I drove both the automatic and manual Mazda 2 within days of each other and while both cars impressed me, the manual 2 is, in my mind, the much better package. On the highway, the four speed-auto runs out of gears causing revs to consistently stay up over 3000 rpms. The manual’s fifth gear is just enough to keep revs and noise down in the cabin. I was cruising at 80 mph on the highway and, unlike the 2 with the auto box, the manual car never sounded buzzy. In fact, the engine sounded remarkably at ease. Impressive. At this speed, even in fifth gear our Four Seasons Honda Fit’s 1.5-liter 4-culinder would have been deafening.
The interior is very basic but it doesn’t feel cheap. The gauge cluster looks a bit generic but the orange backlighting that illuminates them at night gives them an attractive, sporty look. It’s too bad though that the tach in this 5-speed manual is almost too tiny to be functional. The seats are comfortable and look better than you’d expect in a $16,000 subcompact car with substantial side-bolsters and attractive, two-tone seat fabric bordered by bright red side piping. Overall, the Mazda 2’s cabin feels small but not cramped.
My biggest complaint is that only overhead light is mounted too far forward to adequately light the rear seat. Not a big deal if you’re just trying to find items in the back seat like I was, but for people that often have back seat passengers such as kids or pets, it could be issue.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
David Zenlea stated in his review of the Mazda 2 in our September issue that it’s an ideal “slow” car, but I think I would have found it a little more ideal if I’d had a chance to drive one with a manual transmission. The 2 doesn’t have a lot of power (100 hp, to be precise), and the manual is surely better suited to getting the most out of the little four-cylinder than the outdated four-speed automatic.
However, that doesn’t mean the Mazda 2 doesn’t have a lot to recommend it. The car is small and light, meaning it’s quite maneuverable, and despite its short wheelbase it handles road irregularities well. The cabin is reasonably roomy and, while not filled with amenities, doesn’t feel like a penalty box. For me, a huge plus is the fact that it’s a four-door. That makes it easier to haul extra people or kids and to have access to items you might throw on the rear seat. It also makes it easier to lower the seats when you need to use the rear hatch for carrying bulky items.
Another factor that tips the scales in favor of the manual is mpg, which is 29/35 with the manual, and 27/33 with the automatic.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
I walked away impressed after driving our European-spec Four Seasons Mazda2 (in Europe), and now that I’ve experienced this U.S.-spec car, I’m happy to report very little was lost in translation. Handling is still sharp and agile, although the suspension tuning does feel a little softer in the U.S. car. Just as well, I suppose — I hit some stretches of pavement that are typically brutal to passengers in subcompacts, but the Mazda2 remained surprisingly comfortable.
The 100-hp, 1.5-liter I-4 offers adequate power for a small car like this, but the four-speed automatic is a bit of a detriment. Acceleration is anything but brisk, and it slows further when you add passengers. Until Mazda can work an extra gear or two into this package, I’d opt for the five-speed manual transmission instead. It was great for helping the European 2 over the hills of Switzerland, and it also allows the engine to run slower during long cruises.
I much prefer the Touring model’s cabin to the base 2 interior; although the plastic trim is shared between the two, the Touring receives some snazzy seat covers, replete with checkerboard inserts and red piping. I did, however, have some difficulty warming up to some control arrangements. The power door lock switch, for instance, is on the center console, and it — like switches on the door panels — isn’t illuminated at night.
I think the 2 has what it takes to be a competitor in the crowded subcompact market here in the U.S., but I’ll be interested to see how it fares against the similar Ford Fiesta. Given the massive marketing push Ford’s made for its small car, I fear the 2 could be left in the dust.
Evan McCausland,Web Producer
Wow, what a great little hatch. After a year with our Four Seasons Mazda3, I wasn’t blown away with the details of the car. The Mazda2 was a delight to drive, even on the highway, where it managed to feel much more substantial than its small size would have you think. I particularly liked the black trim around the cabin controls. It’s a nice way to break up the dashboard visually without costing a whole lot more.
The four-speed automatic was surprisingly good, although I have to admit I had rather low expectations for the transmission. I can’t imagine paying $800 extra for the automatic to lose 2 mpg in the city and on the highway, though. Mazda is at a marketing disadvantage with a four-speed automatic because the very similar Ford Fiesta offers a six-speed dual-clutch transmission for those who do not wish to shift for themselves, and the EPA rates Ford’s Fiesta as high as 29/40 mpg with the six-speed.
