2011 Mazda MAZDA2 Introduction:
With the growing importance for cars to deliver improved fuel economy and a low price, sometimes the “fun to drive” factor is thrown to the wayside, but Mazda has managed to bring a bit of sportiness to the subcompact segment with its all-new 2011 Mazda Mazda2. Go ahead. Just try to find an affordable, practical and economical car that is still enjoyable to drive and isn’t a MAZDA2. Born from the same DNA as the timeless Mazda Miata and the rotary-powered Mazda RX-8, the 2011 Mazda MAZDA2 ensures that new-car buyers won’t have to sacrifice driving pleasure for better fuel economy or improved cargo and passenger space.
Assembled in Hiroshima, Japan, the 2011 Mazda MAZDA2 is available in two trim levels (Sport and Touring) with a starting MSRP of $14,180. Mazda dropped its new MAZDA2 Touring for this review which after options and destination charge had an as-tested price of $17,480. Small cars are notorious for driving great around the city, but we took the MAZDA2 on a 10-hour road trip to test the car’s driveability, fuel economy and, most importantly, comfort.
2011 Mazda MAZDA2 Review: Exterior
The styling of the 2011 Mazda MAZDA2 is inline with Mazda’s current design language right down to the smiley shape of the grille opening in the front fascia. It is actually quite hard to look at the MAZDA2 and not see some sort of personification whether it be the squinting look from the headlights, the cute dimples courtesy of the fog light bezels or the puffy cheeks in the bulging front fender arches. Mazda has tried hard to incorporate these design cues into some of its other models, but the new Mazda Mazda2 definitely pulls of this cute appearance thanks in large part to its small stature and rounded lines.
While the cuteness factor helps tie the MAZDA2 in with this segment, Mazda also designed the car with a bit of sportiness to tie in with other cars in its line-up. On such a small canvas, Mazda was able to inject its sporty “zoom-zoom” attitude into the MAZDA2 by using unique body lines and creases. The most noticeable lines are in its profile with the upswept lines along the rocker panel, shoulder line and belt line all running pretty much parallel. Even more impressive is that these lines are almost at the same angle as the raked windshield making the car seem like it is moving even when still. The creased should line runs the length of the car and terminates at the diamond-shaped taillights.
Most of its rivals are offered in multiple body configurations – including sedans and three-door hatchbacks – but Mazda bucks this trend by offering its MAZDA2 only as a five-door hatchback. One trend Mazda did not miss was the growing number of small cars having conspicuous paint jobs as this test vehicle came in Mazda’s iconic Spirited Green exterior color that can be seen in just about any advertisement.
Paying the additional $1,455 for the MAZDA2 Touring trim level does give the car a slightly better look including chrome exhaust outlets, fog lights, eight-spoke alloy wheels and a small liftgate spoiler, but the only exterior option on this car was the $80 rear bumper guard that didn’t look as out of place as it probably should have thanks to the blacked-out portion of the rear fascia.
2011 Mazda MAZDA2 Review: Interior and Safety
The main downfall of most subcompact cars is usually the interior, but the 2011 Mazda MAZDA2 relies on nifty packaging to deliver a car that is as roomy and comfortable as its exterior dimensions will allow for. Thanks to its unique exterior shape, the MAZDA2 provides a surprising amount of passenger space (especially the two front occupants) while providing a cabin design that is very similar to other models in Mazda’s current line-up. Hard plastics are plentiful throughout the cabin as should be expected in this price range, but Mazda did pay close attention to the touch points.
Stepping up to MAZDA2 Touring improves cabin materials even further with the leather-wrapped steering wheel and added cloth inserts on the door panels. The added cost of this package is definitely more obvious inside than the MAZDA2 rather than outside. All models have black cloth seats, but the Touring trim level also adds contrasting red piping for a sportier appearance. Other standard features on the MAZDA2 Touring include steering wheel-mounted cruise and audio controls and a trip computer found in the instrument cluster gauges.
