The fact that the latest generation of the 2 has been available overseas for a few years now probably has something to do with it. It got a lot of well-deserved attention, and rumours about its arrival in the US and Canada, which took three years to materialize, also contributed to building up our expectations.
The 2012 Mazda2 also has some fierce competition: the Hyundai Accent, Kia Rio and Chevrolet Sonic are all-new, more powerful and better-equipped. On paper, the 2 seems underwhelming, but still shines in certain important aspects.
Not a fuel economy champ
Off the bat, the Mazda2’s modest output of 100 hp and 98 lb-ft of torque, compliments of its 16-valve, 1.5L inline-4, doesn’t measure up to the Accent and Rio’s 138 hp nor the Sonic’s 135 horses. Yes, the 2 weighs about 200 pounds less than these rivals, but a little extra muscle certainly wouldn’t hurt.
The optional 4-speed automatic transmission is also two gears short of several competitors, which most certainly takes its toll on fuel economy. On the other hand, there isn’t much low-rpm torque, so a 6-speed auto could potentially make the car feel more sluggish, and we certainly wouldn’t want that. At 100 km/h, the engine spins at 2,500 rpm.
Speaking of fuel economy, the Mazda2 with the automatic is rated at 7.1/5.8L/100km city/highway. Our average of 7.7L/100km is higher than expected; there’s a notable difference between driving at 80 km/h and 100 km/h (think 1.5 L/100km more). Ironically, the bigger Mazda3 with its SKYACTIV engine delivers better fuel economy.
Still, the 2012 Mazda2 benefits from a quick steering ratio, which results in a very manoeuvrable car. The suspension and tires hold up pretty well on twisty highway on-ramps, too; despite the low power, the 2 remains one of the most fun to drive in its category, more so with the 5-speed manual.
The newly redesigned rivals are bringing much-improved build quality to the subcompact segment, and the Mazda2 can easily hold its own in that regard. The straightforward centre stack is within easy reach, the wheel feels like it belongs in a Mazda6, and the red piping on the textured cloth seat surfaces of our GS tester provide a sporty atmosphere.
There’s a good amount of space inside, despite the car’s outer dimensions, including in back; legroom is adequate and so is headroom, although sitting three adults across will make all of them uncomfortable.
The 377 litres of trunk space are also pretty good, and swell to 787 litres when you fold down the rear seatbacks. On the other hand, if cargo space is what you need, you might want to check out the Nissan Versa or the Honda Fit instead.
Gripes? There’s no front centre armrest, which I can’t live without; the steering column doesn’t telescope, and the sound system doesn’t include a USB port, which more and more rivals are offering. Bluetooth connectivity is a dealer-installed accessory, and you only get one remote keyfob; a second one costs about $250.
Light on features
The 2012 Mazda2 GS with the automatic transmission costs $19,295. For that sum, you get air conditioning, heated mirrors, fog lights, 15” alloy wheels, cruise control, power windows, a trip computer, a leather-wrapped wheel with integrated audio controls and 6 speakers for the stereo.
In comparison, the same money will get you a Kia Rio EX 5-door that includes bigger wheels, a power sunroof, a telescopic steering column, heated front seats and Bluetooth connectivity. A similarly priced Ford Fiesta SE Hatchback could add heated front seats and the SYNC multimedia system. In short, the Mazda2 could use some extra features to match its opponents’ content levels.
In a nutshell, the Mazda2 is a decent, fun to drive and solid little car. It’s not the most powerful, fuel-efficient or spacious one in its class, but the 2 is better than the sum of its parts. Let’s hope it gets some of the SKYACTIV magic in the near future.