• Jun 25th 2010 at 11:57AM
  • 67
2011 Mazda2 – Click above for high-res image gallery

Mazda says there's a little bit of Miata in everything it does. While it's easy to chalk that up as marketing frippery, when the automaker launched the Little Roadster That Could back in 1989, it proved that great things can come from a machine developed to be simple, reliable and driver-focused. Even now, none of Mazda's wares offer class-leading fuel economy or practicality, but they've proven to be some of the best drivers in their segments. And as enthusiasts, it's easy to exchange a bit of functionality for a larger helping of fun.

Now, Mazda hopes to achieve this same sort of positioning within the B-car segment – a class that's grown substantially in America and is projected to double in size within the next few years. The 2011 Mazda2 comes to town right on the heels of its sister car, the Ford Fiesta, but as we found out after a lengthy drive through the city of Montréal and the countryside of Canada's Québec province, it's a wholly different machine. And while the Fiesta is sure to provide some serious competition for the 2, there are plenty of other well-to-do B cars in the U.S. that are ready to be sized up against the minuscule Mazda.

If you only look at the stats, you wouldn't think Mazda has positioned the 2 to be anything overly special. Not only is it the least powerful car in its segment, but it doesn't offer some of the clever technology or unique packaging to make it stand out from its kin. But Mazda is immensely proud of the new 2, and though we looked on with skeptical faces, the people in charge simply told us that the little hatch's story is best told on the road. So let's get to it.

Photos by Steven J. Ewing / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

Like the Ford Fiesta, the Mazda2 isn't a new car – it's just new to us (or U.S., as it were). The 2011 model is the mid-cycle refresh of a car that's been immensely popular overseas, so much so that it won the World Car of the Year award in 2008. In reshaping the 2's design, Mazda wanted to break away from what it calls the "mini-minivans" of the world – cars like the Honda Fit that have tall greenhouses and expansive windshields. Instead, the automaker opted for a more coupe-like design (its description, not ours) with muscular front fender arches and a pronounced shoulder at the rear. Mazda's corporate face is nicely integrated on the 2, and we're glad it's not as overdone as the maw on the larger 3. The 2's face is extremely similar to that on the current MX-5 (ahem), but it still reminds us of shoving orange wedges into our mouth during our elementary school lunchtime.

Simple design cues like the swooping beltline, raked rear hatch and short overhangs drive home the point that its main purpose is to provide driver enjoyment before anything else. The 2 shares the Fiesta's 98.0-inch wheelbase, but the overall length is only 155.5 inches – 4.6 inches shorter than the five-door from Ford, and while this reduction in length hurts the 2's overall cargo capacity, it makes for a crisp, chic design.

While we're on the topic, we asked Dave Coleman, Mazda's product development engineer, exactly how much of the 2 is shared with the Fiesta. Obviously, the platform is the same, and while there are many interchangeable parts found on both cars, Coleman tells us that only three parts are exactly identical, although he wouldn't share exactly what they are. Truth be told, we were expecting the 2 to be more closely tied to its Ford brethren, and if we're honest, it only improves Mazda's business case for the car. This simply isn't another rebadge job.

Mazda's offering its diminutive hatch in two flavors – Sport and Touring – and in total, there are only four different configurations: one engine, two trims, two transmissions, no individual options (though there will be a raft of dealer-installed accessories for those who want to stand out). Starting at a base price of $13,980 (including $750 for destination and delivery), Sport models ride on 15-inch steel wheels wrapped in 185/55 Yokohama Avid tires, while the Touring model swaps the steelies for a handsome set of eight-spoke alloys, still measuring 15 inches in diameter. The Touring rings in at $15,435, and a fully decked-out 2 will set you back a cool $16,985 when all is said and done. That isn't too bad, and positions the 2 nicely below the larger Mazda3 sedan and hatch, a car which has an average transaction price of $19,364, according to Mazda's number crunchers.

