Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Review: 2011 Mazda 2 Touring—The Miata of subcompacts

Pros: Solid build quality, frugal fuel economy, comfortable, great driving dynamics, good price.
Cons: Not a ton of tech features, engine is a bit loud.
Overall: One of the most solid subcompacts on the road that happens to be a lot of fun to drive, and not much cash to buy or run.
The Mazda 2 is the Japanese automaker’s foray into the growing and competitive subcompact market—a market they haven’t been in for quite some time. With only 100 hp, it has among the lowest outputs on the U.S. market. However, it’s also one of the lightest cars sold here. And although the vehicle rides on the same chassis as the Ford Fiesta, the similarities end there. The 2 is surprisingly fun, solid, economical, and practical. At some points, you can definitely tell this car has some sports car genes (ala the MX-5 Miata) in its automotive DNA.

2011 Mazda 2 Touring - Subcompact CultureEXTERIOR: Attractive, modern, small
I really like the 2’s looks. It’s basic, but still modern. This 2 is actually a refresh from a model sold elsewhere for the last couple of years. But the refresh looks good: modern, sporty, and decidedly un-econobox like. It does wear the corporate Mazda “smiley face” front end, but it’s much less pronounced than on the larger Mazda 3.

And make no mistake about it: The 2 is small, which in my opinion, is a good thing (in fact, it was smaller than I thought it would be). The 2 Touring also includes an attractive set of alloy wheels. The test model was finished in bright Spirited Green Metallic, earning the car the nickname “Kermit” for the seven days I drove it. I’ll spare you the “It ain’t easy being green” puns.

2011 Mazda 2 Interior - Subcompact CultureINTERIOR: Well-built, sporting, comfortable

Subcompact car interiors can be pretty cheap. My own Toyota Yaris, for instance is plasticy, rattle prone, and not terribly refined. The 2 features none of this; it feels more upscale, well built, and refined. The compact gauge cluster is easy to read, and the dash-mounted manual shifter falls into the hand easily.

There is plenty of room up front for two people, and it’s quite comfortable. The attractive seats, featuring red piping on the black upholstery, are well bolstered and fit me very well. Even on longer drives there were no economy car complaints.

The chunky leather-wrapped steering wheel is great, and hints that this might even be a driver’s car. It also features the cruse and stereo controls. The six-speaker stereo features CD and auxiliary inputs, but no satellite radio and no navigation (fine by me). The back seat is also roomy and comfortably for two people; three is a squeeze. The rear cargo area isn’t huge, but provides sufficient room for a small five-door hatchback. The 2 easily features one of the nicest subcompact car interiors. In fact, at points, it almost feels Miata like in its demeanor.

TECHNOLOGY: Not a ton of tech
If there is one low point for the 2, it’d be the lack of some of the more modern tech bits. For instance, there is no Bluetooth, no satellite radio, and no USB port for the stereo. If you’re looking for a tech-laden vehicle, you might want to look at other cars. It does, however, have all the desired safety tech, cruise control, trip computer, and power everything. Conversely, if you don’t want or need these features, then perhaps the 2 is actually more appealing than others that come with this stuff.

ENGINE/DRIVETRAIN: Frugal but still fun

As mentioned, the 2 only has 100 hp and 98 ft./lbs. of torque. However, the car only weighs about 2,300 lbs. Plus, with a well-geared five-speed manual transmission, the car’s drivetrain actually works surprisingly well. The 1.5-liter four cylinder is slightly noisier than larger engines, but it isn’t terrible. The transmission, however, is a joy to shift. Action is very good, and clutch uptake is very light, but precise. Sounds very Miata-like, doesn’t it?

2011 Mazda 2 Touring - Subcompact CultureDRIVING: A diminutive driver's car

As with many subcompact cars, “performance” isn’t usually synonymous with straight-line power, and the 2 isn’t any different. It is not a drag racer or a powerhouse. However, its use of well-planned gearing and a well-tuned suspension make this this car a lot of fun to drive. On top of that, the great driving dynamics—steering, braking, handling, shifting— make this car entertaining. It’s very tossable in the corners, and feels lightweight, because, well, it is. But the 2 feels very connected to the road and is one of the more fun subcompacts out there. Zoom zoom, indeed.

The 2 is still frugal, though. It is EPA rated at 29 city and 35 highway. Although the city MPG seems a bit low, during my seven days with the 2, I managed 37 MPG a mix of city and highway driving. Both surprising and pleasing!

For being such a small car, the 2 rides quite well. Although it isn’t exactly a luxury car ride, it certainly isn’t bad. Not much to say here.

2011 Mazda 2 Touring - Subcompact Culture
OVERALL: A subcompact at the top of its game, and the head of the pack
The 2 Touring $16,185 including the $750—a good deal for a car with such great driving dynamics. Add to this the miserly fuel economy, and I’d say this is a very good deal, especially considering you get cruise control, trip computer, power everything, and a very nice interior. You can even get the 2 Sport instead and save even more dough.

I’ll make this easy: The 2 is a great small car. It’s got enough get-up-and-go to be entertaining, an outstanding interior, plenty of practicality, good fuel economy, and on top it if, it’s fun to drive. The 2 is one of my favorite new vehicles, actually. It’s a good example of what a small car can—and should—be. With 20 more horsepower, this car could be a bona-fide pocket rocket.


nlpnt said...

Not sure about you but if this had been on the market in the US at launch I'd probably have bought one over a Yaris in early '08.

Andy Lilienthal said...

I'm not sure I would've given my circumstances (I was coming out of an xB). However, if I were in the market for a new subcompact, the 2 would be my first choice, honestly.

ank said...

The only thing that keeps me rubbing my head is;

- the epa rating should be tad higher. 40 would be stellar.

- the back seat doesnt fold flat. I noticed that, and thought about how much less I could fit in there because of it.

Other than that, I do love this thing. Stay true to your roots japan!!

Andy Lilienthal said...

Well, like I said: I was able to get 37 mpg. It seems 40 MPG is the next 30 MPG, though.

Anonymous said...

It is nice that it's so light. Still, I'd say that the Accent SE is the Miata of subcompacts (even though it's classified as a compact). It's pretty identical to the miata in weight and their exterior dimensions are almost the same give or take 1-2 inches (has a slightly longer wheelbase).

Although I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they make a Mazdaspeed 2, this doesn't have the suspension work to make it agile like the SE's solid springs, bars, shocks, and struts. Eh, at least it's really light. Hopefully other manufacturers catch on to the "ligher is better" philosophy.