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.
In Touring trim, the Mazda2 gets quite a few steering wheel buttons, but the available cabin tech hardly justifies it.
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.
The five-speed manual made the Mazda2 fun to drive, probably much more so than the optional four-speed automatic.
Similar to the Ford Fiesta, with which it shares a platform, the Mazda2 handles well. The wheel is responsive and let us throw it around, quickly jumping from lane to lane, taking advantage of the car's diminutive dimensions.
The suspension is well-tuned, managing to damp out bumps reasonably well, although coming nowhere close to muffling them. We made 100-mile journeys in the car in reasonable comfort, but you would have to be under 25 to take it across country and have a good time.
As our car came in Touring trim, we had a trip computer, which showed average fuel economy of over 35 mpg for most of our time with the car. That number surprised us, as the EPA rating for the Mazda2 is 29 mpg city and 35 mpg highway, and we were in no way hypermiling.
On testing the tank average, we found our real average was 27.8 mpg, definitely in keeping with how we were driving the car. The big discrepancy between the trip computer average and the tank average is troublesome.
It is rare these days to find a new car so bereft of technology. The 2011 Mazda2 plummeted in our scoring system for cabin tech due to its utter lack of features that have become commonplace in so many other cars. And we do not excuse it because it is an economy car, as other carmakers have shown you can still offer modern conveniences at a low price.
Technologies such as variable valve timing are fairly typical these days, keeping the performance score middling. We liked the shift feel of the manual transmission, but it only has five gears. The real highlight of the performance tech was the electric power steering unit, which saves fuel by taking load off of the engine.
The only real win for the Mazda2 is its design. We love the utility of a hatchback, and found that adults could sit comfortably in the rear seats. And there is quite a bit of personality in the car's looks, as it clearly incorporates Mazda's face.
|Model||2011 Mazda Mazda2|
|Powertrain||1.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine; 5-speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||29 mpg city/35 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||27.8 mpg|
|Bluetooth phone support||None|
|Disc player||MP3-compatible single CD|
|MP3 player support||None|
|Other digital audio||Aux input|
|Audio system||6-speaker system|
|Price as tested||$16,165|