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2011 Mazda2
You may be thinking, "gasp, not another small car." Actually, going small never looked so good

By Malcolm Gunn

2011 Mazda2If you're thinking small for your next new-car purchase, the Mazda2 could become Number One on your shopping list.

The Japanese automaker's perky sub-compact, due to arrive in North America this July, shares its platform with the upcoming Ford Fiesta (Ford retains an interest in Mazda), but goes its own way in terms of design and powertrain.

The Mazda2 originally hit the road in Japan, Europe and Australia back in 2007, countries where buyers tend to gobble up what we North Americans refer to as sub-compacts. Now, virtually every automaker building and/or selling vehicles here wants to be prepared for the next spike in pump prices or if federal or provincial governments decided to dictate more fuel-efficient vehicle standards (as is the case in the United States).

The Mazda2 is a stylish little hatchback that's available only in one body style (the Ford Fiesta will also offer a sedan). That's a shame since Mazda also makes a four-door wagon and two-door hatch variants of the Mazda2 for other countries. Comparatively speaking, the Mazda2 is about 56 centimetres shorter, about 6.5 centimetres narrower and has about 15 centimetres less distance between the front and rear wheels than the Mazda3 hatch/wagon.

2011 Mazda2Mazda's corporate smiley-face nose is much in evidence along with some neatly creased and curvy body panels and a fashionably sculpted rear end. Cabin entry is through a set of wide front doors, while rear-seat access is a bit more awkward (this is a small car, after all), but not a major impediment for average-sized adults.

Once aboard there's more room than you'd expect. Taller drivers should find no major issues with foot, knee and elbow room, but full-size back-seaters will likely request that those in front slide their chairs forward.

The 60:40 split-folding rear bench doesn't fold completely flat into the load floor, but still offers sufficient cargo room for luggage, camping gear and sports equipment, although a roof-mounted rack might be necessary for skis, bikes or other bulkier objects.

The interior's well laid-out control panel isn't overly trim laden, although Mazda's stylists have dressed up the dashboard and control panel for North American tastes. The same goes for the seat fabrics that convey a stronger sense of quality and longevity.

2011 Mazda2Getting under way in the Mazda2 involves a 100-horsepower 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine that's connected to a five-speed manual transmission, or optional four-speed automatic. On Euro-spec cars, Mazda claimed the "2" was capable of performing a zero-to-100-km-h sprint in the 10-second range, which is fairly typical for most sub-compacts.

Mazda's testing indicates that the Mazda2 will achieve city/highway fuel-economy numbers of 7.2/5.6 l/100 km with the five-speed stick, while the rating for the automatic is 7.3/5.8.

As for model selection, the base $14,700 GX will arrive from its home plant in Mexico equipped with cruise control, tilt steering wheel, dual-speaker stereo system and power windows, locks and mirrors.

The $16,200 GS adds air conditioning, cruise control, fancier seats, 15-inch alloy wheels  (instead of steel on base cars), rain-sensing wipers, rear spoiler and a six-speaker audio system with steering-wheel-mounted controls.

In Canada, Mazda will offer a special Yozora (Japanese for "night sky") Edition, highlighted by a black exterior finish, unique spoiler and 16-inch wheels. The Yozora also comes with a backup set of mounted 15-inch snow tires, something that more automakers should consider offering.

There's no sign of a sunroof or leather interior option, but these exclusions might not matter since many Mazda2 shoppers will be budget minded,which means avoiding expensive frills and gewgaws. That's why sub-compacts have traditionally been purchased, but it's entirely possible that the era where content limitations arbitrarily placed on these cars could be nearing an end. Just because it's small and good on gas doesn't mean it has to be short on content.

For now, the Mazda2 is an attractive compromise that delivers comforting features at a compelling price.

What you should know: 2011 Mazda2

Type: Four-door sub-compact hatchback
Engine (hp): 1.5-litre DOHC four-cylinder (100)
Transmissions: Five-speed manual; four-speed automatic (opt.)
Market position: The number of small cars available to North American buyers will experience significant growth in the next 12-18 months, just in time for upcoming tougher fuel economy standards and steadily increasing pump prices.
Points: Super-smart design: Almost 60 centimetres shorter than a Mazda3; Expected fuel economy mirrors Honda Fit, but lags slightly behind Toyota Yaris; Rear seat doesn't fold completely flat, limiting cargo space; Sport option with more powerful engine would add spice; Plenty of power features for the base price; Four-door hatch is your only choice.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
L/100 km (city/hwy): 7.2/5.6 (MT)
Base price (incl. Destination): $15,400

By comparison

Honda Fit
Base price: $15,900
Versatile cabin, comfortable seats and peppy motor are Fit strengths.

Toyota Yaris
Base price: $15,200
A small car with big interior room and a thrifty standard powerplant.

Ford Fiesta
Base price: $14,350
All-new sedan and hatchback look good and offer a sporty drive.

Malcolm Gunn is an automotive writer based in Moncton, NB, and a regular contributor to CarTest!

Posted June 28, 2010. © CarTest.ca TM


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