2011 Mazda2 TouringPosted on November 15th, 2010
Sporty subcompact hatchback for active urbanites
By Nina Russin
I have a big soft spot in my heart for little cars. Perhaps it’s because I’m a small person, or that I am, according to a colleague, a ‘raging greenie.’
Being small in a big car world comes with sizeable challenges. Small cars need to keep up, in terms of both comfort and performance. They must be safe. And while they don’t offer the passenger or cargo capability of their bigger siblings, small cars need to have efficient interiors with enough versatility to meet their owners’ lifestyles.
The 2011 Mazda2, a subcompact five-door hatchback, does all of the above surprisingly well. Power comes from a 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 100 horsepower, and choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmissions.
Despite the small engine size, power is ample, thanks to variable valve timing and the right software. Engineers smartly let the transmission hold onto gears and shift at higher engine speeds. The result is more linear acceleration and better torque.
They also kept the chassis lean. Curb weight for the automatic transmission model is 2359 pounds, creating a positive power-to-weight ratio.
Fifteen-inch wheels are large enough to keep the car stable on the highway and through turns. An independent MacPherson strut front suspension and torsion beam rear axle is compliant enough to absorb a few bumps in the road. Monotube front shocks keep the area around the transaxle from acting nose-heavy.
Test drive in Phoenix
I spent time this week behind the wheel of the Mazda2 Touring, driving it around the Phoenix metro area. My test drive included congested streets in downtown Phoenix, freeways and surface roads in the east valley.
The small engine does surprisingly well at speed. I had no problems accelerating from a stop or onto the highway. There is enough on the top end to pass slower cars on the highway. The four-speed transmission had to shift hard on a number of occasions, but it got the job done.
I did notice some lean missing when the car was idling. The symptom was vibration through the steering wheel.
This isn’t unusual, or particularly worrisome, since there is no engine noise indicating detonation. Engineers tune engines on the lean side for better fuel economy.
The engine block and cylinder heads are aluminum, minimizing weight under the hood. This not only helps fuel economy, it creates a better balance between the front and rear on the front-wheel drive platform. Front-to-rear weight distribution is 62/38.
Steering response is good at all speeds. The car’s small footprint makes it ideal for drivers commuting along narrow city streets. Parking on the street is quite easy. On-center response on the highway is positive.
Both base Sport and Touring grades come with front disc and rear drum brakes. I’m not a fan of drums because they can fill with water, resulting in uneven stopping in bad weather. They are also harder to service than discs.
I would guess that the drums were a cost containment measure. Since most of the braking on a front-wheel drive car takes place under the transaxle, rear drums are adequate to get the job done.
Interior quiet is quite good. Passengers in both rows of seating shouldn’t have a problem conversing.
While visibility is important for all cars, it is especially critical for small ones. Drivers in subcompacts should assume that at least some of the people in high-profile vehicles won’t see them. The Mazda2’s low front cowl and large, deep greenhouse make it easy to see vehicles in the perimeter.
I found it easy to monitor traffic when merging onto the freeway and in the adjacent lanes. Good visibility to the sides and back of the vehicle made it easier to weave through some dense traffic downtown. A standard rear wiper keeps the back glass clear in rain and snow.
An attractive interior includes black cloth upholstered seats with red piping and a logically laid-out instrument panel. I like the interplay of shiny and matt plastic on the instrument panel, giving the interior an architectural appearance.
Manual seat adjustments are easy to use. I found the seats comfortable for drives an hour in duration.
Redundant audio controls on the steering wheel are a premium feature unusual for the segment. Controls in the center stack are easy to reach from either front seating position. The standard audio system consists of an AM/FM/CD player with MP3 compatibility.
The gauge cluster is easy to read in bright sunlight. A digital display includes average fuel economy, trip and odometer readings.
Bottle holders in the doors and three large cupholders in the center console are big enough for 20-ounce water bottles. There is no center armrest in the car, but I didn’t find that uncomfortable. Two twelve-volt power points in front recharge portable electronic devices on the go.
Rear seats in the outboard positions have enough head, leg and hip room for average adults. A tall floor tunnel compromises legroom in the middle position.
With the rear seats in place, there’s enough space in the cargo bay for a roller bag or some groceries. The rear seats fold flat to extend the cargo floor. Unfortunately, the pivot point for the seats creates a bump, making it more difficult to load items in back.
All models come with antilock braking, side curtain airbags, stability and traction control. Mazda’s three year/36,000 mile factory warranty comes with roadside assistance.
Mazda builds the Mazda2 at its Hiroshima, Japan assembly plant.
Likes: An affordable, versatile subcompact hatchback with good ride and handling.
Dislike: Pivot point for the rear seats form a bump in the cargo floor, making it more difficult to load in large items.
Model: Mazda2 Touring
Base price: $16,235
As tested: $16,885
Horsepower: 100 Hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 98 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 27/33 mpg city/highway
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