The difference in transmissions really explains how different Ford and Mazda’s approaches are to the small hatch segment. Mazda is offering very good basic cars with average equipment while Ford is pushing the technology envelope and piling on the options to make the Fiesta more profitable. If we were looking at $5 per gallon gas prices, then Ford would be a clear winner. It will be interesting to check sales figures after both cars have been on sale for a while to see which was the better approach.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Producer
This car might be built on a great, fun-to-drive platform, but that wasn’t exactly obvious during my first evening with the 2, as our test car was equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission. “Slow” doesn’t begin to describe its straight-line performance.
I had high hopes that a stick shift would transform the 2 into a vehicle that properly belongs in Mazda’s “zoom-zoom” lineup, and after I spent some time in our five-speed test car I was not disappointed. Gotta get the stick — no question about it.
Phil brings up some great points about how Mazda and Ford are differing their approaches to marketing the 2 and the Fiesta, respectively. My take is that the Fiesta, in addition to offering better technology, looks a lot better and also comes across as much cooler, which is an important consideration in the subcompact segment.
Inside, the 2 is packaged well, and I was able to sit behind myself fairly comfortably (it must be noted that I’m only five-foot-six, however). I liked the Touring trim level’s interior fabric, which sports a cross-stitched pattern that reminds me of the Honda CR-Z‘s upholstery.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
We’ve had two versions of the Mazda2 in the office recently, one with an automatic transmission and one with a manual. I drove only the latter. I was impressed by the cabin, which isn’t exactly bursting with fabulousness but is far from cheap. The design is pleasing and there are three cupholders alone in the center console between the front seats, plus room for cell phones and other miscellany. These sorts of features are very important to buyers in this category.
I have no complaints about the modest powertrain, as it will meet most people’s needs just fine. But I did come away from my brief drive wishing that the little Mazda had sharper suspension tuning. It’s just a little too soft for my tastes.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
After the odd C63 AMG, Porsche Turbo, and Boxster Spyder, I thought a little time in the Mazda 2 was called for as a sort of penance. But hey, not bad at all, especially in Touring trim, which is really snazzy (as described by Evan McCausland). I would say that, for the price, there’s plenty of the fabulousness DeMatio doesn’t seem to find. Loved the stick, gearing was quite nice, steering was just fine, and a 100-mile freeway drive felt totally composed. They’ve been repaving our roads. Hitting the old clumpy post-winter pavement wasn’t very pleasant and revealed the soft underbelly of the little hatch.
I, too, wonder how the Mazda 2 will stack up against the Fiesta. Looking forward to that comparison.
Jean Jennings, President and Editor-In-Chief
With the Fiesta, Ford is hoping to lure buyers into $21,000 subcompacts with high-end features like keyless ignition, satellite radio, and heated, leather seats. The Mazda 2 takes a decidedly different tack, minimizing the options and the luxuries in favor of a bargain price tag. Make no mistake, though. This isn’t a stripper. Instead, Mazda includes the bare essentials that make for a well-equipped, but not opulent, vehicle. Choose the $16,185 Touring model with the manual transmission, you get an auxiliary audio input, power windows and locks, and cruise control. You even get some frivolities like foglights, steering-wheel audio controls, and red piping on the seats. However, you can’t get Bluetooth, which is increasingly required equipment as states adopt handsfree phone laws. As a whole, it works out to be a great car for the buyer who wants the warranty and reliability of a new car but is strapped for cash. Frankly, the 2’s pricing and packaging makes me think of the Hyundai and Kia value buys from three years ago.
The 2 also drives quite nicely. Yes, it’s underpowered, but just like my first car — a 2003 Protege5 — this Mazda rewards the driver for maintaining momentum through corners. As Joe mentioned, there’s room to stiffen the suspension, but I suspect the typical buyer will be more impressed by how comfortable such a small, affordable car is.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
2011 Mazda 2 Touring
Base price (with destination): $16,185 M/T; $16,985 A/T
Price as tested: $16,185 M/T; $16,985 A/T
1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine
5-speed manual transmission
Dynamic stability control
Tire pressure monitoring system
Front disc brake; rear drum brake
Power door locks
Tilt steering wheel
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Cruise control with steering wheel-mounted controls
Remote keyless entry
AM/FM/CD/MP3 compatible radio with 6 speakers
Auxiliary audio input jack
Steering wheel-mounted audio controls
60/40 rear seat split
Options on this vehicle:
4-speed automatic transmission — $800
Key options not on vehicle:
Auto-dimming rearview mirror — $295
Pearl paint — $200
Wheel locks — $50
Cargo net — $40
29 / 35 / 32 mpg M/T
27 / 33 / 30 mpg A/T
Size: 1.5L 16-valve I-4
Horsepower: 100 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 98 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
5-speed manual/4-speed automatic
2306 lbs M/T; 2359 lbs A/T
15 x 6-inch alloy wheels, 185/55R15 all-season tires