We liked the new Mazda 2 from the moment it was announced. The idea of sharply reducing weight and aerodynamic drag while increasing power synced perfectly with our automotive philosophy. In our November 2008 "Cars We Need Now" issue, we called the smallest Mazda "a car that ought to be available for our market." We backed up our belief in its virtues by putting an example in our Four Seasons fleet. Since it wasn't yet available in the United States (it's coming this summer), we asked Mazda Europe to loan us a 1.5-liter four-door hatchback with the sport package in France. The twin-cam four-cylinder pumps out 102 hp and, over our test period, managed a respectable 32 mpg despite most of our use being in low-speed urban traffic.
France's 81-mph motorway speed limit, which is severely enforced these days, presented absolutely no challenge to the car. Accelerate as quickly as possible - it's not impressive, with 0 to 60 mph taking ten seconds or so - set the precise electronic cruise control, sit back knowing that the car will maintain that velocity whatever the terrain, and enjoy the ride. The Mazda 2 was completely free of wind noise, the engine sound was certainly present but not at all unpleasant in its harmonies, and there was a reassuring sense of solidity to the ensemble that deteriorated not a whit in our year with the poisonous yellow hatch.
We made quite a few motorway trips with the 2. It went back and forth from Paris to the Dordogne in southwest France numerous times, trekked east across the Massif Central to Geneva - once with two couples and their luggage for a three-day stay - and easily tackled an all-day run to Turin, Italy, to visit legendary car designer Marcello Gandini. Despite the 2's low weight, it didn't bounce around unpleasantly on the rough roads that abound in rural France, and on smooth ones, it was as comfortable as many much bigger and more cosseting machines. Martin Swig, organizer of the California Mille and a dedicated small-car aficionado, remarked on that after a back-road drive, saying the car "is quick-witted, stable, quiet enough (and the noises you do hear sound good), and it invites spirited driving."