Inside, the 2's cabin is a toast to simplicity and intuitiveness. Granted, the design is a bit bland, and we can easily see how a smattering of aluminum accents here and there would spruce things up. Still, the interior is a big step away from what you'll find in the Fiesta, and though the Ford's cockpit is more comfortable and comes packing more tech-rich amenities, that extra kit comes at a price. Notice the (cough, cough) MX-5-spec steering wheel, the console-mounted shifter (with a very Miata-like stubby shift knob on manual models), and easy-to-read gauge cluster – things you'd expect in a car that isn't trying to impress you with bells and whistles.

Mazda's focus on keeping cost down does leave us with some quaffs about overall refinement, however. Some of the dash plastics feel cheap and clunky, and those front seats are severely lacking not only support, but overall comfort. The driver's seat is adjustable in six different ways, which allows for a relatively good seating position, but Mazda's omission of a telescopic steering wheel deserves a demerit, especially for short-legged drivers.

Where the 2's squat dimensions really take their toll, however, is cargo capacity. Even with the rear seats folded flat (well, almost flat), there's only 27.8 cubic feet of space. A Honda Fit can schlep 29.5 more cubic feet of haulables (here's to you, Magic Seats), and even the Nissan Versa and Suzuki SX4 are capable of carrying more goods. Could you fit a bike or a full load of groceries in the back of the 2? Of course. But if capaciousness is your thing, best to look elsewhere.

Keep in mind, however, functionality isn't the Mazda2's forte. Where the deal really gets sweet is from behind the wheel. Under the hood is a 1.5-liter inline-four, and while output is only rated at 100 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque, don't let the meager numbers lead you to believe the four-pot isn't a total workhorse. When we drove the Fiesta earlier this year, we noted that the hatch could definitely benefit from an additional 10 or 15 horsepower, especially in the low end of each gear. But the Mazda, which is down by 20 ponies compared to the Ford, feels quicker and is more willing to – please forgive us – Zoom-Zoom when mated to either transmission. Chalk one up for Mazda's engineering team.

Speaking of transmissions, you may be a bit curious about Mazda's choice to offer a four-speed automatic rather than the five- or six-cogged auto-boxes becoming standard practice across the automotive landscape. Mazda knows that not offering a six-speed automatic will hurt the 2 in terms of fuel economy (not to mention marketing), but the engineers are confident that using a four-speed with taller ratios and fewer instances of gear hunting will keep the car feeling spirited and more enthusiastic on the road.

We drove both transmissions, and while we definitely prefer the manual with its nicely executed shifter and easy to modulate if somewhat vague clutch, the four-speed slushbox isn't as ancient-feeling or out of place as you might think. After all, when you're only dealing with 100 horsepower, its best to keep the engine revving in the heart of the powerband, and having fewer gears allows this to happen with ease. As we mentioned, fuel economy takes the biggest loss here, as auto-equipped 2s only muster up 27 miles per gallon in the city and a modest – more the class – 33 mpg on the highway. The five-speed manual models don't improve those figures by much, offering 29/35 mpg. In a time when 40 mpg is becoming the new standard for small cars, this is sure to hurt the 2's appeal to consumers shopping across the segment. But as Mazda told us, the real attractiveness shows itself during the test drive.

Like the majority of B-segment cars, the Mazda2's suspension employs MacPherson struts up front and a torsion-beam axle out back. Our drive route through the Québec countryside offered up a smattering of both smooth and broken pavement stretches, and the 2 never felt crashy, nor delivered high levels of harshness over the rough stuff. You'll bounce around more in a Honda Fit Sport, and even the Fiesta's suspension feels somewhat stiffer in terms of damping. While engineering the new 2, Mazda was committed to saving as much weight as possible, and managed to cut out a total of 220 pounds versus the previous model sold overseas. Sport models with the manual 'box only tip the scales at 2,309 pounds, which is seriously waif-like in this day and age. This weight reduction not only makes the 100-hp mill feel more powerful when blasting down highways and back roads, but it gives the car a feeling of nimbleness and agility through the bends. A fair amount of body roll is present, but it's better than what you'll get in a Yaris or Versa. A lot better, in fact. Most small cars in this segment are designed to be on their best behavior at lower, city-cruising speeds, but the 2 begs to be driven enthusiastically.

What impressed the most was how the electric power steering matched the feeling of lightness, and Mazda dialed in a lot of driver feedback – a good thing, since a lot of electric racks can feel overboosted, especially at initial turn-in. This isn't Mazda's first crack at EPAS, though – the RX-8 uses a similar system, and we have very little in the way of complaints when it comes time to steer that rotary rocket.

