2011 Mazda MAZDA2 Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
November 8, 2010

The 2011 Mazda2 is fun to drive in a way that few other inexpensive econocars are.

Mazda is taking 'zoom-zoom' down a size for 2011 with the introduction of the new Mazda2. The Mazda2 matches up with models like the Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit, and Chevrolet Aveo, as well as the new 2011 Ford Fiesta. It's related to the Fiesta but far from identical to it, with completely different powertrains, interiors, and design attributes.

How does the little 2011 Mazda2 distinguish itself in such an increasingly crowded field of affordable small cars? Mazda would like to emphasize that there's a difference between cheap and inexpensive, and the Mazda2 only lands on the latter point. And from our experience, it's true; you won't find cut-rate materials and switchgear in the Mazda2, at least not in the extreme sense you'd see in 1990s Kia/Hyundai vehicles and stripper base-models from other automakers.

The 2011 Mazda Mazda2 uses a 100-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine with either a five-speed manual gearbox or a four-speed automatic transmission. It's sluggish with the automatic, but with the manual it's surprisingly eager and very economical, and a slight lack of power is the only beef we have, as the sound and feel of the engine isn't nearly as thrashy or breathless as much of the competition.

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Inside, the Mazda2 is a little tight for taller folks; its feature set, whether in Sport or Touring, is basic; and its interior is nothing special—a little drab, dark, and lacking in contrast. But there's all the flexibility and utility you could ask for in a car with this kind of footprint and fuel economy. Figures of 35 mpg and higher are entirely possible in normal driving, by the way, and as fuel prices continue to threaten a return to $4-$5 per gallon levels, we're glad there are fun, economical cars like the 2011 Mazda2, and not just like the Yaris, Versa, or Honda CR-Z.

In a way, the Mazda2 is the perfect recession car: for the still-wealthy, it's both affordable and useful—a way to conspicuously non-consume. For the less well-off, it's a microcosm of what it takes to get through the week: making the most of meager materials through careful technique and artful invention.

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2011 Mazda MAZDA2

Styling

The 2011 Mazda2 has a nice look, with a flowing, coherent form that looks complete as a small car, not as an abbreviated version of a larger design.

Looking at the 2011 Mazda2, the profile and sculpted front and rear ends make for a more coherent package than any other car in the segment, flowing neatly and looking sorted from any angle. Even the Ford Fiesta can't make this claim, with the chopped rear end and protruding headlights making for some odd looks at times.

A wide base, sloping greenhouse, and flared fenders all serve to give the Mazda2 a solid, stable, and sporty look by tricking the eye into seeing a lower, wider car than the measurements actually indicate. Solid work by the design team here.

The only real visual differences you'll note between the various levels of Mazda2 are the trim packages—and they are mighty few. There are only really four variations possible with the 2, in fact: automatic or manual, Sport or Touring. The Touring model upgrades the standard 15-inch steel wheels to 15-inch alloys, adds red piping to the interior, and a spoiler out back. If you want to add navigation or Bluetooth to either model, you can buy Garmin and Motorola aftermarket add-ons directly from Mazda.

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2011 Mazda MAZDA2

Performance

Don’t let the 100-hp figure scare you away; especially with the manual gearbox, the lightweight Mazda2 is a surprisingly brilliant performer on tight, twisty roads.

With the five-speed manual transmission you can keep the revs of the 1.5-liter, 100-horsepower engine up above 3,500 and have enough juice to keep things interesting, but it requires a good bit of stirring the gearbox. The wide-spread four-speed, however, invariably winds out one gear only to fall a bit too low in the powerband for the next. And there's no manual shift mode with the slushbox, either. Not very zoom-zoom.

The 2011 Mazda2 handles like it's lower and wider than it is, though. Between the firmly damped and sprung suspension, the well-tuned electric power-assisted steering (EPAS), and the incredibly firm and sorted chassis, the Mazda2 is a performer even in a segment that also holds the MINI Cooper, for many the benchmark in front-wheel-drive handling. The car is near-brilliant: balanced, lots of grip despite the small 15-inch, 195/50 aspect ratio tires and all-weather tread, and ready to tackle anything from a high-speed lightly banked sweeper to a hard, bumpy 90-degree right with agility.

