Mazda2 Confidential • The Secret Lives of Automotive Journalists

or The Mazda2 Lifestyle Drive Experience • Release Your Inner Driver!

A review of the 2011 Mazda2
By John Kimball

This is the 2011 Mazda2. It’s a nimble little rascal that slots in below the best-selling Mazda3 in Mazda’s 2011 U.S. lineup. It’s the first “B-Segment” vehicle that Mazda has been audacious enough to bring to the States. However, it’s no stranger to our friends overseas where it has been winning awards for quality, value, and performance since its introduction in 2008. The big question is, will it gain traction in the U.S. market?

Full Disclosure: Mazda flew us to Montreal so we could experience the Mazda2 Lifestyle Drive.. umm, Experience. While there, we were treated with a breed of hospitality that only a 17th century French-founded colony can offer.

What exactly is the Mazda2 lifestyle you ask? In my experience, it consists of 9 course meals, wine glasses that never empty, and a steady stream of über-chic vodka bars and incredible French bistros.

Automotive Journalists and PR Managers are among the most hedonistic creatures on the planet. I’m not sure what I expected on my virginal first press tour, but drunkenly waxing philosophical making new friends, staggering to bed at 3 a.m. strolling the promenade, and sweating off a couple bottles of wine diligently preparing for my journalistic duties, would not have been among my first guesses.

But that’s another story; you’re interested in the Mazda2.

If you read my previous post you’ll know that I have a deep affinity for Mazda and the core principles that guide them as a car maker. You’ll also know that I’ve placed some fairly high expectations on the Mazda2. This leaves us with some questions:

Is it a good car? Has it fulfilled my every desire? And finally: Should you buy one?

The answers to which are: Absolutely, No, and, that depends.

I’ll tell you this much, it did release my inner driver:

Let’s start with the most important aspect, the ergonomics of the Mazda2. I take the ergonomics of a vehicle very seriously. The more comfortable you are when operating a vehicle, the more attention and energy you can devote to driving. The overall seating position in the Mazda2 is surprisingly good, I’m 6′ 3″ and my faux hawk remained blissfully intact.

The pedal placement and offset is excellent, perfect for drivers that take advantage of heel-and-toe downshifting. Drivers with feet of all shapes and sizes should feel right at home (my weapons of choice come in size 13). However, the brake pedal is a bit too soft for my taste. But my daily driver is a halfway-built Spec Miata, so I might be used to an extra firm pedal. In any case the ABS is fantastic, so even if you get a little enthusiastic under braking, you’ll be taken care of.

The shifter is quite enjoyable as well. Adam Berrera (@highmileage) says: “the shifter is precise, and you can definitely tell it comes from the same company that made the Miata.” I wholeheartedly agree. It has a short throw, gives great feedback, and has a counterweight that rivals Mjölnir in size and proficiency. It rewards you with brisk, effortless shifts, which have the lovely side effect of inflating ones driving-ego (I’m a driving God!!!! …of thunder).

The automatic version is much more sedate. We changed cars after another spectacular lunch and it was a polar switch from the manual transmission. Maybe it was the heavy food, but I found myself cruising instead of hooning. If you’re looking for optimal fuel economy, get the automatic. The manual will have you rapping it out at every stoplight.

Luggage goes here!

The rear seat and cargo room? Adequate. I found enough room to be comfortable on a short trip, and in a pinch you could squeeze a couple of guys my size back there. Hauling luggage and not people? You’ll be able to shoehorn 4 carry-ons and some other personal items in the hatch. According to the Mazda2’s Line Manager Chris Hill, the Mazda2 was designed to primarily carry one or two people at a time, which is most common when commuting or doing short trips around town. It makes logical sense to me, as I’ve only used the back seat of my 2001 Volkswagen Golf maybe 10 times in the four years I’ve owned it (for hauling people ;) ).