In terms of everyday drivability, the 2 is a charming little whip. The powertrain isn't nearly as buzzy as some of the four-bangers under the hoods of its competition, and even though Mazda's main focus was reducing overall weight, this doesn't mean sound deadening was put on the backburner. The cabin is seriously quiet at speed with minimal wind, engine or tire noise flooding the cabin. It's easily up to the task of long-distance trips, but we might still err on the side of the Fiesta for long hauls, if only for its more supportive seats.

Naturally, we couldn't help but ask about the possibility of a Mazdaspeed2 making its way into production, and while Mazda has teased the idea in concept form, don't hold your breath for the real thing. Sure, the engineers would love to build one, but they're worried that the consumer base just wouldn't be large enough to support it and Mazda thinks there's a possibility that 'Speed3 sales could take a hit. Doubtful, but disappointing nonetheless.

Mazda is hoping to move 20,000 2s annually in the United States, marketing it with the tagline "Zoom-Zoom. Concentrated." The biggest trick will be driving home the fact that the 2 is a driver's car first, and a good all-rounder second. If any brand is going to do it, Mazda has the best chance. After all, unlike the Fiesta, the 2 doesn't need to prove to the world that its parent is capable of making great small cars (take a bow, Mazda3). No, you can't get navigation, ambient lighting, satellite radio or many of the features becoming more important to shoppers, but if you really, truly need these extras, there's a whole world of aftermarket equipment out there. We'd love to own a Fit when it comes time for an Ikea run, but for everyday driving, Mazda's offering is just a bit sweeter. Functionality is nice, but enthusiasts want something better poised to handle the main task at hand – driving.

Photos by Steven J. Ewing / Copyright ©2010 Weblogs, Inc.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 5 Years Ago
      I drive a Mazda 2 daily, have been for the past 2 years. as a motoring journo, i test drive many cars on a weekly basis sometimes cars that cost 2 3 4 times more than the 2, and every-time i climb back in my 2, i am surprised how good it is built and how good and fun it drives.

      the Fiesta, a car i respect a lot, might be better on paper, but i would hate to have my gearbox hunting for gear every-time i summon the ponies up for overtaking duty. and driving the 6 speed with a bit of verve will sure knock a ding in those posted fuel rates with such a small engine whereas on the 2, even when driven furiously, fuel consumption never dropped under 220km/20L (9L/100km) in regular long distance driving i can easily make it stretch to 270km/20L which is good. switch off the HVAC and hyper-mile it and you could blow through the 300km/20l without much problem on the automatic, would be much simpler with the manual though.

      my daily commute is 22km, infested with traffic, so the 2 is great, perhaps if you have a longer commute with open highways, an auto 6 on the fiesta is more frugal.

      but i can't help but love the Fiesta's sporty stance on the other hand, the 2 is looks considerably taller. on the subject on interior quality, the 2 is among the best if not the best car in the segment, perhaps the honda Fit/Jazz is a match, but nothing can compete with the Fit's load space and turning circle.

      but again, and I can't stress this enough, if you love to drive, the Mazda 2 is the most rewarding car in the whole segment...nothing compares to how solid and composed it feels around a nicely executed turn....
      • 5 Years Ago
      according to fueleconomy.gov the MPG for the Fiesta with the 5 speed- a more appropriate comparison to the 2 than the Fiesta's 6 speed auto- is rated 28/37. thats a gallon less than the Mazda 2 in the city and 2 mpg more on the highway. but its a wash really as the combined for both is 32 mpg.

      It would be nice if the journalists actually put that in the article.
      • 5 Years Ago
      wow what a difference the reviewer makes. i just read a review on autoweek . and the reviewer said the seats were comfortable for the 4 hours they drove it and found the driving position to be fine without a telescoping wheel

      "The seats offer adequate support and kept us comfortable during our four-hour drive. The seating position was good even with the steering wheel only able to be tilted and not telescoped."