The reason? It's light. Very light—as in, it weighs less than the second-gen Miata, clocking in at a svelte 2,306 pounds, a weight almost unthinkable in today's safety-obsessed marketplace. Despite the light weight, it's surprisingly quiet thanks to BMW-like chassis dampers placed at key harmonic points on the unibody.

The light weight was earned through careful attention to what Mazda calls its "gram strategy," shaving weight from every component possible. Altogether, those incremental gains save a lot.

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2011 Mazda MAZDA2

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Mazda2 is one of the smallest and least expensive cars on the market; that said, its seating, comfort, and interior appointments are quite respectable.

The Mazda2 is a very small car, and the way that seating has been configured, it's not a comfy home for drivers much taller than six feet. Those over that mark will find headroom tight, while only small children would be able to fit behind them. Regular-sized folk will find legroom front and rear surprisingly good, however, with enough room to seat most adults at all four corners. Compared to the Mazda3, you're not giving up much interior space.

For its price range, the interior is nice but not special, the seats comfortable and supportive but not sporty, and the cargo room is better than you'd expect with the almost coupe-like profile, especially once you lay down the 60/40 split folding seats.

The fit, finish, and feel of the Mazda2 really is one of inexpensiveness, not cheapness. There's no outright lack of quality, but rather a cost-conscious lack of polish and panache. And that fits right in with the Mazda2's role as a cost-conscious city car, fuel-conscious commuter, third/fourth car for the luxury/sports car owner, and entry-level sporty hatch for the first-time buyer or college student. The plastics used aren't particularly pretty, but they feel durable; they aren't particularly nice to the touch, but they enclose the cabin quietly and without squeaks or rattles; the fabrics aren't premium, but they have texture that makes them feel and look like more than simple cloth.

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2011 Mazda MAZDA2

Safety

While we can’t gauge the Mazda2’s protection yet for a lack of U.S. testing, its safety equipment list looks like that of larger cars.

The 2011 Mazda2 comes with several safety items—such as electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes—that aren't always included on the most affordable trims of rival small-car models. Likewise, front-seat airbags, side-curtain bags, and a new Brake Override system are included in all Mazda2s.

Although the 2011 Mazda2 hasn't yet been crash-tested in the U.S., Mazda boasts that the Mazda2 has achieved top five-star ratings in EuroNCAP (European) crash tests.

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2011 Mazda MAZDA2

Features

The 2011 Mazda Mazda2 isn’t complicated with trims, options, and accessories, but there's an adequate set of basics.

Mazda has deliberately kept its options and pricing simpler than Ford's elaborate array of choices. There are just two Mazda2 models—Sport, and for $1,455 more, Touring—in only six colors.

The base Sport model includes air conditioning; power windows, mirrors, and locks; remote keyless entry; a four-speaker single-CD stereo system with MP3 input; tilt steering wheel; 60/40-split folding rear seat; and rear-window washer and wiper. Wheels are 15-inch steel with wheel covers.

The Touring model includes 15-inch alloy wheels, red piping on upgraded cloth upholstery, fog lights, roof spoiler, chrome exhaust tip, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, a trip computer, and a six-speaker stereo system.

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2011 Mazda MAZDA2

Fuel Economy

The 2011 Mazda Mazda2 is as fuel-efficient in real-world driving as some hybrids.

The 2011 Mazda2 gets good—though not great—fuel-economy ratings: 27 mpg city, 33 highway with the automatic, or 29/35 with the manual. But as The Car Connection's real-world driving experiences so far with the Mazda2 suggest, you're likely to see figures approach the 35 mpg mark, even if you flog it a little.

The reason? It's light. Very light. It weighs less than the second-gen Miata, clocking in at a svelte 2,306 pounds, a weight almost unthinkable in today's safety-obsessed marketplace. The light weight was earned through careful attention to what Mazda calls its "gram strategy," shaving weight from every component possible—and potentially saving both raw materials and fuel.

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