By now, everyone in America knows that the sub-compact Ford Fiesta will appear on dealer lots this year; the far-reaching marketing campaigns have been relentless and clever. But peeking out from behind the Ford’s shadow, ready to spring itself on us is the third-generation – but first in America – 2011 Mazda 2, Mazda’s answer to our growing demand for smaller cars with better fuel economy and budget pricing. The Mazda 2 is as sub-compact as they come, shorter than the Honda Fit , Nissan Versa and Fiesta, and brings with it driving dynamics befitting a company that prides itself on its racing tradition. Yep, you heard right, the Mazda 2 is a B-car that drives well. And it’s a good thing that it does, because that – and the nearly $1,200 price difference – is what separates it from the Fiesta. A 1.5-liter engine, great brakes and a suspension that holds its own over torn-up city streets lead us to believe that the Mazda 2 might be the best-driving subcompact at this price. If only the interior lived up to the drive quality. There are a touch too many hard plastics and not nearly enough tech features – odd, considering their tech-savvy target audience. But this is all part of Mazda’s big plan for the small car. They’ve set the price low and focused on the drive to rein in a different buyer – and that’s smart.
What's to Like
Mazda made the drive a priority when developing the Mazda 2, and it shows. Keeping trim levels simple – there are only 24 possible ways to build the car – will ensure the model you want will be sitting at the dealership. Pricing is spectacular, undercutting the Fiesta and Fit, at $13,980 to start. Better yet, you can’t spend more than $17,000 on this car.
What's Not to Like
Interior doesn’t hold a candle to others in the segment; fewer hard plastics would have made a world of difference. A lack of tech features that come standard on competitors – like Bluetooth and an iPod connector – means the Mazda 2 is already outdating itself. Rear space is will be cramped for taller passengers.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
Performance of sub-compact cars is historically underwhelming. Even those with more power sometimes don’t know how to manage it. The Mazda 2 has taken very little horsepower – 100, to be exact – and put it to work, delivering a solid drive. Weight reduction is the key here, and Mazda has shaved pounds wherever they could – it’s more than 200 lbs lighter than the Fiesta. As a result, the Mazda 2 feels peppy and competent – with acceleration that won’t deter you from passing slow-moving tractors. The wel...