2011 Mazda Mazda2 Expert Review:Autoblog
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.
New Car Test Drive
All-new, completely redesigned, enjoyable and practical.
The 2011 Mazda 2 has been completely redesigned inside, outside and underneath. The all-new five-seat, front-wheel-drive subcompact was designed to take on a wide range of competitors, such as the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Ford Fiesta, Hyundai Accent, and Kia Soul and Rio.
First introduced in 2007, the Mazda 2 has been extremely successful, selling more than 400,000 units in Europe and Asia, and being named World Car Of The Year in 2008. Now, the U.S. market gets the third-generation Mazda 2 before any other market.
The styling is fresh and we find it arrestingly good-looking. Like all Mazda products of recent vintage, the 2011 Mazda 2 has been made to look much bolder and sportier than its previous incarnations. The body itself has been reshaped in a much more sporty fashion, with more sculpted sides, a laid-back windshield, and a jaunty little rear roof spoiler on one version. There's a new grille, hood, fenders, lamps, bumper and air intakes up front, with new body-colored door handles, new taillamps, a power liftgate, new 15-inch wheels, and exhaust system outlets at the rear. Underneath, there's a redone suspension and an improved braking system.
Under the hood, there is a single engine choice, a time-tested 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.
Fuel economy for the Mazda 2 is an EPA-estimated 28/35 mpg City/Highway.
Aiming for higher gas mileage without damaging the driving fun, Mazda focused on reducing weight with a vengeance, using a much higher ratio of high-strength steel in the body to lose 50 pounds, or 10 percent of the body's weight, with more welds and more weld-bonded adhesives in the body and its openings. And then they looked for hundreds of places to save a few pounds, like the wiring harness, the door locks and latches, the engine's radiator, the automatic transmission shifter, the pedals, and even the speakers in the stereo system. The final result was a car that weighs just a bit over 2300 pounds in basic form, a five-door hatch that is actually lighter than a two-seater Miata.
We climbed in and found the seats comfortable and supportive and we liked the thick, sporty steering wheel. Although rated as a five-seater, we wouldn't subject a fifth person to the back seat, the same as we wouldn't for any car in this class. The Mazda 2 is relatively roomy for four, though. Fold the rear seats down and it offers good cargo capacity with 27 cubic feet of cargo space and easy hatchback accessibility.
Out on the road, we found the Mazda 2 fun to drive. The little engine is gutsy, with a sporty note at upper revs. Shifting the manual five-speed is easy and enjoyable. The new brakes are responsive, with no annoying slack in the pedal travel. The new electric steering is responsive. The new suspension tuning minimizes body lean in corners yet ride quality is smooth and comfortable. It maneuvers rewardingly in tight driving situations, making it easy to park or thread through thick traffic.
The 2011 Mazda 2 Sport ($13,980) and the more luxurious 2011 Mazda 2 Touring ($15,435) come standard with a five-speed manual gearbox. A four-speed automatic is available for both the Sport ($14,780) and Touring ($16,235) models. (All New Car Test Drive prices are Manufacturer's Retail Prices and do not include destination charge of $750.)
Mazda2 Sport comes standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/MP3 with four speakers, reclining front bucket seats with six-way adjustable driver's seat, 60/40 split folding rear seats, tilt steering column, remote keyless entry, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks, 15-inch steel wheels.
Mazda2 Touring gets upgraded cloth upholstery with three-dimensional seat fabric with red piping, six-speaker sound system, multi-functional leather steering wheel, rear roof spoiler, fog lamps, 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 ($95) is available, also a rear bumper guard ($61), cargo net ($40), center console with armrest. 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 on all Mazda 2 models includes frontal airbags, side-impact and side curtain air bags, anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes (ABS) with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Quick Brake Assist, dynamic stability control, traction control, tire pressure monitoring system. It also has Mazda's first brake priority system that automatically puts the brakes on whenever the brake and accelerator pedals are pressed simultaneously. The 2011 Mazda 2 has received Europe's highest crash rating of five stars.
For 2011, Mazda 2 has been given a substantial cosmetic makeover, with every panel on the car replaced by newer and flashier sheetmetal. Along with that are a new upper and lower grille design, new hood, new fenders, new lamps, new bumpers and air intakes up front, with body-colored door handles all around, new taillamps, liftgate, and wheels.
The new Mazda2 has very large, fully integrated halogen headlamp units that flow around the front corner into the fender, creating a line that goes up over the heavily bulging front fender like other Mazdas and then all the way to the rear of the car through the centerline of the body. The lower body is heavily sculpted with an upswept line starting just behind the tucked-in front tires and extending up and over the rear wheel wells. With the five-point lower grille and the five-point rear window glass, this couldn't be anything but a Mazda, mimicking as it does the Mazda 3, 5, 6, 8, CX-7, and CX-9 in its front and rear layouts. The Mazda 2 Touring version adds front fog lamps and a rear roof spoiler.
The 2011 Mazda 2 features an all-new cabin. We found the seats comfortable and supportive.
The three-spoke steering wheel has a thick rim and a thickly padded round hub flanked by redundant switches for the sound system on the left and the cruise control system on the right, and we think it's the best steering wheel in the segment for its functionality and design. The steering wheel is meaty to hold onto, and the combination of a tilt steering column and adjustable seat height make for easy adjustment before setting off. The shifter, whether manual or automatic, resides in the bottom center of the instrument panel where the center console would be (there is one, though optional at extra cost).
The instrument panel, seat trims, door panels and door pockets have all been redesigned for 2011 more comfort and utility. The instrument panel, center stack, switches and controls have all been redone for the 2011 models.
The instrument panel is built around a continuous horizontal line, which makes the narrow cockpit seem wider than it really is. The instrument package contains the usual three-round-gauge package, and is put together in an unusual but pleasing way, with a second large, round binnacle in the center of the instrument panel to house the sound system's various readouts, with the CD slot above and a three-dial HVAC control panel just below the readout binnacle. Surprisingly, we found no USB port.
Cargo capacity of the Mazda 2 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 four-cylinder engine in the new 2011 Mazda 2 is among the smallest gasoline engines on the U.S. market, but it is tuned in such a way, and the drivetrain is geared in such a way, that it performs more than just adequately. The engine is mounted in such a way as to cancel the usual fore-aft rocking motions that most front-mounted, front-wheel-drive four-cylinder engines have.
We found the Mazda 2 engine is gutsy at the bottom end and delivers good power throughout the rev range. It sounds good at the top end, and it's not buzzy. The throttle, which is drive-by-wire, has been tuned for very aggressive throttle tip-in, and these functions taken together make the Mazda 2 a hoot to drive. Yet it doesn't create on-off lurches related to the throttle pedal.
The clutch and transmission performed very well during our drive around central California from Monterey to Santa Cruz and back through some very twisty country two-laners and up and down the freeways.
The engineers redesigned the entire braking system for lighter weight, but also improved functionality, and there is very little dead space in the brake pedal before braking starts, a feature which we particularly liked. Brakes are front disc, rear drum with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist.
The suspension underneath is fairly conventional, with MacPherson struts in front and a trailing-arm twisting-beam rear suspension, but in the redesign, the engineers have done some interesting things with the suspension mounts and bushings that yield a much flatter ride through high-speed corners and quick-reacting suspension that doesn't make a lot of noise or transmit a lot of bumps and humps to the seats inside the car. The power steering is electric, not hydraulic, mounted on the upper steering column, and reacts to steering inputs very positively, without lag or confusion.
Completely redesigned, the Mazda 2 is practical and quite a bit of fun to drive. It's maneuverable for tight parking spaces. It's roomy for four and offers good cargo capacity. The engine is gutsy and delivers excellent fuel economy with an easy-to-use manual or available automatic. For $17,000 loaded, it looks like one of the transportation bargains of the year for new or young drivers or those looking to downsize into something cool and fun.
Jim McCraw filed this NewCarTestDrive.com report after his test drive of the Mazda 2 near Monterey, California.
Mazda 2 Sport ($13,980); Mazda2 Touring ($15,435).
Options As Tested
Mazda 2 Touring ($15,435).
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