12 MONTH CAR REVIEWS: 2008 Mazda 2 - Four Seasons Wrap-Up

January 13, 2010
1002 07 Z+2008 Mazda 2+side View
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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.
1002 07 Z+2008 Mazda 2+side View
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."
With the sport package, we got a leather-covered wheel for the electric power steering, but that was about the only luxurious aspect to the interior, which was mostly finished in hard plastic. The cloth-covered seats were comfortable enough, but the driver's seat presented the single most annoying aspect of the vehicle. It could be manually regulated in height by just one inch, during which it translated fore and aft by an inch and three-quarters. That's fine, but to make the change - which was absolutely necessary when the two principal drivers varied in height by eleven inches - took thirty-two strokes of the not-particularly-light manual lever on the outboard side of the cushion. This was especially aggravating because in typical small French cars, it takes just one move of a similar lever for the seat to spring up to its top position.
1002 06 Z+2008 Mazda 2+front View
Luggage room is limited, but the trunk accepts a full-size hard suitcase and a regulation carry-on bag easily enough. Lift-over height is excessive, presumably to allow adequate structure in the transverse panel below the sill, but for ordinary grocery runs it was fine. In general, body quality is well above the class average, with tight fits and doors that close with a quiet click, no slamming needed. The service history was simple: there was nothing to do during 16,576 miles. Everything worked every time; nothing broke.
Up to now, there's been no alternative to the slick-shifting five-speed manual gearbox for European-market 2s, but a four-speed automatic will be offered to suit American preferences. In that case, a bit more displacement would be welcome, but for normal commuting and travel, the specification of our Four Seasons car was highly satisfactory. Web producer Evan McCausland used the Mazda 2 during the 2009 Geneva motor show, and he concluded, "I've not seen a small car so refined both about town and on the expressway," which confirms our original appreciation. The 2's very modern design is likely to create new enthusiasm for capable small cars, much like the far more expensive Mini has done. With its lively responsiveness, high fun-to-drive quotient, and low running costs, the Mazda 2 is a great car for tough times.
Pros + Cons
1002 02 Z+2008 Mazda 2+front Interior
+ Ideal in the city
+ Very good on highways
+ Cheap to run, maintain
- Hard plastics in the cabin
- Fiddly seat-height adjuster
- Limited luggage space
Prices & Equipment
Base price
$18,800*
Price as tested
$20,450*
Standard equipment
ABS; air-conditioning; keyless entry; power front windows, mirrors, and door locks; front, side, and side curtain air bags
Our options
Metallic paint, $500*;
sport package (automatic climate control, automatic headlights, rain-sensing windshield wipers, trip computer, power rear windows, cruise control, sixteen-inch aluminum wheels, foglights, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, front and rear spoilers), $1150*
*Rounded prices converted from euros, before 19.6% French sales tax
Overview
body style 4-door hatchback
accommodation 5 passengers
construction Steel unibody
Powertrain
Engine 16-valve DOHC I-4
Displacement 1.5 liters (91 cu in)
Horsepower 102 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque 101 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Transmission type 5-speed manual
Drive Front-wheel
Chassis
Steering Power rack-and-pinion
lock-to-lock 2.7 turns
turning circle 32.2 ft
Suspension, front Strut-type, coil springs
Suspension, rear Torsion beam, coil springs
Brakes f/r Vented discs/drums, ABS
Tires Toyo Proxes R31
Tire size 195/45VR-16
Measurements
headroom f/r 39.5/37.8 in
legroom f/r 42.0/34.8 in
shoulder room f/r 52.8/50.2 in
L x W x H 153.3 x 66.7 x 58.1 in
Wheelbase 98.0 in
Track f/r 57.7/57.3 in
Weight 2117 lb
cargo capacity 8.8/16.6 cu ft
(rear seats up/down)
fuel capacity 11.3 gal
est. fuel range 375 miles
fuel grade 91 octane

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