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With the introduction of the new Mazda2 subcompact last year, Mazda filled a gap in its small-car lineup--but it didn't lose touch of any of its 'zoom-zoom' ethos here. If you opt for the manual gearbox, the 2012 Mazda2 ranks as one of the most fun-to-drive small cars.
The 2012 Mazda2 remains related to the Ford Fiesta, but it has completely different powertrains, interiors, and design attributes. 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. Otherwise, what you get inside is closer to what you'd expect; it's a bit dark--and unabashedly anti-luxury--but the instrument panel is delightfully simple and clean.The Mazda2 comes with old-school econo-car specs, including a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that makes just 100 horsepower. While that sounds like a downer, consider that the Mazda2 weighs only about 2,300 pounds. While it's sluggish with the automatic, it's actually quite sprightly with the five-speed manual gearbox. And the sound and feel of the engine isn't nearly as thrashy or breathless as much of the competition. Factor in the great steering feel and how buttoned-down the suspension feels at low speeds, and you have a small car that's a lot of fun to drive in the city.
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. But there's all the flexibility and utility you could ask for in a car with this kind of footprint and fuel economy. The Mazda2 rides pretty well, but one aspect we don't like so much is that its short wheelbase and suspension tuning allows quite a bit of fore-aft motion when shifting or braking. Also, interior materials aren't as bad as those you'd see in stripper base models of a few years ago, but there's still lots of hard and hollow trims.
Safety features are all that you'd expect in a low-priced small car, and crash-test ratings have come back mostly good for the Mazda2, though the IIHS gave it an 'acceptable' score in side impact.
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. 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.