Don’t let the term “econobox” fool you. They may be economical, small cars, but they have a lot to offer. That wasn’t the case a decade ago. Now, competition is heating up in the subcompact car category and auto companies are offering more choices and more value for your money.
The Mazda2 is a prime example. It’s a practical, little hatchback that’s value-packed at an affordable price. So it’s ideal for a student on a tight budget or a new grad making every penny count because this vehicle will save you cash when you buy it and every time you fill up.
Even the base model, a GX, comes with many features you’d expect to pay extra for. It has power door locks, power windows, power mirrors, dual front vanity mirrors, tilt steering, ABS with electronic brake force distribution, dynamic stability control, traction control, side curtain airbags, front seat side air bags, and second-row ISOFIX child seat tether anchors. And the price is only $14,095. Add air conditioning and it’s $15,290, which still won’t break the bank.
The most expensive trim is a GS, which costs $18,195. It comes with a five-speed manual transmission, fog lamps, remote keyless entry, steering-wheel-mounted cruise control and audio controls, air conditioning and rain-sensing windshield wipers. If you want an automatic on this trim, it raises the price to $19,345.
Under the hood is a 1.5-litre, four-cylinder engine with 100 horsepower and 98 lb-ft of torque. Sure, it’s no speed demon, but it’s a capable little car. Getting on the highway isn’t cumbersome – it rises up to the challenge and gets up to speed with faster-moving vehicles easily.
My tester has a five-speed manual transmission with nice short throws. I prefer it over the optional four-speed automatic transmission, which is sluggish. It’s zippy and adds an element of sportiness to an otherwise lackluster ride.
The Mazda2’s compact size makes it easy to park and a cinch to do three-point turns. It’s nimble with quick steering. But best of all, it doesn’t feel like you’re driving a small car – it feels spacious inside.
Fuel economy is another bonus. My tester’s five-speed manual averages 6.8 litres/100 in the city and 5.6 on the highway. The fuel economy is slightly higher with the four-speed automatic, but it has improved over the 2011 model. Now, it gets 7.1 city/5.8 highway compared to last year’s 7.5 city/6.0 highway.
Hatchbacks aren’t the most stylish design, but what they lack in looks they make up for in practicality. The cargo space in the Mazda2 doesn’t disappoint. There’s a lot of room for such a small car. With the rear seats upright, there’s 377 litres of room, which is bigger than some mid-size sedans. Fold down the 60/40-split rear seats and it expands to 787 litres.
The Mazda2 is a boxy car, but it’s not a boring old box on wheels. The exterior has a sporty wedge shape with short body overhangs. It comes in some nice eye-catching colors such as aquatic blue and spirited green.
The inside is much nicer than you’d expect for a car in this segment. From the driver’s seat, it feels like you’re behind the wheel of a pricier Mazda3. There is a lot of plastic material inside, but it’s not distasteful or ugly. It’s designed smartly with easy-to find-functions like large, circular HVAC climate-control dials right at your fingertips. Everything is conveniently located within arm’s length.
Technically, the Mazda2 is made for five, but realistically four would be more comfortable in a vehicle of this size. Head room is ample for rear-seat passengers. But when they’re in the back, they block visibility out the rear. When the rear seats are empty, the rear headrests also block your view out the back – but they can be lowered easily when no one is sitting in the seats.
The cloth upholstery is durable and strong, but the rear seats could use more padding for extra comfort. The front seats are better, but on longer drives they get a bit uncomfortable. The driver’s seat, particularly, lacks lumbar support. But on shorter drives it’s fine – the front passenger and driver will be more than happy.
Another bonus: the 2012 Mazda2 won the ALG Canadian Residual Value Award in the subcompact category; the award recognizes vehicles that retain the highest percentage of their original price after four years. So that’s an extra advantage when it comes to selling your Mazda2 and moving up to a bigger set of wheels.
2012 Mazda2 GS
Type: Four-door, subcompact hatchback
Base Price: $18,195; as tested, $18,584
Engine: 1.5-litre, DOHC, inline-four
Horsepower/torque: 100 hp/98 lb-ft
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 6.8 city/5.6 highway; regular gas
Alternatives: Nissan Versa, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris, Ford Fiesta, Fiat 500