda engineers did a credible job of building in safety, even as they slashed the weight of the new hatchback – to the point that it is lighter than an old Mazda Miata sports car.
Handling is where the 2011 Mazda2 outshines the competition and really lives up to the maker’s Zoom Zoom slogan.
Starting at just $13,980, you’ll get a reasonably well-equipped five-passenger Sport edition that features such niceties as air conditioning, power windows and mirrors, tilt wheel, four-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system and 15-inch steel wheels. Bumping the price tag to $15,435 gets you alloy wheels, fog lights, chrome exhaust tips, a leather-wrapped wheel with built-in audio controls, cruise control and two more speakers.
A half-decade ago, the subcompact segment barely existed in this country. Today, it’s becoming an increasingly crowded and fast-growing niche. The Mazda2 should command some attention. It’s a more-than-credible offering.
Paul A. Eisenstein is an award-winning journalist who has spent more than 30 years covering the global auto industry. His work appears in a wide range of publications worldwide, and he is a frequent broadcast commentator on subjects automotive.
MPG: 29 city/35 highway with six-speed manual transmission; 27/33 with 4-speed automatic.
Engine options: 1.5-liter inline-four, 100-horsepower/96 lb-ft torque.
Manufacturer’s suggested retail price: $13,980 for Sport with manual; $15,435 for Touring.
Cost fully loaded: $20,000 (est.).