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January 25, 2011 > Auto Review: Mazda2: Sweet Simplicity

Auto Review: Mazda2: Sweet Simplicity

By Steve Schaefer

Mazda has done very well with its Mazda3 compact sedan and hatchback. But the world needs smaller cars, too, so the Mazda2 represents the company's entry in the subcompact segment. And as the manufacturer responsible for the enormously successful MX-5 Miata, Mazda provides some 'zoom-zoom' with it.

It's a good exercise to look at a couple of other small cars. Take today's Honda Civic. Available in four-door and two-door coupe body styles, it's relatively huge compared to its cute little ancestor. Weighing nearly 2,700 pounds, it no longer offers the sprightly, quick performance for which it was once renowned. It needs a 1.8-liter, 140-horsepower four-cylinder engine to function effectively.

How about the MINI Cooper? That's a small car, but it is also a premium vehicle, with a premium price. Weighing in at 2,546 pounds, it offers 122 horsepower engine in its basic version. The Mazda2 weighs just 2,306 pounds. That means it can use a 1.5-liter four-cylinder that puts out only 100 horsepower and still be a blast to drive.

Available only as a four-door hatchback in two levels, the Mazda2 offers amazing utility while still taking up very little space in your driveway. It will carry a bass; the rear seats fold down in an instant.

My tester arrived in Spirited Green paint. What a happy Kermit the Frog feeling that provides, especially with today's Mazdas sporting big smiles up front. You'll be wearing one too after you drive the car.

Though sporty, the car falls down a little when accelerating in second gear uphill. Its 98 lb.-ft. of torque isn't enough to do it with gusto, but once things level out, whipping along at freeway speeds is no problem.

The car is carefully crafted inside and out to minimize the sense of how small it is. The wedge-shaped body has lots of exciting curves to give a feeling of movement even when stopped. There is very little overhang front or rear, yet the car doesn't elicit claustrophobia inside. The dash feels substantial where it needs to be but tapers off at the far corners to provide a sense of openness.

The little 1.5-liter four is rated at 29 City, 35 Highway (32 Combined) with the manual five-speed (which my test car was blessed with), and slightly lower 27/33 with the available automatic. I averaged 33.4 mpg. EPA Green Vehicle scores are 6 for Air Pollution and 7 for Greenhouse gas. That's below Hybrid levels but excellent for a gasoline-burning car, and earns the Mazda2 SmartWay status. The Honda Civic and MINI share identical Green Vehicle scores with the Mazda2.

The car definitely benefits from the direct action of the slick manual gearbox. The shift knob grows directly out of a protruding section of the center console. The instrument panel is compact, looking like the three-pod gauge cluster on a motorcycle. The 120-mph speedometer is in the center, with a tach to the left showing the revs.

The Mazda2 comes in Sport or Touring levels. The Sport arrives pretty well equipped, with standard air conditioning; power mirrors, windows and door locks; an AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system with four speakers and an audio auxiliary jack; and remote keyless entry.

The MAZDA2 Touring (as my tester was) adds features inside such as upgraded seat fabric with red piping, a luxurious leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, a trip computer and a six-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 audio system. It shares the same drivetrain with the Sport, but substitutes 15-inch alloy wheels for the Sport's stamped steel ones with wheelcovers. Other dress-ups include fog lights, a rear roof spoiler and a chrome exhaust tip.

You can add a few options, such as a center armrest or wheel locks, but this is a simple car that doesn't need these things to do its job well.

My test car came to $16,185, but the Sport starts at just $14,730-including destination charges. Compare that to the Civic, which starts at $16,555 and the MINI, at $20,100.

The Mazda2 is a world car. It was originally launched in 2007 in Europe, Japan and Australia. Since then, it has won 48 automotive awards, including "Car of the Year" accolades in many markets, including Japan, New Zealand, Chile, Bulgaria and Greece. It was selected as the "2008 World Car of the Year" (WCOTY) at the 2008 New York International Auto Show. More than 400,000 units have been sold around the world since its debut.

There are many ways to reduce our dependency on oil (foreign and domestic) and to lower our carbon footprint. Electric vehicles have small ranges and are expensive. Hybrids use fuel very sparingly but remain pricey today. One of the easiest things you can do is to drive a smaller car. The Mazda2 is a prime candidate.

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