The recipe for success in a time of rising fuel prices is obvious: reduce a vehicle's weight and it will be more economical and faster. Obvious, but not simple to achieve while respecting crashworthiness norms, so Mazda designers and engineers deserve our unstinting admiration. At a time when almost every other car builder in the world has allowed each successive model to become bigger, heavier, and thirstier than the preceding one-the current Honda Accord is 1000 pounds heavier and 22.2 inches longer than the first one in 1981, and the current Volkswagen Rabbit weighs 1200 pounds more than the original 1975 Rabbit-Mazda has chopped about 220 pounds-9 percent-out of the basic Mazda 2 while increasing interior room. That the company improved the style and the aerodynamics in the process provides an excellent lesson. Careful and clever use of high-tensile steel in the body structure and thorough optimization of structural members account for most of the gains, but there's evidence of aircraftlike weight paring all through the car, without it seeming flimsy or excessively cheap.
The interior looks sumptuous, but in fact, the inner door panels, the instrument panel, and the center console elements are made of cheap, hard plastic with no slush moldings in sight. The textures do an excellent job of disguising this cost saving, but how the parts will stand up in service is a fair question. There are two body styles, two- and four-door hatchbacks,managed with different body-side stampings that allow distinct rear-quarter-window profiles, but seating is identical in both.
The Mazda 2 platform serves as the base for the European Ford Fiesta, and the sister cars are noted for their agility. The suspension is a classic strut-type front and a twist-axle rear. While the Fiesta offers a 1.6-liter engine option, the Mazda is more restrained. The base powerplant is a 75-hp, sixteen-valve, twin-cam 1.3-liter four, available in a higher state of tune at 84 hp, with DOHC 103-hp, 1.5-liter gasoline and single-cam 68-hp, 1.4-liter eight-valve diesel engines as options. Dimensionally very close to the two-door Toyota Yaris, the Mazda 2 is suitable for urban and suburban roadways, if not necessarily for cross-country family travel. Ride quality is good but not outstanding. Wheels can be fourteen, fifteen, or sixteen inches in diameter. Acceleration is better than before, but at about ten seconds from rest to 60 mph for the biggest engine, it is hardly exhilarating. Altogether, though, the positive attributes of the Mazda 2 make it a car that ought to be available in our market. There's a good reason it was chosen the 2008 World Car of the Year.
Why We Want It:
It's a fun runabout in the vein of the original Mini, and-joy of joys-it's light.
Why We Need It:
Because the Honda Fit isn't that sporty.