“Adding power makes you faster on the straights. Subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere”
~Colin Chapman

This car is light, ridiculously light. Weighing in at just 2306 pounds, it’s a featherweight by modern standards. Let’s briefly compare it to a similar car in its segment, the new Ford Fiesta. The new Fiesta weighs in at around 2462 pounds, which is pretty darn light. But the Mazda2 weighs 156 pounds less. That’s 156 pounds that it doesn’t have to accelerate, brake, or turn. Did you ever play crack the whip as a kid? It’s just like snapping off the unfortunate kid on the end.

The handling is surprising, but in a good way. It’s not on par with the Miata by any means, but it turns in and bites hard. Insert joke here. Light-weight is a huge advantage in this arena and the suspension takes good advantage of it. It’s relatively lightly sprung, so a stiffer set of springs and dampers could really turn it into a corner gobbling machine. In a lot of ways, the Mazda2 reminds me of the original Volkswagen Rabbit GTI.

Some good news for enthusiasts: the Mazda2 uses the same size wheels as the NB Miata & Integra Type-R (a 15″ by 6″), so lightweight wheels and sticky tire sizing shouldn’t be an issue. Also, it’s equipped with TCS that is (cue dramatic music) FULLY DEFEATABLE! Hit the off switch and it actually stays off! That was just about the best news I heard all day. I wish I’d had the opportunity to test it further, but in lieu of that I can say this: the few freeway on-ramps I chucked it into put a smile on my face. Whoever sets this car up for H-Stock Auto-X competition will probably be wearing a new jacket by the end of 2011.

So, is it a good car?

Yes. I’m most impressed with the Mazda2’s low weight, because it makes the car playful. You’ll find yourself revving out the engine and grabbing another gear. You’ll feel it most of all in the corners, where the handling is exciting, and also in the pocketbook, where it’s low cost and fuel economy will pay you back. The 2 is also quite good looking, I caught quite a few stares and fingers directed at me while driving around Montreal, and I’m choosing to attribute them to the car, not my personal hygiene.

Has it fulfilled my every desire?

No. Sadly, it’s relatively underpowered. The 1.5L 16-valve 4-cylinder motor produces 100-hp and 98 lb-ft of torque, and unfortunately it doesn’t feel faster than it sounds. I would say that it’s acceptable at best. Also, the rev limiter is inaudible and the brake pedal is too soft. And despite all of its tricks, I would have expected a bit better fuel economy or at least a little more power.

So, should you buy one?

That’s up to you, but I think it’s a good value. The first thing my wife said when she hopped in our ‘01 VW Golf was that she missed the 2. I’m in the same boat, because the Mazda2 was simply much more fun. That’s what this car is all about really: getting you from A to B with a splash of excitement.

Overall it’s agile, has enough room, looks good, and makes sense in a no-frills transportation sort of way. If you’re considering any of the B-cars now available in the U.S., you should definitely give the Mazda2 a good look over. However, if you’re a sports car enthusiast who wants a fun and fast daily driver, then you might want to wait for the MazdaSpeed2 (or in my case, the next RX-7), should the great folks at Mazda ever decide to make one.

Thanks to the wonderful folks at Mazda of North America, I’m sincerely grateful that you chose me and my wife to come and see what the Mazda lifestyle Is all about. Mazda continually succeeds at building cars for people that like to drive, and it’s not hard to understand why. They employ enthusiasts. Patrick Dempsey, notable actor and driver, races their cars. His fee? Voice-over work on their commercials. Jeremy Barnes, PR manager for Mazda, races in a popular road race series called Spec-Miata, a series which I’m hoping to join quite soon. (I’ll see you out there next year! Take that as you will—veiled threat, warning, or enthusiastic greeting) Chris Bretschger, Social Media Manager for Mazda North America, races sailboats up and down the west coast and sometimes goes as far as Hawaii (how cool is that!).

On any given weekend there are more Mazdas on the road race tracks of America than any other brand of vehicle.

That’s quite a statistic, but here’s what I think: Mazda has always had racing in its blood and the infection is spreading.