As far as comfort goes, the seats provided plenty of support during a 10-hour round trip drive, although rear passengers might have felt very cramped on such a long trip. Around town, the MAZDA2’s rear accommodations do provide a decent amount of space for two adult passengers or three smaller kids. The cargo volume of the MAZDA2 is 13.3 cubic feet with the rear seats in place and 27.8 cubic feet with the seats folded down. This latter number is better than the 25.7 cubic feet available in the Toyota Yaris, but far less than the Honda Fit’s 57.3 cubic feet.
Downsizing isn’t without its sacrifices as technology like navigation, Bluetooth and a premium audio system are not offered in the MAZDA2, but a pair of Garmin Nuvi navigation systems and a Motorola Bluetooth hands-free system are available as dealer installed options however. One of the most appreciated options on this test model was the $170 front center armrest for the driver which is even better when considering the fact that some subcompacts don’t even offer this feature that most people won’t notice until it’s not there.
The 2011 Mazda MAZDA2 has yet to be crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gave it “Good” ratings for frontal-impact protection and roof strength and “Acceptable” ratings for side- and rear-impact protection. Standard safety features for all 2011 Mazda MAZDA2 models include six airbags, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock brake system, tire pressure monitoring system and Dynamic Stability Control with Traction Control System.
2011 Mazda MAZDA2 Review: Performance
Behind the grinning grille of the 2011 Mazda MAZDA2 sits a 1.5-liter inline-four that produces just 100 horsepower and 98 lb-ft of torque. While a row-your-own five-speed manual gearbox can help make this car even sportier, this test vehicle was equipped with the optional four-speed automatic transmission. Our suggestion? Save $800 and skip the automatic transmission which is severely outdated especially when compared to some of the more advanced transmissions available in this segment. With the automatic, the MAZDA2 has official EPA fuel economy estimates of 27 miles per gallon in the city and 33 mpg on the highway, but opting for the manual raises both figures by 2 mpg (29 city/35 hwy). These fuel economy numbers will help lessen trips to the pump, but they are all still less than most modern competitors that can hit up to 40 mpg.
Without a whole lot of power to offer, the MAZDA2 relies more on its light curb weight to deliver an enjoyable driving experience. Weighing it at just 2,359 with the automatic transmission, the MAZDA2 weighs about 200 pounds less than the Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta. Like some of Mazda’s other cars, the MAZDA2 is a fun car to drive due to its ability to take just about any corner which would be evident in an autocross event where acceleration isn’t as important as cornering. Mazda managed to make the MAZDA2 a great handling car with a MacPherson front suspension and a torsion beam rear setup. Despite its plentiful fun factor, the 2011 MAZDA2 still provides a comfortable ride around town and would make an excellent commuter car.
2011 Mazda MAZDA2 Review: Summary
As a growing number of automakers look to improve fuel economy with expensive hybrid-electric powertrains, subcompact cars like the 2011 Mazda MAZDA2 are still the easiest and most economical way to drive and live more efficiently. More importantly, the all-new Mazda MAZDA2 proves that downsizing and downgrading are mutually exclusive. With its affordable starting price, the MAZDA2 is a great car for first-time buyers while those just looking to save some money when it comes to filling up the gas tank will appreciate its fuel economy.
The Mazda MAZDA2 couldn’t have come at a more crucial time for Mazda as the subcompact segment is finally hitting its stride with cars like the Ford Fiesta, FIAT 500, Hyundai Accent, Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit filling out the rest of the class; General Motors and Nissan will be introducing their all-new subcompacts later this year with Chevrolet Sonic and Nissan Versa, respectively. With the uncertainty in gasoline prices in recent years along with the improving quality in this segment by almost all automakers, this is a better time than ever for North American car buyers to downsize to more affordable and more fuel-efficient cars, and the 2011 Mazda MAZDA2 is definitely leading the way.
Pros – fun to drive; decent fuel economy; low starting price
Cons – lack of cabin tech may alienate target demographic; ancient four-speed automatic transmission
Mazda provided the vehicle for this road test and review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross