Date Posted: July 21, 2010
By Zack Spencer
The subcompact class is heating up and the Mazda2 offers a good value story
The subcompact market in Canada is about to get a whole lot more crowded. For buyers who are looking for a small, inexpensive car that sips gas, the best sellers have been the Hyundai Accent, Honda Fit, Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa. This summer, both Ford and Mazda have new subcompacts based on a shared platform. Each manufacturer developed the platform and design their own unique image of what a subcompact car should be. In Ford's case they decided to bring the European Fiesta to North America and Mazda decided to bring the second-generation Mazda2 from Japan and Europe to our shores. Ford has a lot to offer with class leading power, a six-speed automatic and impressive fuel rating. Mazda decided to import a less powerful, yet lighter and more nimble car. Both have a place and represent great value for consumers.
At first glance both the Fiesta and Mazda2 look very similar but on closer inspection they each have a unique look. The Mazda has a low nose with an accent line that runs up the side of the car to the hatchback. This wedge approach portrays a sense of speed and flow that gives this little car a solid stance. The raised front fenders found on cars like the Mazda RX8 and Mazda3 showcase the front wheels and build a strong brand identity. Other objectives were to design a car with as long a wheelbase as possible with short overhangs front and back. This helps with the stance but a long wheelbase also improves ride quality. The back window mirrors the opening shape on the front of the car. It might be a small thing but the Mazda2 comes standard with a rear wiper, perfect for BC weather. The Mazda2 is only sold as a 5-door hatchback (no sedan) and starts at $13,995, compared to the 5-door Fiesta at $16,799. It should be pointed out that the Fiesta sedan starts at an impressive $12,594.
What keeps many buyers from looking at a subcompact car is the impression that inexpensive cars must have a cheap interior and design. Not the case, this Mazda2 shows just how far small cars have come. Sold as either a base GX or top-grade GS, the Mazda2 can be kitted out as desired. Impressive standard equipment includes power-operated mirrors, door locks and windows along with auxiliary audio jack and tilt steering. The list of options includes some surprises including rain-sensing windshield wipers, leather wrapped steering wheel, trip-computer and even a dealer installed Bluetooth hands free audio system with USB integration. The front seats are comfortable and roomy, but as one might expect the back seat is best occupied by small children or adults for short journeys. The dash is comprised of soft touch materials with a combination of flat and round shapes that gives a sense of flow and space.
As mentioned, the Mazda2 introduced here is actually the second generation of this car and when the engineers set out to redesign this current model, weight savings was a vital target. In total, the engineers were able to shed ten percent off the previous car by utilizing redesigned components and high-tensile steel. The reason that reducing weight is so important, is that the 1.5L 4-cylinder engine is only rated at 100hp, so every Kilogram mattered. Also, the lighter, rigid body provides a solid platform to bolt the responsive suspension onto. Due to rougher road surfaces in North America the ride was tuned to reduce vibration and harshness into the cabin, making the Mazda2 a surprisingly smooth and quiet car. One area of disappointment is that Mazda, unlike Ford, decided to install a 4-speed automatic in the Mazda2 compared to the Fiesta's 6-speed unit. Yes, it might be a lighter transmission but it is less responsive and effects fuel consumption.
So how does the Mazda2 stack up to the competition in this class? Well, at 100hp it is the least powerful in this class with cars like the Nissan Versa, Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta offering 122hp, 117hp, and 120hp respectively. Yes, the Mazda2 is the lightest and it might be the most nimble but for some, power is important. The 4-speed automatic does a good job under most situations but when driving up a steep hill, for example, the transmission might not have the right ratio for the job and starts to hunt between gears. What the Mazda2 does have on its side is a solid value story. Starting at only $13,995, this little car offers a lot of standard equipment including front, side and curtain air bags, ABS, traction and stability control. There are cheaper cars in the market but most come stripped of these vital safety systems. The Mazda2 is helping to heat up the subcompact class, which even in this era of expensive gasoline has been shrinking over the past year. If you are looking for a small, fun to drive car with a long list of standard safety features for a great price, then the Mazda2 should be considered.
The Good, The Bad
Handling is first rate as are interior noise and vibration levels.
To be honest, the Mazda2 could use a bit more power and an extra gear in the transmission.
Power: 100hp 1.5L 4-cylinder
Fill-up: 7.5L/6.0L/100km (city/highway with automatic)
Sticker price: $13,995-$18,195