Driven: 2011 Mazda2

Mature performance

The benefits of Mazda's obsessive dieting became crystal clear as we squirted our way through the crowded streets of Montreal and out into rural Quebec. Though the 2 trails most competitors in the grunt department with only 100 hp and 98 lb-ft of torque, acceleration is surprisingly quick and smooth from any speed. The light weight and low center of gravity are also appreciated in turns, where, despite exhibiting more body roll than we expected, the 2 is plenty nimble and rarely stresses its fifteen-inch tires. As in all Mazdas, driver inputs have been tuned exceptionally well. The electric steering is quick and communicative, and the manual gearbox is smoother than the slick-shifting stick in the Honda Fit, though the clutch is a bit numb and binary. Add in the standard stability control and antilock brakes, and the 2 is the perfect slow car -- lively enough to have fun without getting into trouble.

More than its playfulness ("zoom zoom concentrated" Mazda calls it), we were surprised and impressed by the 2's maturity. The simplistic torsion-beam rear suspension calmly absorbs bumps and potholes that would rattle teeth in many competitors. At highway speeds the hums along steadily and, wonder of wonders for such a light and cheap car, quietly. Those who have stayed away from the B-segment because they often drive long distances may have an answer in the 2. Our only complaints after a full day of driving were with the flat seats, which lack any lumbar adjustment, and with the center armrest -- there isn't one unless you pony up for a dealer-installed accessory.

Fuel economy, ho-hum interior potential liabilities

Given the 2's weight advantage and sleek profile, one might have expected it to come in near the head of the subcompact pack in efficiency. Instead, fuel economy is a liability, especially in automatic-equipped models. The old-school four-speed slushbox nets only 27 mpg in the city and 33 on the highway (the five-speed manual does slightly better at 29/35 mpg). That matches the bigger Fit but is a full 7 mpg worse on the highway than a Fiesta equipped with a six-speed dual-clutch automatic. Mazda is working on its next generation of small-displacement engines, but we do wonder if the automaker will be able to keep pace now that it lacks ready access to Ford's parts bin.

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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