2012 Mazda2 GS Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

The rear wheels are pushed well aft, maximizing t

Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

The Mazda2 has classic small-hatchback styling, enlivened by Mazda's characteristic smiling grille and an upswept character line above the door sill. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

The front seats are comfortable and surprisingly roomy, and red piping adds a touch of flair. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

The dash layout is straightforward and sensible, with all major controls within easy reach. The GS includes metallic trim on the steering wheel, shifter bezel and door handles. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

The cargo area is big enough for groceries, and split-folding rear seats let you transport larger items. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

Power for the Mazda2 is from a zippy 1.5-litre 16-valve 4-cylinder engine generating 100 horsepower and 98 lb-ft of torque. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press)

Published on January 20, 2012

Published on January 20, 2012

Introduced for the 2011 model year in North America, the subcompact Mazda2 represents Mazda's attempt to capture the elusive youth market. To an increasing extent this is a demographic whose members grew up using transit and are more interested in the latest electronic gadgets than the latest, most powerful cars. But that doesn't mean they'll settle for boring econoboxes when they do go car shopping - this media-savvy cohort expects their cars to deliver not just value and practicality, but also an engaging driving experience and seamless connectivity with their beloved gadgets. After trying out a "Spirited Green" 2012 Mazda2 GS for a week, I'd say it does a good job of delivering on most counts.

The Mazda2, which goes up against competitors including the Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent and Chevrolet Sonic, shares its platform with another recent entry into the subcompact segment, the Ford Fiesta. Mechanically, the Mazda2 takes a slightly different route than the Fiesta. Where the Ford is all about the big-car features and is powered by a 1.6-litre, 120-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, the Mazda takes a sportier approach, eschewing the extensive options list and delivering a car that's powered by a smaller 1.5-litre, 16-valve 4-cylinder engine delivering 100 horsepower and 98 lb-ft of torque. Despite its horsepower disadvantage, the The rear wheels are pushed well aft, maximizing the interior room giving the Mazda2 a feisty, planted stance. (Photo: Simon Hill, Canadian Auto Press) Mazda is actually slightly quicker thanks to its lower curb weight (about 100 kg less, depending on options). Acceleration from 0-100 km/h takes just over 10 seconds - not fast, exactly, but brisk enough to be fun.

Both the Mazda2 and the Fiesta come standard with 5-speed manual transmissions but offer available automatics - a 6-speed dual-clutch automated manual for the Ford, and a simpler traditional 4-speed automatic for the Mazda. Which transmission is better is really a matter of personal preference, but I've driven both and each offers perfectly acceptable performance. The Fiesta's sophisticated 6-speed helps eke out a little bit better fuel economy than the Mazda's 4-speed, but the Mazda's traditional unit offers the benefit of being somewhat smoother at low speeds. Mazda rates the Mazda2's city/hwy mileage at 6.8 / 5.6 L/100km for the manual and 7.1 / 5.8 for the automatic (the Fiesta, by comparison, has similar overall ratings but actually gets slightly better city mileage with the automatic versus the manual).

Externally, the Mazda2's styling is classic small hatchback, but Mazda manages to add a little personality with its smiling front end and swept-up character lines running above the sills. The beltline follows the same upward sweep, allowing for expansive side glass and a bright airy feel in the front seats without making the car look like a greenhouse on wheels. At the back, the rear wheels are pushed well aft, which not only maximizes the interior room, but also gives the car a shapely rump and a feisty, planted stance.

Inside, the Mazda2 takes an understated approach that should withstand the test of time well. The dash is laid out in a straightforward, sensible fashion and everything falls easily to hand. The front seats are surprisingly roomy for such a small car and the back seats offer realistic room for two adults provided you're not trying to transport a car-load of basketball players. The cargo area will happily accommodate your weekly groceries, though you'd be hard pressed to put a stroller back there.

On the road the Mazda2 is at once effortless and fun to drive. Its steering is quick and crisp, making it good fun to thread through corners. Not surprisingly, its light weight and subcompact size make it a perfect little city runabout, but perhaps more surprising is its relaxed, competent highway manner. While you might expect a subcompact to be noisy and nervous-feeling on the highway, the Mazda2 is settled-feeling and reasonably quiet.

The only two negatives in my driving notes relate to the rather hollow-sounding interior panel at the back of the hatch (if your cargo slides backward under acceleration and hits the back of the hatch, it makes a resounding crash) and the positioning of the automatic transmission's overdrive shut-off switch (rather than relying strictly on the gearshift selector to force the automatic transmission into the lower gear ranges, Mazda put an overdrive shut-off button on the gearshift lever, which I kept accidentally pressing when using the shifter).

In base trim the Mazda2 takes a bit of an Occam's Razor approach to things ("the simplest answer is best"). You won't find much in the way of extraneous gadgets onboard, but for $14,095 (plus $1,495 in delivery charges) you still get power locks, power windows and power mirrors, tilt steering, a 2-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary input, 12-volt outlet, a centre console with cupholders, split-folding rear seats, rear wiper and washer, plus a full array of safety equipment including stability control, ABS brakes and multiple airbags.

My $19,345 GS test car added air-conditioning, alloy wheels, roof spoiler, side sill extensions, leather-wrapped steering wheel, automatic headlights, fog lamps, rain-sensing wipers, heated door mirrors, a six-speaker audio system, remote keyless entry, silver interior accents, exterior temperature gauge, trip computer, and cruise control with steering-wheel mounted cruise and audio controls. Notably missing from this list of included options is Bluetooth connectivity, but that's available as a separate $389 accessory. Indeed, tearing a page from Scion, the Mazda2 has an extensive list of available accessories ranging from the practical (Bluetooth, parking sensors, auto-dimming mirror) to the race-inspired (lowering kit, "radical" rear spoiler).

This "a la carte" approach to accessories allows buyers to get exactly the features they want without needlessly bundled extras, just as long as their wish list doesn't extend to the kind of big-car features offered by the Fiesta (such as leather seating and a power moonroof) or the kind of sophisticated connectivity offered by systems like Ford's Sync and Chevrolet's MyLink. Because despite the Mazda2's youth-market orientation, it still doesn't offer connectivity beyond the auxiliary audio input and accessory Bluetooth phone interface.

Still, if what you're looking for is a sharp handling, fun-to-drive subcompact, the Mazda2 is hard to beat. It offers a good all-round blend of practicality, economy and comfort, while maintaining some of the best driving dynamics in the subcompact class. Occam would approve.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Hatchback, Mazda, 2012, Mazda2, $10,000 - $19,999, Subcompact,

Organizations: Mazda

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