Review and photos by
Paul Williams, CanadianDriver.com
Stepping into a subcompact 2011 Mazda2 after a week driving a plus-sized SUV is like putting on running shoes after wearing steel-toed construction boots. Your first thought is, “I should be wearing running shoes all the time!”
The Mazda2 is a nimble and versatile little runabout. Smaller than a compact Mazda3, its gas-sipping four-cylinder, 100-horsepower engine with 98 pound-feet of torque is plenty powerful for urban motoring and highway cruising, and its diminutive dimensions make manoeuvring a breeze.
This is just the type of cheap-to-run car you need for zipping to the store, commuting to work, or even picking up some large purchases at the big-box hardware retailer.
Starting at $13,995 for the GX model, Mazda2 is available in only one body style: a four-door hatchback. Standard safety equipment is impressive, and includes dynamic stability control, traction control, full side curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, and an intermittent rear wiper. But the base-level occupant amenities are not likely to satisfy most buyers, even though you get some useful equipment.
For example, the GX arrives with tilt steering, power windows, power mirrors, height adjustable driver’s seat and a two-speaker stereo with auxiliary input. But two things that the majority of buyers want – an automatic transmission and air conditioning – are extra cost items that take the attractive starting price to $16,290, plus $1,395 freight/PDI ($17,685). Furthermore, two other popular items – cruise control and remote keyless entry – are only available by selecting an $895 “convenience package.”
I was hoping that a GX with “auto” and “air” could be could be purchased at an “out the door” (taxes included) price of under $20,000, but not quite. And with the convenience package, you’re over $21,000.
An alternative to the GX is the five-speed manual $18,195 GS. At $19,750 for an automatic version, the GS is pretty much a fully equipped car, and is the subject of this test drive.
Our Mazda2 GS replaces the GX’s 15-inch steel wheels/plastic wheel cover combination with a set of alloy rims of the same size. Additional exterior items include a roof spoiler, side sill extensions, chrome exhaust finisher and fog lamps.
The power door mirrors are heated, and the windshield wipers are rain-sensing. Air conditioning is included, as is remote keyless entry, cruise control and steering wheel-mounted remote controls. The steering wheel is leather-wrapped, door panels feature cloth inserts, there’s some silver trim interior accents, six speakers for the stereo, a trip computer and exterior temperature gauge.
A cost-cutting measure for both the GX and the GS is that the automatic transmission is the four-speed variety, and the rear brakes are drums, not discs.
Compared with some other vehicles, operation of the Mazda2 is simplicity itself. Controls are few and sufficient, harkening to an era when less was more, and the function of a vehicle’s controls was obvious from its appearance and location.
I liked the conveniently located buttons to lock and unlock the doors (centre console) and easy-to-use heating and ventilation controls. I loved the steering-wheel mounted “mute” button, with which you can instantly kill the annoying CBC radio announcer and his incessant commercials for the station.
The seats are comfortable and attractive with their red piping on dark grey fabric, and rear seat accommodations are acceptable for short-to-medium range trips.
Rear seats do fold down to create a large cargo area, but it would be nice if the seats would fold and tumble forward, producing a flat floor onto which you could slide large items without obstruction.
Don’t let the modest 100-hp output fool you; the engine is quite peppy in a vehicle weighing only 1,075 kilograms (2,370 lbs). The four-speed automatic shifts readily through the gears, and enables the Mazda2 to comfortably cruise sub-3,000 rpm at 110 km/h. The car can seem sluggish when accelerating from a steady 15 km/h in second gear, I found, but once it gets going, the Mazda2 resumes its normal zippy character.
It’s fuel efficient, too, with an expected fuel consumption of 7.2/5.8 L/100 km, city/highway. After a week of driving (about 300 km), I filled the tank for $19.00, which certainly put a smile on my face.
Overall, the car is nicely finished. The cloth inserts and aluminum-look interior trim add a note of richness, the dashboard design looks high-quality, the interior of the rear door is minimalist in body-colour paint, but manages to look smart nonetheless (better real paint than cheap plastics).
Our car wore one of the four optional Mazdaskins graphics (Speed/Performance). These graphics are made by 3M and are warranted by Mazda. Available in three sizes in the $375-$595 range, you can check out the graphics at MazdaSkins.ca.
Mazda is offering a comprehensive range of dealer add-ons, including Bluetooth ($389), 16-inch alloy wheels ($1,175), cargo tray ($274), an interior lighting kit ($357), keyless entry ($349), satellite radio ($319) and even a rear-view camera ($329), although that requires the $949 Pioneer in-dash multimedia system. What’s missing is a centre armrest, which I would have liked. A sunroof is also not available.
There are now several subcompacts from which to choose (some of which also come in sedan versions), including the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Chevrolet Aveo, Hyundai Accent, Nissan Versa and the new Ford Fiesta with its six-speed automatic transmission.
Nice as it is, the price of the Mazda2 rises quickly when popular options are added, and it has some stiff competition. Careful comparison shopping is suggested.
MSRP: 2011 Mazda2 are as follows:
Pricing: 2011 Mazda2 GS automatic
Paul Williams is an Ottawa-based automotive writer and senior editor for CanadianDriver. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).
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