Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Zoom-zoom in a small package.
Mazda2 is a five-seat subcompact hatchback, with front-wheel drive and eye-catching style. After earning numerous product awards in the European and Asian markets, the Mazda2 was launched in the U.S. as a 2011 model.
New for 2013 was a USB port for the Mazda2's standard audio system. Nothing has changed for the 2014 model year, apart from three new color choices.
A soft wedge shape defines the Mazda2. It's bold and sporty with sculpted sides, body-colored door handles, a laid-back windshield, and sloped hatch. A jaunty little spoiler sits at the rear of the Touring model. Up front, a big, grinning front grille leads into an attractive hood, fenders, headlamps, bumper, and air intakes. All Mazda2 hatchbacks ride on 15-inch wheels.
The Mazda2 uses a well-proven 1.5-liter, double-overhead-cam, 16-valve four-cylinder engine with variable valve timing. to give it more flexibility in delivering low-rpm torque and high-rpm horsepower. It's paired with either a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission.
In pursuit of good gas mileage, acceleration and responsive handling, Mazda focused on keeping the car light, by using high-strength steel with more welds (and less steel overall), augmented by weld-bonded adhesives in the body. Engineers looked for dozens of places to save a few pounds; for example the wiring harness, door locks and latches, radiator, automatic transmission shifter, pedals, and even the stereo speakers.
As a result, the 2014 Mazda2 is the lightest subcompact sold in America: even lighter than the smaller Fiat 500, and way lighter than the Ford Fiesta, although the Toyota Yaris runs a close second to Mazda's smallest.
The hatchback's svelte 2306-pound curb weight (2359 with automatic) helps it achieve an EPA-estimated 29/35 mpg City/Highway with the manual gearbox, or 28/34 mpg with the automatic.
Mazda2's 100 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque are not big numbers, but there is plenty of power for everyday driving and the Mazda2 is way fun to drive. We liked the thick, sporty steering wheel and responsive steering. Shifting the manual 5-speed is slick and easy and brake feel and performance are good. Mazda2 rides smoothly, and its small footprint makes it easy to maneuver and park in city traffic.
Seats are comfortable and supportive. The Mazda2 is relatively roomy for four, but five is a crowd. Fold the rear seats down and it offers an excellent 27.8 cubic feet of cargo space, with easy access through the hatchback.
Available accessories for the 2014 Mazda2 are geared toward weekend warriors and include a roof rack, roof basket, cargo box, bike rack, ski rack, snowboard rack, surfboard rack, and kayak carrier.
Partly because mini-size hatchbacks are less popular in the U.S. market than in other parts of the world, the Mazda2 has been a bit slower to catch on at American dealerships. Mazda's compact-size Mazda3, offered as either a sedan or a hatchback, bests the “2” by a substantial margin.
Competitors to the Mazda2 are numerous, and include a roster of small hatchbacks: Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa Note, Honda Fit, and Hyundai Accent, as well as the newly-reworked Kia Soul. All of these, with the exception of the Fiesta, beat the Mazda2 on rear legroom. The Fiesta offers similarly sporty driving dynamics. The Sonic is also available with a more powerful, turbocharged engine.
The 2014 Mazda2 is available in two trim levels: Sport and Touring. All use a 1.5-liter inline-4 engine that makes 100 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque. Both can be equipped with either a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission.
Mazda2 Sport manual ($14,720) and automatic ($15,560) models come standard with cloth upholstery; air conditioning with pollen filter; a tilt steering wheel; reclining front bucket seats with manually-adjustable driver's seat; 60/40 split folding rear seats; remote keyless entry; power windows, mirrors and door locks; and a four-speaker audio system with CD player, USB port and auxiliary audio jack. Steel 15-inch wheels have full covers.
Mazda2 Touring manual ($16,210) and automatic ($17,050) variants get upgraded cloth upholstery with red piping, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, a trip computer, a six-speaker audio system, rear roof spoiler, fog lamps, chrome exhaust tips and 15-inch alloy wheels.
Options include auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass and Homelink ($295), white pearl paint ($200). Bluetooth wireless for hands-free cellphone operation ($275) is available, as well as a rear bumper guard ($80), cargo net ($50), and center console with armrest ($170). Available accessories include a bike rack, a roof rack, a roof basket, an interior cargo box, side sill extensions, ski rack, snowboard rack, surfboard rack, and a kayak carrier.
