I walked away impressed after driving our European-spec Four Seasons Mazda2 (in Europe), and now that I've experienced this U.S.-spec car, I'm happy to report very little was lost in translation. Handling is still sharp and agile, although the suspension tuning does feel a little softer in the U.S. car. Just as well, I suppose -- I hit some stretches of pavement that are typically brutal to passengers in subcompacts, but the Mazda2 remained surprisingly comfortable.
The 100-hp, 1.5-liter I-4 offers adequate power for a small car like this, but the four-speed automatic is a bit of a detriment. Acceleration is anything but brisk, and it slows further when you add passengers. Until Mazda can work an extra gear or two into this package, I'd opt for the five-speed manual transmission instead. It was great for helping the European 2 over the hills of Switzerland, and it also allows the engine to run slower during long cruises.
I much prefer the Touring model's cabin to the base 2 interior; although the plastic trim is shared between the two, the Touring receives some snazzy seat covers, replete with checkerboard inserts and red piping. I did, however, have some difficulty warming up to some control arrangements. The power door lock switch, for instance, is on the center console, and it -- like switches on the door panels -- isn't illuminated at night.
I think the 2 has what it takes to be a competitor in the crowded subcompact market here in the U.S., but I'll be interested to see how it fares against the similar Ford Fiesta. Given the massive marketing push Ford's made for its small car, I fear the 2 could be left in the dust.
Evan McCausland,Web Producer