2014 Mazda Mazda2 Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Zoomy little hatch.
The Mazda2 is a five-seat hatchback, a front-wheel-drive subcompact with fresh, eye-catching style. Launched in the U.S. as a 2011 model, Mazda2 has been an award-winning car in Europe and Asia for some time now.
A soft wedge shape defines the Mazda2. It's bold and sporty with sculpted sides, body-colored door handles, a laid-back windshield, sloped hatch and a jaunty little spoiler on the Touring model. There's a big grinning front grille and an attractive hood, fenders, headlamps, bumper, air intakes and 15-inch wheels.
New for 2013 is a USB port for the Mazda2's standard audio system, the absence of which we bemoaned previously. Otherwise, the 2013 Mazda2 carries over unchanged from 2012.
The Mazda2 uses a 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), and 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, stereo speakers.
As a result, the 2013 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 is a close second.
Although it's not necessarily powerful, the Mazda2's 100 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque is plenty for everyday driving, and its svelte 2306-pound curb weight helps it to achieve an EPA-estimated 29/35 mpg City/Highway with the manual gearbox and 28/34 mpg with the automatic.
But mostly, the Mazda2 is way fun to drive. Shifting the manual 5-speed is slick and easy. Brakes and steering are responsive. It rides smoothly and its small footprint makes it easy to maneuver and park in city traffic.
Seats are comfortable and supportive, and we liked the thick, sporty steering wheel. The Mazda2 is relatively roomy for four. Although rated as a five-seater, we wouldn't subject a fifth person to the back seat for long, but that's no different than any other car in this class. Fold the rear seats down and it offers an excellent 27.8 cubic feet of cargo space, with easy access through the hatchback.
Accessories for the 2013 Mazda2 are geared toward weekend warriors and include a roof rack, roof basket, interior cargo box, bike rack, ski rack, snowboard rack, surfboard rack, and kayak carrier.
Competitors to the 2013 Mazda2 are numerous, and include other small hatchbacks: Chevrolet Sonic, Ford Fiesta, Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent and 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 2013 Mazda2 is available in two trims: Sport and Touring. All use a 1.5-liter inline-4 engine that makes 100 hp and 98 lb.ft. of torque. Both can be equipped with a 5-speed manual or a 4-speed automatic transmission.
2013 Mazda2 Sport manual ($14,720) and automatic ($15,560) models come standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, reclining front bucket seats with six-way manually adjustable driver's seat, 60/40 split folding rear seats, remote keyless entry, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks, a four-speaker audio system with CD player, USB port and auxiliary audio jack and 15-inch steel wheels.
2013 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 ($95) is available, also a rear bumper guard ($80), cargo net ($40), center console with armrest ($170). 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.
The styling is fresh, and it's eye-catching in a cute sort of way. With the grinning toothless grille, this couldn't be anything but a Mazda, mimicking the Mazda3, as well as the Mazda5, 6, 8, CX-7, and CX-9 in its front and rear layouts. The grille isn't loved by everyone, but it is distinctive.
Mazda2 presents a soft wedge shape with trimmed corners, sweet hatchback slope, and a nice 0.31 coefficient of drag. The sideview 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 with red piping on the Touring model. The three-spoke steering wheel works well, with a meaty rim that makes the Mazda2 feel like a sports car, and a padded hub. We think it might look better without all that aluminumy 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 place 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, 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 dashboard there's a large round binnacle with sound system information, a CD slot, and three dials for the climate control. For 2013, Mazda has added a USB port for the audio system. 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 have doubts that Mazda's 4-speed automatic is quite as much fun. But it's perhaps more practical for stop-and-go city driving.
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 6300 redline. It's not exactly gutless, but it doesn't have the oomph of the Ford Fiesta's 1.6-liter engine with 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 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.
The 2013 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.
Mazda2 Sport Manual ($14,720); Sport Automatic ($15,560); Mazda2 Touring Manual ($16,210); Touring Automatic ($17,050).
Options As Tested
Mazda2 Touring Manual ($16,210).
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