Safety equipment includes frontal airbags, side-impact and side curtain air bags, stability control, traction control, front disc brakes and rear drum brakes with ABS, Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Brake Assist.
Styling of the Mazda2 is fresh, and eye-catching in a cute sort of way. We do not like the grinning toothless grille, which may be on the way out, judging by newer Mazda models.
Mazda2 presents a soft wedge shape with trimmed corners, a sweet hatchback slope, and a slippery 0.31 coefficient of drag. The side view is sporty and sculptured, with body-colored door handles and a laid-back windshield. The halogen headlamp units flow from the gentle bulge of the front fenders. A wide upswept character line climbs back and up from the front wheel wells.
The hood, fenders, headlamps, bumper, air intakes and 15-inch wheels are all well done, adding character. Touring models have a jaunty little spoiler and foglamps.
Seats are comfortable and supportive, with a rugged and sporty fabric, adding red piping on the Touring model. The three-spoke steering wheel works well, with a meaty rim that makes the Mazda2 feel almost like a sports car, and a padded hub. We think it might look better without all that aluminum-like plastic trim on the wide spokes, but no big deal. It tilts for adjustment, and the driver's seat raises and lowers, so almost anyone can find a good position behind the wheel.
Aluminum-colored plastic Mazda calls silver garnish adorns vents, armrests, shift knob and gate, where it looks good in sparing doses.
The shifter, whether manual or automatic, rises from just below the instrument panel where the center console would be if there was one. There's a console with storage tray and cupholders that goes between the seats, with an optional leather-padded armrest that we found nice to have. It's no stretch at all to shift gears. The 5-speed stick is easy to reach and fun to use.
The dashboard flows in a continuous line and curves away from occupants, making the cabin feel wide. Certainly there's lots of elbow room. Mazda engineers worked carefully on the position and cross-sectional shape of the A-pillars, which, along with a low beltline, enable clear forward visibility and also help the car feel roomy.
The cluster of three gauges in front of the driver's eyes is shaded by an eave, with the speedometer in center, smaller tachometer on the left, and the rest in one gauge on the right. In the center of the dashboard there's a large round binnacle with sound system information, a CD slot, and three dials for the climate control. A USB port for the audio system is included. The Touring model has audio controls on the steering wheel, but they're easy to reach on the dash panel of the Sport.
Rear-seat legroom is slim compared to other cars in its class; only the Ford Fiesta has less. Cargo capacity is 13.3 cubic feet behind the 60/40 split folding second seat, and 27.8 cubic feet with the second seat folded flat.
The 1.5-liter engine in the Mazda2 is one of the smallest gasoline engines on the U.S. market, but its performance is exciting for its size. We drove the 5-speed manual version, and had doubts that Mazda's 4-speed automatic would be quite as much fun. But it's perhaps more practical for stop-and-go city driving, and will doubtless satisfy plenty of Mazda2 owners who aren't all that interested in shifting manually.
The engine pulls well at lower revs and comes on stronger at 4000 rpm where the torque peaks. It sounds good above 4000, and zings responsively all the way up to the 6300-rpm redline. It's not exactly gutless, but it doesn't have the oomph of the Ford Fiesta's 1.6-liter engine with its 119 horsepower.
At 75 or 80 mph, the Mazda2 is smooth. The brakes have a nice responsive feel, and stop the lightweight car quickly. Vented discs are used in front, drums in the rear, with ABS, brake force distribution and Brake Assist.
The suspension is fairly conventional, with MacPherson struts in front and a trailing-arm torsion beam in back. We drove the Mazda2 over twisty two-lanes on the California coast, and found that it cornered flat and sucked up most bumps. The electric power steering reacts quickly.
In a subsequent test of an automatic Mazda2, the transmission delivered curt, crisp gear changes, just noticeable enough to keep the driver aware. Acceleration was modest, both from start-up and when passing/merging, but the automatic Mazda2 is still an enjoyable little runabout.
Mazda2 is a good choice in the subcompact segment for those looking for sporty driving dynamics and distinctive design. However, other competitors offer more rear legroom and better overall value for the money.
Sam Moses reported from Southern California, with Jim McCraw in Monterey, and Laura Burstein reporting from Los Angeles.
Mazda 2 Sport Manual ($14,720); Sport Automatic ($15,560); Mazda2 Touring Manual ($16,210); Touring Automatic ($17,050).
Options As Tested
Mazda 2 Touring manual ($16,210).
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