With the high gas prices of 2007 and continuing economic troubles, automakers have been banking on new, small cars for American consumers. Ford threw a Fiesta, Kia got a little Soul, and Nissan squared off against the others with the Cube. Now it is Mazda's turn, with the 2011 Mazda2.
Although our car, a Touring trim model, was well-equipped by Mazda's standards, it showed up at a gunfight with a pointy stick. Other cars of its type offer amenities such as Bluetooth phone systems, MP3 player integration, and voice command, but the Mazda2 is about as tech-free as you can imagine these days.
Sure, it has an in-dash CD player that can read MP3s. The stereo even has six speakers. And there is a simple 1/8th-inch auxiliary input. But that is it for cabin tech. No navigation or USB port, no Bluetooth phone system, and not even satellite radio.
With its hatchback body (Mazda doesn't offer a sedan version), expressive face, and Mazda design cues, we liked the modern look of the car. Ours came in a bright green that added pizzazz. So it was odd to enter the cabin and find just a simple radio, with no optional cabin tech.
The radio uses a typical monochrome single-line display. When listening to an MP3 CD, a button lets you view artist, album, and other ID3 tagging information. But choosing music requires sequentially moving from folder to folder.
Given the minimal head unit, we were surprised to find a six-speaker audio system. Tweeters in the A pillars offered some separation, giving it better-than-average sound quality. Of course, a subwoofer would have given it real oomph, but that would have to be an aftermarket addition.
98 foot-pound weakling
Despite the lack of cabin tech, we had quite a bit of fun driving the Mazda2. Maybe it's tech fatigue after driving vehicle after vehicle loaded with complex drive systems or tremendous horsepower, but the Mazda2's simplicity made it an in-demand car for our staff.
The Mazda2 comes with a 1.5-liter engine using variable valve timing to produce 100 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque, pretty average engine tech. Our car came with the standard five-speed manual, which shifted very easily.
Bopping around the city, we happily wound out the engine while keeping it in lower gears. We encouraged sprightly starts off the line by letting the engine rev and dropping the clutch, even chirping the front wheels. We found the shifter moved smoothly from gear to gear, but some city hill climbs could only be done in first. At freeway speeds in fifth gear, the engine ran above 3,000rpm to keep up.