If it sounds as though the 2014 Mazda 2 is underpowered, with a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine putting out just 100 horsepower and 98 lb-ft of torque, let's say it's not the single fastest subcompact on the market. But if you're willing to rev the engine above 3000 rpm--its peak power and torque comes fairly far up the rev range for a modern small-car engine--you can have a great deal of driving fun. This car may be the perfect example of the notion that it's more fun to drive an underpowered car hard than a powerful car gently.
Make sure you get the five-speed manual gearbox, though, and be prepared to use it to keep the car moving expeditiously as the engine revs. While Mazda offers an optional four-speed automatic transmission, its ratios are widely spaced and tends to shift far too early to keep the car hustling along. It also lacks any kind of manual-shift mode.
But it's the roadholding and sporty driving character of the Mazda 2 that will make any driver forget that the car is actually a somewhat tall five-door hatchback. It drives lower and wider than it is, and the suspension tuning and chassis overall are superbly balanced. The handling is firm, but well-damped, and the feel from the electric power steering is as good as anyone's. There's an element of hot-hatch-in-civilian-clothes to the littlest Mazda, and we'd wager a skilled driver could catch a lot of base MINI Cooper owners unaware.
The compact dimensions and nimble handling make the Mazda 2 useful for nipping around crowded city streets too. There's lots of grip despite the narrow 195/50 tires, and it's at its best at lower speeds, before the engine starts to run out of power when you reach highway velocity. Gear-shifting is natural in cities, but you'll find yourself doing it a lot at highway speeds to keep up with traffic when the engine can't quite cope with hills or sudden acceleration. That's when the engine gets noisy too.