The 2012 Mazda2 is simple, understated, and slow. In other words, it is the epitome of a Mazda. This underpowered hatchback reminds me an awful lot of my first car, a Mazda Protege5. It's slightly weak in the powertrain department (98 lb-ft of torque!), but compensating factors are the car's exceptional handling and the engine's unusual willingness to rev. The 2 is a momentum car -- a car that rewards you for driving smoothly and invites you to carry your speed through turns with its utterly predictable handling and respectable body control. The only place where this Mazda doesn't quite feel up to Zoom-Zoom standards is the steering. The 2's tiller would inspire even more confidence with a bit more resistance to quick direction changes. That said, Mazda carries the subcompact class in driving dynamics. The Fiat 500 and Ford Fiesta come closest to offering a similar driving experience, but neither of those cars is as good as the Mazda in steering or shift feel.
As an automotive journalist who drives every car on the market without having to actually pay for them, I often find myself justifying a car's price premium with its subjective driving attributes. That's not necessary here; the Mazda 2 is also an incredible value. For $16,820, it has everything you absolutely need -- keyless entry, power windows, cruise control, and an auxiliary audio input -- and nothing more. Unfortunately, the optional four-speed automatic transmission isn't exactly a modern piece of hardware. Several competitors offer five- or six-speed automatics that offer better performance, fuel economy, and shift quality. Savvy buyers are better off sticking with the superb five-speed manual that was equipped in our test car.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
My girlfriend often bemoans the fact that nearly every week I add a new entry to the list of cars I want to buy. Most of those entries are sports cars like the Ford Mustang Boss 302, a used Honda S2000, or the new Subaru BRZ. This weekend, however, I surprised her by adding a totally different type of car to that list: the Mazda 2.
A 100-hp, $16,820 economy car isn't as exciting as other cars I'd like to own, but it's a lot more logical. Our Mazda 2 tester provided all the space, equipment, and performance I needed for a weekend of running errands around town. For most people most of the time, the Mazda is as much car as is necessary. Despite the budget price, this 2 Touring is generously equipped, has a surprisingly comfortable ride, and has a really satisfying manual transmission. The Mazda 2 is my new favorite subcompact car, so it gets a spot on my hypothetical list of cars I would buy.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
In Japanese, the word kawaii literally means loveable or cute, but the word has taken on a greater cultural meaning to cover anything that is super cute, bubbly, emotive, and adorable in Japanese society; often, it is used as an exclamation of joy and enthusiasm. If there was any car that could be characterized as kawaii, it would be the Mazda 2. The 2 is as cute as a button with its itty-bitty footprint, smiling front air intake, and round greenhouse - especially when dressed in our tester's vibrant shade of Spirited Green paint. The short wheelbase, however, contributes to a slightly choppy ride, but it's not harsh and the tight dimension helps the 2 earn the title as most fun in class. And despite the all-black interior (and black is the only option), it's still super kawaii with a large, circular speedometer; circular radio display, and red piping on the seats. You may forgo some of the creature comforts offered by the competition, but the 2 will leave you smiling from its cute look and high fun-to-drive factor. Kawaii!
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Web Editor
It's no secret that carmakers are desperately trying to market their cars to a budding crop of young people with expendable income, the so-called millennials. Toyota is making one of the most craven attempts to suck up their cash with its Yaris hatchback. The Yaris is a decent enough car, but its most impressive attributes are an advertising campaign on the internet meme site I Can Haz Cheezburger and a single-blade windshield wiper. My advice to millennial car shoppers? You don't want the Yaris. You don't want the Fiat 500. You want the Mazda 2.
I love the 2's snappy gearshift and clutch, direct and well-weighted steering, and four-cylinder engine that's willing to rev. This is, after all, a Mazda, and to my mind the 2 feels like a hatchback Miata. And, of course, I love the Miata.
Still, the 2 is an underdog: its gas mileage keeps it out of the MPG wars (at 35 mpg, it falls short of the Ford Fiesta SFE by 5 mpg) and it's not shamelessly cute (like the Fiat 500). The 2 is better to drive than most of its competition.
It cuts through the hype and flies under the radar. That makes it a true indie entry into the competition, which gains my approval.
Ben Timmins, Associate Web Editor
My weekend with the Mazda2 couldn't have been more different than my first experience behind the wheel of one. Three years ago, I was threading the little hatchback along the winding mountainous city streets of Lausanne, Switzerland. Now, I'm piloting a U.S.-spec model along wide, flat expanses of eight-lane Michigan interstate. The scenery sure has changed, but the experience of driving the 2 certainly hasn't: it's still a ball of fun to hustle about, offers a surprising amount of room despite its compact stature, and returns decent fuel economy.
The one area where the Mazda2 lags, though, is its interior. The 2's cabin isn't unattractive or cheaply made, but it just feels dated, especially when it comes to available features. Other competitors continue to ramp up the amenities available within B- and C-segment cars, but that evolution seems to evade Mazda's small cars. Bluetooth phone pairing, satellite radio, and a USB audio input for iPods or other digital devices are nowhere to be found, let alone any more sophisticated means of infotainment. Is this a deal-killer for anyone who appreciates the 2's demeanor, pricing, or fuel economy? No - but these are increasingly "must-have" features for young buyers, who frequently shop this segment. Something for Mazda to consider, perhaps, when it's finally time for a mid-cycle refresh.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor