Driven: 2011 Mazda2

If you have a pulse and access to the Internet these days (the latter doesn't always require the former), you've probably been exposed quite a bit to the Ford Fiesta. The little Ford has been all over Youtube, Twitter, and (shameless plug alert) our own web site. But the Fiesta isn't the only hot subcompact launching this summer. No, we're also being introduced to its cute older sibling, the Mazda 2. Back in 2007, Mazda introduced its slick-looking, youth-friendly hatchback on the same B-segment platform that would spawn the Fiesta. It proved a huge hit in Europe, surpassing 100,000 sales in its first year on the market, and was named World Car of the Year for 2008. We liked it enough to conduct a rare European Four Seasons test on one, and called it a "great car for tough times." But until recently, there were no plans for the car to make it to our market, despite the steadily growing demand for budget-friendly subcompacts. Now Mazda, all but cut off from its sugar daddy in Dearborn (Ford still retains an 13.8 percent share), has decided to crash the Fiesta's party by launching the 2 here this summer.

Dieting for its U.S. debut

As a reward of sorts for our patience, Mazda is giving the North American market the first crack at the next generation of the 2. To spot what exactly makes it "next generation," though, you'll have to take out the scales. Under its virtually unchanged skin, the 2's unibody is lighter and stiffer, thanks to increased use of high-strength steel. The weight shaving didn't end there, as Mazda engineers swapped in simpler, one-piece control arms, a new shifter assembly for the automatic transmission, a smaller radiator, a redesigned wiring harness, electric (rather than hydraulic) power steering, and a lighter air intake. These and other similarly picayune measures add up to an impressive 220-pound weight savings on a car that was pretty darn light to begin with. At 2306 pounds with a manual transmission, it's about 100 pounds slimmer than a Honda Fit and, more tellingly, some 200 pounds lighter than the Fiesta with which it shares its basic design.

Otherwise, our 2 is very similar to what's been sold abroad. Not surprisingly, we'll have fewer choices in body styles and engines. The American model will be available only as a four-door hatchback powered by a 1.5-liter four-cylinder, with either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic. The only other choices a customer will need to make is trim level -- base Sport or Touring -- and color (we recommend either lime green or baby blue).

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I would be curious to see how the real world fuel mileage compares with that of the Fiesta. I suspect that the Fiesta has its highway number because of uselessly tall gearing. Detroit has always been willing to sacrifice drivability for a good number on the EPA test in times of CAFE escalation. It wouldn't surprise me if owners see practically identical results combined with a better driving experience in the Mazda 2.I really don't agree that sacrificing room for style makes any sense in this segment in the US. These are not aspirational cars. I'd rather have a useful b-segment car like a Fit rather than an overstyled one like a Fiesta.

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