2011 Mazda2 – Test drive and new car review – 2011 Mazda 2

21 May 2015 | Author: | Comments Off on 2011 Mazda2 – Test drive and new car review – 2011 Mazda 2

Less is more

Meet the all-new Mazda2, Mazda’s entry into the subcompact market. Though Mazda sold the previous-generation Two in other countries, it’s been years since they offered this sort of small, affordable hatchback in the US. Can this small car with its small engine and small price tag live up to Mazda’s Zoom Zoom tagline?

Read on. Price range $14,730 – $17,185, EPA fuel economy estimates 27-29 MPG city, 33-35 MPG highway.

First Glance: Low expectations

The Mazda2 press junket was shaping up to be one of those trips. My flight to Montreal was long and late, the line for customs stretched for kilometers, and I barely caught the tail end of dinner. The air conditioning in my hotel room didn’t work, and opening up the windows let in warm, muggy air and a cacophony of rumbling trucks.

Hot, hungry, grumpy, and unable to sleep, I cracked open the Mazda2 press kit for a first look at the specs, and they did nothing to improve my mood. 100 horsepower engine, less powerful than all of its rivals. Old-tech 4-speed automatic.

One interior color (black, my least favorite). Nothing remarkable in the back seat or trunk dimensions, and nothing to indicate that the Mazda2 would outshine the mega-practical Honda Fit or the cheap-and-cheeky Ford Fiesta.

Great, I mumbled, unable to hear myself over the din of the 18-wheelers. This thing is going to suck and I’m going to have to write a lousy review and lose all my friends at Mazda.

The next morning, I stumbled into the press briefing groggy, unshowered and late — I could have sworn they said it started at 8:45, not 8:15 — and got my first up-close look at the Mazda2. Immediately, my mood began to soften. In person, the Two is a cute little bugger.

Mazda’s stylists applied scaled-down versions of their latest styling cues — the big smiling grille (link goes to photo), the strong front fender line, the trapezoidal rear window — and while those same details stick out like sore thumbs on the bigger Mazda3. they somehow manage to blend right in on the little Mazda2.

In the Driver’s Seat: Hope springs eternal

2011 Mazda2 dashboard

Photo #169; Mazda

At the front of the room, the Mazda staffers were talking about the virtues of the new Mazda2: refinement, light weight, price. My sleepy brain latched on to that last bit. The base-model Mazda2 Sport, they were saying, starts at $14,730 (including destination fee) and comes with power windows, mirrors and remote locks, air conditioning ( Hmm, . I thought, maybe I should sleep in the Mazda tonight ), a CD player, and electronic stability control. with an automatic transmission available for $800 more.

Some sluggish mental arithmetic put the value equation a bit behind the Nissan Versa and Ford Fiesta but well ahead of the Honda Fit. Not bad, I thought.

The briefing wrapped up and we headed out to the street where a row of Twos awaited us. I was surprised at how similar the basic Sport model is to the upscale $16,185 Touring. Inside, only a leather-wrapped steering wheel, cruise control, and fancier seat cloth separates the pricier Mazda2; outside, it gets alloy wheels, fog lights and a roof spoiler. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that there are no other options — if you want more features you’ll have buy a bigger Mazda.

I picked a bright-red Mazda2 Touring with a manual transmission and settled in. The driver’s seat had a short cushions that didn’t provide much thigh support. Not a good sign, considering I’m only 5’6. But I liked the simple, straightforward A/C and stereo controls and the high-mounted gearshift. The plastic on the dash and door panels wasn’t the nicest stuff I’ve ever seen, but overall the interior felt solid and substantial, if a bit dour.

I certainly didn’t feel like I was sitting in Mazda’s cheapest car. I was starting to like the Mazda2, but there was still that feeble engine to contend with. I turned the key and prepared for the other shoe to drop.

On the Road: Unexpected surprises

As I nosed the Two out into Montreal’s European-sized streets, I was immediately thankful for the car’s narrow width, excellent visibility and big side-view mirrors. Clearly, this car was made for the city, but how would it do on the highway? I squeezed my way through the gaps in traffic and headed out of town.

I opened the throttle as I merged onto the highway, and while I can’t say I was blown away by the acceleration, the Mazda2 was quite a bit zippier than I expected. Mazda’s engineers went on a witch-hunt for weight; shaving an ounce here and an ounce there brought the curb weight down to around 2300 lbs, 150 to 300 lbs. lighter than its competitors, which helps make up for the Mazda’s horsepower deficit.

What really surprised me was how smooth and quiet the ride was. The suspension treats rough pavement as if it just doesn’t exist, and while the test route was short on serious curves, the Two seemed to cling to the turns well enough. Still, it was the refinement that impressed me the most.

The Mazda2 may be small, but it drives more like a $25,000 mid-size sedan than a $15,000 hatchback.

A few miles down the road, I switched my stick-shift Two for an automatic-equipped car. This is where I really expected the Mazda2 to fall down. The 4-speed automatic is 25-year-old technology that offers a cheap price at the cost of power delivery and fuel economy. But much to my surprise, the old-tech automatic worked just fine, delivering all the power I needed 95% of the time.

The 5% when it didn’t work came when I needed speed right now . If I booted the accelerator to zip into a faster-moving lane, the transmission would pause just a second too long and I’d miss my opportunity. But the rest of the time, the automatic felt just as lively as the 5-speed stick, which came as a very pleasant and unexpected surprise.

Journey’s End: The transformed man

2011 Mazda2

Photo #169; Mazda

I drove back into town a changed man — and a happier one. I expected little from the Mazda2, and I was amazed at how much it delivered.

Would I buy one? As much as I liked the Mazda2, my heart belongs to the Ford Fiesta. It’s great to drive and its high-tech twin-clutch automatic delivers better fuel economy than the Mazda2, plus it offers features that the Mazda doesn’t such as leather seats and iPod integration.

Still, the Fiesta lacks the Mazda’s quiet engine and smooth ride — not to mention its proven Japanese build quality.

Though my heart says Fiesta, my head says Honda Fit. which has a much bigger back seat and a huge cargo bay. (Mazda says only 20% of their target buyers haul more than two people, which explains the cramped back seat and middle-of-the-road 13.3 cubic foot trunk .) But I’m about 20 years too old for the Fit’s Anime-style dashboard, and on a long trip I’d happily trade the Fit’s extra cargo space for the Mazda’s refined road manners.

The car that poses the biggest challenge to the Mazda2 might well be the Nissan Versa. which has a roomy, well-trimmed cabin and a very attractive price tag but lacks the Mazda’s good looks. There’s also the Toyota Yaris. which is strong on style and value but short on cargo and back-seat room. Considering what the competition offers, I think the Mazda’s mix of attributes will serve it well.

It’s the most grown-up-feeling car in this segment, and it strikes a nice balance on important factors like comfort, space, fuel economy, driver appeal and value. It might not be right for me, but I think it’s going to be right for a lot of buyers.

I sauntered back into the hotel lobby aglow with the satisfaction I always feel when I discover a great new car. The front desk told me that they’d found me a room with working A/C, I got a good night’s sleep, and the airline upgraded me to first class for the trip home. I even got in 15 minutes ahead of schedule.

Turns out it wasn’t such a bad trip after all. — Aaron Gold

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