      They also said it cornered flat, without the roll described in this autoblog reveiw

      "Around a few twisty portions of the drive route, the 2 showed great composure and stayed nearly flat through them. When it came to damping, the suspension soaked up road imperfections beautifully and easily eclipses competitors from Honda, Toyota and Nissan."

      • 5 Years Ago
      Why do Euros use liters / 100km instead of km/liter?

      Miles per gallon 40
      Gallons per 100 miles 2,5

      Liters per km 0,1
      Liters per 10 km 0,6
      Liters per 100 km 5,9
      Kilometer per liter 17

      • 5 Years Ago
      Lets see a B-Segment shootout! Mazda 2, Fiesta, Fit, Yaris etc.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I'm sure it'll happen! (Not sure where, but I'm sure it will)

        I really look forward to driving the 2. I really like the looks, but wonder if it will get lost in the fray.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Dear Mazda, now that you've fired your ad agency (Zoom-zoom) could you please fire your front-end design language. One by one the 'smile' has wrecked every model in your lineup.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I don't get the mpg figures.

      The real world mpg of friend's Mazda 2 (euro specs) is 43 mpg for a 1.3 liter 86 hp engine with aircon on most of the times. That's average - city + highway and when I say highway I mean 80-85 mph. And 43 mpg is almost dead on with the official 45 mpg figure.

      A 100 hp 1.5 liter engine is officially rated 41.5 mpg in Europe. All manual.

      I just don't understand where it all went in the US mpg figures.

      As for the seats... I didn't find them uncomfortable or non-supportive but then they could change them for US shaped b...bodies.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @askroon, You're part right. While the official unit of measure for fuel in the UK may be metric liters I can assure you that in advertising, as well as just about any UK auto mag, that fuel economy numbers will be given in MPG and that MPG figure will be about 20% greater than if the numbers were calculated using US gallons.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Are you comparing UK gallons to US gallons? If so that explains it. An imperial gallon is roughly 20% larger than a US gallon. So while it may seem that an otherwise identical car gets more mpg in the UK, that's because they're calculating with a different unit of measure. So what does this mean in real number? A car rated at 48 MPG in the UK(assuming the same drive cycle is used) would translate to a mere 40 MPG in the USA.

        The reality, of course, is that the economy is exactly identical but it sure looks different on paper and if you didn't know about the difference then you might come away with an understandably confused impression when comparing the typical MPG figure you'd see in American vs UK publications.

        I hope this helps, and if you already took it into consideration then do feel free to ignore it. Regardless, I'm sure there will be some reader who finds this helpful.
        • 5 Years Ago

        Fuel is not measured in gallons in the UK but rather in liters.


        It's the smog gear that brings down the estimated/observed fuel mileage in every car sold in the US.
      • 5 Years Ago
      When the Mazda2 was first announced for the U.S. market, I was was anxious to give it a chance. I really do hope it has the better dynamics. When it was at the autoshow, I went over it pretty thoroughly (as much as they would let me get away with, anyway). I was really disappointed to see the little drum brakes in the rear. I've usually counted on Mazda to take the high-road for performance reasons on component choice vs their Ford cousins.
      As for the interior and the amenities, well, bluetooth (a.k.a. SYNC in the Fiesta) would just be nice because of the changing Cell laws (relax, I don't "make" calls, I just answer when work & immediate Familly calls me). As for everything else on the interior, I would just like a decent seat.

      For reference: my commuter car until June has been a 1993 Ford Festiva L 5pd.
      Yep, talk about basic transportation!
      But that car is still an amazing package, the rear seats actually have room for a 3rd person between them, there just isn't a lap belt. I've folded the seat forward and carried home a Dinette set with 5 chairs and been able to close the hatch. It'll take more home from Home Depot (up to 9-1/2' long frt footwell to hatch) than my 5 door Focus!
      I have 15" wheels, drilled & slotted rotors, and better bushings on the front, but other than that, it's all just stock under the hood.

      I drive the Festiva like I stole it, get 42 mpg in 70%-city/30%-hwy driving laughing all the way to the bank and past almost every gas station. Over 3000rpm is where it likes to be and I use Aveos, Echos, Yaris, Fits, etc. as if they are orange cones. Sure, my car is nothing more than tin-foil and cheap plastic with roll-up windows, that's why finding a newer, airbagged equivalent is of interest to me (well, my wife's peace-of-mind, anyway).

