Review and photos by
Jil McIntosh, Autos.ca
The fundamental rule about vehicles is that not one of them, no matter how good, can be all things to all people. The Mazda2, a model all-new to Canada for 2011, isn’t a sports car, no matter how much “zoom-zoom” Mazda likes to inject into its marketing. That said, its combination of sharp handling, quiet ride and several standard features makes this smallest of Mazda models a fine runabout for getting around urban centres.
It’s available in two trim models, the base GX and my tester, the upper-line GS. A third trim line, the Yozora, is an appearance package that’s limited to 500 units and sold in Canada only. At $13,995, the GX is indeed base, requiring an additional $1,195 for air conditioning, and another $895 to add a convenience package that includes heated mirrors, keyless entry, cruise control and other items.
My GS, starting at $18,195, was further equipped with the only available option, an $1,100 four-speed automatic that replaces the default five-speed stick shift. The list of standard features includes a/c, automatic headlamps, sport-style cloth seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and unusual for the segment, rain-sensing windshield wipers.
All Mazda2 models use a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine that doesn’t look all that impressive on paper: 100 horses and a mere 98 lb-ft of torque, less than any of its subcompact competitors. Its saving grace is its light weight, as little as 1,043 kg for the base GX, which is matched at the scale only by the smaller two-door Toyota Yaris. Even my automatic-equipped tester weighed in at only 1,075 kilos.
The power-to-weight ratio translates into nice, perky acceleration from a stoplight, making it a great little driver for city traffic. The stick shift is a lot more fun overall, of course, but the reality is that most people prefer an automatic – as do I, when my commute involves a lot of other vehicles and many stoplights along the way. Enthusiast drivers will disagree, but I didn’t find any great hardship in taking the Mazda2 sans clutch. With the automatic, the 2 is rated at 7.5 L/100 km (38 mpg Imp) in the city and 6.0 (47) on the highway; in combined driving, I achieved an average of 6.7 (42).
The little engine works really hard when passing at highway speeds, and here, a manual shift mode would be appreciated, especially if it included steering wheel-mounted paddles, so that one could just blip down a gear, get past the obstruction, and then go back to cruising. That said, it would undoubtedly also raise the price, and again, this car is essentially meant to be a city runabout, not a highway hauler.
Keeping the price down is going to be essential here, since the upper-level Mazda2 overlaps the price of the larger, more powerful base Mazda3, which rings in at $17,295 for the GX Sport (hatchback). Buyers looking at the Mazda3 GS Sport get a 167-horsepower 2.5-litre engine and a few extra features for $2,770 more than a Mazda2 GS – a fair chunk to pull out of one’s pocket at once, but possibly more palatable when the salesman is figuring out the cost of monthly payments.
Sharing its basic platform with the Ford Fiesta, the Mazda2 has been on sale overseas since 2007, and was named World Car of the Year for 2008. The Canadian introduction coincided with the makeover of that first overseas generation, giving it such improvements as a stiffer body, new electric power steering system, and several components redesigned to shave off a few grams of weight here and there. According to Mazda, the suspension on our North American models has been smoothed out somewhat from the European models, in line with most drivers’ preference on this side of the pond. Never having driven the overseas version, I’m not sure just how much it’s been toned down, but handling feels sharp nevertheless. While you can hear the tires bumping over bad patches of road, you don’t really feel anything but the very worst potholes. Overall, the Mazda2’s cabin is quieter than most of the other subcompacts I’ve driven.
Styling is also a plus, incorporating sharp body creases and smooth lines. I’m not fond of the trademark grinning grille on the larger Mazda3, and I’m still not entirely sold on it here, but its smaller size makes it more tolerable. Fifteen-inch wheels are standard on both trim lines.
Inside, the design is clean and simple, even the stereo, which can be easily figured out without delving into the owner’s manual for any of the hidden functions. Climate control is handled by three dials, plus a button to turn on the air conditioning. There are buttons on the steering wheel for the cruise control and audio system, and the driver’s window is auto up and down. There’s an outlet for an auxiliary music player, but oddly, there’s no USB connector, and Bluetooth is not available – surprising omissions for a segment that’s usually aimed at younger drivers, for whom these are all but essential.
The GS includes sport-style seats with red piping, and for the price, they’ve got some bolstering and are quite comfortable. I would like a bit more padding on the armrest portion of the door handle, though. The rear seats offer good space for knees and feet, but the cushions are very hard. Opening the hatch reveals a cargo space that’s 64 cm long with the seats in place. That extends to a length of 120 cm when they’re down, but they don’t fall flat, which would really be a nice touch. Honda’s multi-position “magic seat” is still the standard here. I do like the Mazda2’s hatch, which closes with just a tug on the handle, and which is very much appreciated when one’s hands are full and it’s tough to fight with one that doesn’t want to latch easily.
All in all, despite a couple of rough edges, I like this car. The company expects the GX with the Convenience Package to be the volume seller, which comes in at less than $15,000 with the stick shift, but the extra features on the upper-line GS should put that model in a few driveways. This isn’t generally a segment where people get excited about driving, but Mazda’s focus on sportiness has resulted in a sweet-handling little car that can be genuinely fun to toss around. Do the curb weight and the front end right, and even a little engine can find its way to shine.
Pricing: 2011 Mazda2 GS
Base price: $18,195
Options: $1,100 (four-speed automatic)
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $20,790
Crash test results
Jil McIntosh is a freelance writer, a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) and Assistant Editor for CanadianDriver.com. Her personal website can be found at http://www.JilMcIntosh.com
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