Mazda is marketing its Mazda2 subcompact hatchback under the “Zoom Zoom Concentrated” tagline and it’s a nice thought, this idea that buyers want sexy and affordable grocery getters.
All things being equal, there is probably truth in this. As one product development boss told me recently, “We believe people still love cars; it’s our job to build cars people fall in love with.”
The thing is, though, when it comes to entry-level cars like the 2, buyers are mostly smitten by price and practicality. Throw in nifty looks and entertaining handling and you might hit the tipping point – as long as the price is right.
Consider the Hyundai Accent. This homely little runabout with the limp performance and the bare bones cabin is the sixth best-selling car in Canada not because it has any zoom at all. No, the Accent sells because it’s dirt cheap. Hyundai has been touting the $9,995 version for what seems like years now.
The five-door hatchback Mazda2 is far from cheap. The base version starts at $13,995. Go for the full Yozora Edition and you’re in for another $5,285. Thus, a grand total about twice that of the cheapest Accent three-door hatchback.
This is not to undermine all that Yozora stuff; it’s all pretty cool: 16-inch alloy wheels wearing Toyo Proxes T1R performance tires plus winter tires with steel wheels; Yozora floor mats, badging and a rear spoiler; chrome tailpipe finisher; and a whole bunch of other “convenience” items like keyless entry and steering wheel-mounted controls. I felt 20 years younger just driving it.
If I’d bought it, I would have been thousands lighter in the wallet, too – thousands that many first-time or entry buyers simply cannot afford to spend.
Moreover, the 2011 Mazda2 is not a breakthrough vehicle. Oh, it’s a breakthrough for Mazda Canada; dealers have been begging for a subcompact model for years. And it really is a very fine car. It’s just not great.
The interior is solid, not stunning. The acceleration and handling are in line with others in the segment, but not class-leading. Fuel economy is decent for the class, not mind-boggling. The interior has enough space, but it’s not huge and it’s not particularly versatile.
In this class of car, if you want utilitarian, you go with the Honda Fit. It’s a tiny minivan with hinged doors and multi-configurable fold-flat rear seats. Its cargo-carry versatility is a marvel.
Compared to the Fit, the Mazda has much less cargo room with the rear seats upright. The Fit’s flat-folding seats increase usable space for big loads to a number far beyond the Mazda2’s capabilities.
Still, at just over six feet and about 200 pounds, I can sit in the back seat of the Mazda2. Comfortably. Without crushing my skull on the roof and banging my knees into the front seatback.
Let’s give credit to Mazda for a tilt steering wheel and long seat tracks. Both are good for drivers settling into place. Take points away because both the Fit and Ford Fiesta offer a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel.
And why Mazda hasn’t equipped the 2 with a dedicated USB jack is beyond me. Okay, there’s a generic auxiliary jack, but both the Fit and Fiesta offer a USB port. Music lovers in the 21st century want that to control an iPod through the car's audio system.
Storage? There’s a large open-top centre console with usable small-item trays. Less usable are the shallow cup holders. At least the door pockets can handle pop bottles and soda cans.
Mazda does make good interiors and the 2 is no exception. The materials and assembly are at or above class standards: panels fit tightly, the plastics are nicely grained, and the front seats are comfortable and reasonably supportive. I even applaud the giant speedometer. Who cares that it leaves little room for the tachometer.
Where does this leave us? Well, I’d take the Mazda2 over the Toyota Yaris or Nissan Versa, and if I needed something not entirely practical, I might take it over the Fit, too.
The design is one reason, performance is a second. I like the light-footed look of the 2. And under the hood is a 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine cranking out 100 horsepower and 98 lb-ft of torque, which is quite enough for most jobs.
Yes, Mazda’s four-banger has less oomph than the Fiesta (120 hp from 1.6 litres) and the Fit (117 hp from 1.5-litres), yet because the 2 is light and nimble, power is not a problem. A five-speed manual transmission and a four-speed automatic are both available and they’re fine, too.
Who really knows how important Mazda’s typically sporty driving dynamics are to buyers here in the world of $15,000 cars? If they matter to you, give the Mazda2 a look. If nothing else, I’d bet you’ll like the looks.
2011 Mazda2 Yozora Edition
Type: Subcompact hatchback
Base Price: $19,280 ($1,395 freight)
Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder
Horsepower/torque: 100 hp/98 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual or four-speed automatic
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.8 city/5.6 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Chevrolet Aveo 5, Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio5, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris
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