      With the same little tweaks would any of these cars be great?
      Which will give the best bang-for-the-buck? The extra $3000 could definitely be half allocated to the fuel cost and then the rest to some performance upgrades.
      Maybe just $300 for a decent aftermarket seat!
      • 5 Years Ago
      Let's clarify, to get 40 mpg on the Fiesta, you need to purchase a fully loaded trim level with SYNC, and the optional 6-speed automatic transmission, to reach 40mpg. That's a $19,000 combination! Otherwise, the Fiesta and Mazda2 get identical fuel consumption, when compared apples to apples. Ford sings about the 40mpg, but doesn't go over the details.
        • 5 Years Ago
        No, you just need the SFE package which is a $495 option available on most of the models. I think it's only unavailable on the S Sedan doing a quick search on Ford's website. You do also need the auto transmission as well, but you absolutely don't have to buy a top end model to get the achieved mileage. You do have to option for it though which is becoming increasingly more common.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Apparently, it's priced differently depending on whether you get a Sedan or a Hatch. It's a $695 option on the Sedan(at least the SE) and a $495 option on the Hatch(again, for the SE). Plus the required 6spd auto, but that's not part of the package, just a requirement in order to get the SFE package.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "After all, when you're only dealing with 100 horsepower, its best to keep the engine revving in the heart of the powerband, and having fewer gears allows this to happen with ease."

      How does that make sense? More gears allows for closer gears. When you hit the red-line and up-shift, the RPMs drop less when the gears are closer together. (At least that's one of the differences I've experienced comparing 5-speed and 6-speed manuals.)
      • 5 Years Ago
      I am a Mazda fan. However, I wonder what the interior noise levels are like with the weight savings.

      Why doesn't Mazda have any turbo or DI engines on the market right now

      For the first time given the platform sharing of Ford and Mazda. I think Ford's Feista has the advantage...more horsepower, better mileage and more features...what is Mazda thinking?
        • 5 Years Ago
        1st - "even though Mazda's main focus was reducing overall weight, this doesn't mean sound deadening was put on the backburner. The cabin is seriously quiet at speed with minimal wind, engine or tire noise flooding the cabin. It's easily up to the task of long-distance trips"

        2nd - The CX-7 and Mazdaspeed3 were two of the first DI/Turbo vehicles on the market (2007?).

        3rd - I am sure they'd like to match what Ford is offering, but can't fully compete given their resources/number of dealers versus Ford's. I think it will be interesting to see what they do with the next generation, which should be here in 2/3 years. Based on past history at least, I'd expect the Mazda to be totally updated (new Sky engines, etc.) and the Ford to be new body panels (especially since they may not be co-sharing development of the next model).

        • 5 Years Ago
        Mazda has the 2.3 MZR which is both DI and turbocharged....

        Developing either a turbo engine or a DI engine is not cheap. If it were, everyone would have one by now.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Using an FC as an example of what typical buyers in this segment want? I don't see the links you might as well be taking the thing off-topic it would make much more sense.

      I think for Mazda loyalist looking for a runabout might do more for Mazda's bottom line than new buyers. As its shaping up, nobody is willing to build a mini hot hatch until they see the sales of 500 Abarth which will be the most powerful car in the segment@170hp. There won't be a "feeling" of not enough power, there will be plenty of it...

      If you listen to the bean counters, they all say the threshold for these B segment cars is around $18K. When narrow European cities and Overcrowded Asian city centers are the normal market for these things, not what typically happens with smaller cars in America.

      Small cars here are used to bolster sales of larger cars and give an opportunity for those not able to afford larger cars a chance to buy a new car (instead of used) and develop brand loyalty.

      These cars will do well in urban areas and with those under 25 but you'll only see them in more rural areas in the hands of Wal-Mart shoppers because this is all the car they could afford.

      Before we make judgment calls and ask fugal car manufacturers to build a hot Mazda2 when they aren't quite sure where the market is for such a car, maybe we should think long term and see what happens when the market is fleshed out a bit. You should also remember that many car companies make hot versions of cars near the end of the product cycle to boost excitement and sales.

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