Wow, what a great little hatch. After a year with our Four Seasons Mazda3, I wasn't blown away with the details of the car. The Mazda2 was a delight to drive, even on the highway, where it managed to feel much more substantial than its small size would have you think. I particularly liked the black trim around the cabin controls. It's a nice way to break up the dashboard visually without costing a whole lot more.

The four-speed automatic was surprisingly good, although I have to admit I had rather low expectations for the transmission. I can't imagine paying $800 extra for the automatic to lose 2 mpg in the city and on the highway, though. Mazda is at a marketing disadvantage with a four-speed automatic because the very similar Ford Fiesta offers a six-speed dual-clutch transmission for those who do not wish to shift for themselves, and the EPA rates Ford's Fiesta as high as 29/40 mpg with the six-speed.

The difference in transmissions really explains how different Ford and Mazda's approaches are to the small hatch segment. Mazda is offering very good basic cars with average equipment while Ford is pushing the technology envelope and piling on the options to make the Fiesta more profitable. If we were looking at $5 per gallon gas prices, then Ford would be a clear winner. It will be interesting to check sales figures after both cars have been on sale for a while to see which was the better approach.

Phil Floraday, Senior Web Producer

New Car Research

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