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

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