2011 Mazda2 Touring Road Test Review

Jon Rosner - CAP staff
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Arriving in the brightest lemony green, the Mazda2 somehow reminded me of a June bug. A tight skin stretched over muscle and bone. Solid, compact and evolved, having shed anything not needed in favour of natural optimization.

Inside, a great deal of thought went into the interior. The Mazda2 felt airy compared to a lot of compacts. Visibility was excellent. None of this thin seat padding that is so annoying. The cloth seats were almost overstuffed, absorbing me when I got in. The dash and controls were simple in layout, easy to use, and the sound system offered clear crisp audio. I wasn't surprised to learn that power mirrors, door locks and windows, plus tilt steering and a CD-equipped audio system are standard on all Mazda2 models, but its safety equipment list is a bit of a shocker for a car that only costs $13,995.

Every small car today has front airbags, but the Mazda2 is loaded to the gills with advanced front airbags, front side-impact airbags, and side-impact air curtains, not to mention standard ABS brakes, traction control and stability control. Additionally, three unusual Mazda2 features are worth mentioning. First is the nice balanced, responsive and efficient electric power assist steering. Second, the engine's variable valve intake system that improves gas mileage. And the third, that the twin cam engine has a timing chain instead of a timing belt.

Timing belts are dirt-cheap to put in and require less weight-adding sound insulation for quiet running. But this means that at between 100 and 180 thousand kilometers your timing belt needs to be replaced, and you have to do that EVERY 100 and 180 thousand kilometers. By the time you add in the cost of the other parts you need when you change the timing belt you are out between $500 to $1,200, depending on who does the work. How much to do you spend changing a timing chain? You don't. Most timing chains last the life of the engine.

With a light touch the Mazda2 showed solid zip through town and on the freeway. The car was totally flingable and responded with enthusiasm to anything that was tossed at it. This is a five-passenger car, and easily handled two adults, two kids, and a load of groceries stuffed into the generous cargo hold under the hatch. There is plenty of headroom and elbowroom in the front and back, although noticeably less headroom for the rear passengers.

The 2's optional automatic would drop a gear when pushed into aim and shoot highway passing maneuvers for overtaking left-lane bandits. At the 6,300 rpm redline it was a bit loud, but once back down to strong clip cruising the car was much happier and easily paced the fast traffic. We never triggered the anti-lock brakes, or the Electronic Brakeforce Distribution System, but it is there. The brakes offered a solid and consistent feel and very good stopping power from any speed without a hint of fade or any slewing or loss of control on any of the less traveled roads taken. The chassis always felt very balanced and happy.

At 1,473 mm tall on a 2,489-mm wheelbase you might expect the car to have a choppy ride and want to roll over and play dead with the first enthusiastic move. Not. The ride proved to be supple even through the "special feature" potholes that my city installs in order to discourage driving. And yes, the suspension is a bit on the soft side  ~ with an almost French car willingness to be driven on most anything euphemistically called a road. The Mazda2's grip proved tenacious even in a most unusual June downpour traversing a crappy main highway that is one of too many suffering from a "deferred" maintenance program.

The 1.5-litre engine cranks out 100-hp at 6,000 rpm with 98 lb-ft of torque available at 4,000 rpm. This doesn't sound like a lot of power, but when puttering around town the car felt quite zippy. With the five-speed overdrive manual tranny the Mazda2 comes in at a welterweight 1,046 kilos, where the automatic with the four-speed plus overdrive comes in at 1,070 ~ very light for a feature-laden modern compact with strong safety ratings.

The U.S. EPA rates the Mazda2 at the metric equivalent of 8.1/6.7 city/highway L/100km for the manual and 8.7/7.1 for the automatic, both running regular unleaded. The Canadian rating system results in a more optimistic 7.2/5.6 respectively for the manual and 7.3/5.8 for the auto. The Mazda2 has a 42.8 litre tank and we saw the low 8s with enthusiastic city driving, backroad pounding and limited highway driving. A little less hammering of the go pedal would have easily seen us consistently in the mid-7 range.

The Mazda2 is way up there in the fun to drive part of the compact car category. Yes, the price does start out slightly higher than a few of its competitors, but the standard feature list is good, and the fact that it has a timing chain means that operating costs start low and remain low.

This is the smallest family car in Mazda's Canadian lineup. Clearly the Mazda2 thinks it's a baby brother to the Miata and thankfully ~ it is. Zoom, zoom.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Mazda, 2011, Mazda2, $10,000 - $19,999,

Organizations: Mazda

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