With the Fiesta, Ford is hoping to lure buyers into $21,000 subcompacts with high-end features like keyless ignition, satellite radio, and heated, leather seats. The Mazda 2 takes a decidedly different tack, minimizing the options and the luxuries in favor of a bargain price tag. Make no mistake, though. This isn't a stripper. Instead, Mazda includes the bare essentials that make for a well-equipped, but not opulent, vehicle. Choose the $16,185 Touring model with the manual transmission, you get an auxiliary audio input, power windows and locks, and cruise control. You even get some frivolities like foglights, steering-wheel audio controls, and red piping on the seats. However, you can't get Bluetooth, which is increasingly required equipment as states adopt handsfree phone laws. As a whole, it works out to be a great car for the buyer who wants the warranty and reliability of a new car but is strapped for cash. Frankly, the 2's pricing and packaging makes me think of the Hyundai and Kia value buys from three years ago.

The 2 also drives quite nicely. Yes, it's underpowered, but just like my first car -- a 2003 Protege5 -- this Mazda rewards the driver for maintaining momentum through corners. As Joe mentioned, there's room to stiffen the suspension, but I suspect the typical buyer will be more impressed by how comfortable such a small, affordable car is.

Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor

New Car Research

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