2011 Mazda MAZDA2 Touring
While our test car's Spirited Green hue was in itself a little over the top, look past that and this little hatchback is tastefully styled inside and out, and that goes a long way toward feeling the part of a hotter hatch even if it isn't. The Mazda2's pert, upright stance, low front end; and its simple hatch design with plenty of window space is a refreshing departure from the cavelike claustrophobia you'll find in some other small cars.
Inside, the Mazda2's instrument panel is simple, and essentially a more stripped-down version of the dash of the Mazda3 (and Mazda5); its trims seem chosen to establish a dark, somewhat sporty feel; and its appointments seem unabashedly anti-luxury.
Econo-car specs, yet more fun
The Mazda2 comes with old-school econo-car specs, including a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes just 100 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. While that sounds like a downer, consider that the Mazda2 weighs only about 2,300 pounds. Yep, it's actually quite sprightly with the five-speed manual gearbox, as we had it. There are two conditions to that, though: Firstly, you need to keep the revs up; let them slip much below the 2,500-rpm mark and it's happy maintaining but just feels like it's bogging down in any attempt to accelerate. Secondly, if you want to be quick, we'd advise keeping your right foot buried in it until you pass the 4,000-rpm torque peak. Despite quite a bit of noise, from there on up to the 6,000-power peak is where you need to keep it.
Obey those rules, and the 2 is a dream to drive, thanks mainly to its stellar manual gearbox. In everything from clutch takeup to shift linkage, it hits all the right sensory marks, and with the gears spaced right, helping you keep the revs up, you won't necessarily need or want more power.
A blast to drive at low speeds
Drive the Mazda2 enthusiastically in tight corners, and you won't be disappointed, because of quick, responsive steering (electric assisted) that actually feels physically attached to the tires. Thanks again to that great steering feel and how buttoned-down the suspension feels at low speeds, powering out of a corner in second or third gear is way more fun than it should be.