Review and photos by
Peter Bleakney, CanadianDriver.com
Consider the 2011 Ford Fiesta and Mazda2 as fraternal twins. While they share a platform and were conceived on the same drawing board in 2007, something happened on the way to the showroom.
Basically, their parents split up. Apparently Mr. Ford came home late one night with 10W40 on his collar and Ms. Mazda went at him with a tire iron. Or something like that.
Nonetheless, as the corporate winds blew Ford and Mazda apart, their B-sector front-drive offspring took divergent gestational paths.
This was illustrated to great effect while having both a Fiesta and Mazda2 in my driveway for a week.
Initially I was hoping to get similarly equipped cars – at least ones with the same type of transmission – but as it turned out the Mazda2, which is the lighter and sportier of the two, came in its most athletic guise as the limited Yozora Edition with a five-speed manual transmission. The more comfort oriented Fiesta SE hatchback bore its trick six-speed twin-clutch automatic transmission (PowerShift in Ford lingo), a first for this segment.
These cars represented the two extremes of this platform, but price-wise they were very close: the Mazda2 at $19,280 and the Ford Fiesta at $19,529. (For an in-depth analysis of Fiesta/Mazda2 pricing, click here).
The Yozora Edition (Yozora is Japanese for “night sky”) starts as the entry-level Mazda2 GX trim with either 5-speed manual ($13,995) or 4-speed auto ($15,095). Added to this is air conditioning ($1,195), Convenience Package ($895; heated door mirrors, 4-speaker audio, remote keyless entry, steering wheel mounted cruise and audio controls, exterior temp gauge, some interior brightwork, body coloured door mirrors and handles) and the $3,195 Yozora Edition Package which includes 16-inch alloys shod with 195/45R16 Toyo Proxes T1R performance tires (you also get a set of 15-inch steel rims with winter rubber), boy-racer rear spoiler, Yozora floor mats, chrome exhaust tip, stubby antenna, and a 2+2 decal package that from a distance makes the car look like you’ve grazed a concrete wall.
You can get the Yozora in any colour you like as long as it’s black. (That’s a Ford line, isn’t it?)
My Fiesta was the $16,799 SE model riding on 185/60R15 all-season tires. Optional equipment included the PowerShift tranny ($1,250), SYNC voice-activated infotainment with 6-speaker audio ($650), Sport Appearance Package ($450; cruise control, 15-inch aluminum wheels, front LED marker lamp), and Winter Package ($350; heated front seats and mirrors).
The obvious difference in these subcompacts lies underhood. The Ford is motivated by a 1.6-litre Ti-VCT Duratec four-cylinder making 120 hp at 6,350 rpm and 112 lb.-ft. at 5,000 rpm. The Mazda’s engine is a 1.5-litre four putting out 100 hp at 6000 rpm and 98 lb.-ft. at 4000 rpm.
It’s here you might cry “No contest!”
Not so, at least as these two were equipped. Working in the Mazda’s favour is less weight – around 93 kg (216 lb) in this case (1,075 kg vs 1,168 kg). Not an inconsiderable sum in a car of this size and power output. Additionally, the Ford’s engine is a coarser unit. The Mazda four seems smoother and more eager to rev.
The six-speed twin-clutch auto in the Ford is tuned for maximum fuel economy. Under normal operation, it short shifts at low rpm and is reluctant to kick down. It has no manual override. The Fiesta can be frustratingly lethargic if you’re looking for right-now acceleration when on the move, but with tall gearing it’s a relaxed tourer, showing only 2,300 rpm at 100 km/h.
Conversely, the Mazda’s five-speed box is a hoot to operate. The stubby shifter sprouting from the centre console offers short, snickety shifts that speak of Miata/MX-5 DNA. The clutch has a quick and satisfying take up. All controls come together in a playful mechanical harmony. With shorter gearing, the Mazda2 is busier on the highway showing 2,800 rpm at 100 km/h.
I have driven the Fiesta five-speed manual. It has wider spaced gearing for more relaxed cruising, the shifts throws are longer and the clutch take-up less sporty – a decent manual setup, but not as engaging as the Mazda’s. (The Mazda2’s $1,100 optional four-speed auto got a “kill-joy” rating from our James Bergeron.)
Factor in the Mazda’s lighter weight, zingier engine, firmer, more neutral-biased suspension tuning and grippier tires and it trounced the softer Ford in the fun-to-drive category. The Ford understeers early, but as would be expected, it has a more compliant ride.
Both cars feature communicative and nicely linear electric steering racks. Traction control and stability control are standard on both, but only defeatable on the Mazda, which is what you need for getting traction on ice or in deep snow where wheel spin is a necessity.
So we’re seeing a pattern here. The Mazda leans toward driver involvement while the Ford is tuned more for a big car feel. Step away from the sport aspect of this comparo, and the Ford starts to run away with it.
Yes, we know styling is subjective, but most felt the Ford was the better looking of the two. To be fair, black is not a good colour for the Mazda2. Even with these sharp wheels and spoiler, it disappeared into the automotive landscape.
Personally, I prefer the Mazda’s cleaner dash design to the Ford’s futuristic offering. With thinner and more upright A-pillars, the Mazda has better forward visibility, and it doesn’t have the Ford’s huge expanse of dashtop that creates glare in the windshield. Plus the Mazda has an audio volume control on the steering wheel which is strangely absent on the Fiesta.
But in most other aspects the Ford wins the interior battle. The Fiesta has more comfortable and supportive seats, more soft touch surfaces, a nicely contoured steering wheel (the Mazda’s looks and feels somewhat cheap) and padded door armrests. The rock hard numbers on the Mazda get downright uncomfortable.
Other Fiesta niceties included one-touch lane change signals, a driver’s knee airbag, optional ambient lighting with choice of seven hues and the availability of SYNC which offers voice activated audio and Bluetooth connectivity.
Absent in the Yozora was Bluetooth and heated front seats, but available for $389 and $399 respectively.
The Ford also has more sound insulation. This, along with the taller gearing and smoother ride makes it the choice for highway duty. It’s that big car thing again.
Both cars have good sounding audio, even though the Mazda is down two speakers. Back seat room and cargo space is a draw, although my kids complained vociferously about the rear headrests in the Mazda.
The rear seats don’t fold flat in either, hampering load carrying ability. Shame.
Official fuel economy figures have the Fiesta with PowerShift transmission (6.9 L/100 km city and 5.1 L/100 km highway) edging the five-speed manual equipped Mazda2 (6.8 L/100 km city and 5.6 L/100 km highway).
My results pretty much bore this out: 6.9 L/100 km for the Mazda2 and 6.5 L/100 km for the Fiesta.
So which was my fave? The default choice for me was the Mazda2 Yozora. I enjoyed its sweeter engine and playful lightness of being that urged brisk cornering and plenty of gear changes. For longer highway cruises or rush hour duty, the Fiesta SE got the nod for its auto-box, greater comfort, isolation and Bluetooth.
Two fine sub-compacts: two distinct personalities.
Pricing: 2011 Ford Fiesta Hatchback SE
Base price: $16,799
Options: $2,600 (six-speed PowerShift transmission ($1250), SYNC voice-activated infotainment with 6-speaker audio ($650 minus $100 diecount), Sport Appearance Package ($450) Winter Package ($350)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $20,879
Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives
Pricing: 2011 Mazda2 Yozora
Base price: $13,995
Options: $4,285 (Yozora Edition Package $3195, air conditioning $1195, Convenience Package $895)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $19,775
Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)