Review: 2011 Mazda2 Take Two

Brendan McAleer
by Brendan McAleer
review 2011 mazda2 take two

Once issued a challenge to write a novel in just six words, Ernest Hemingway famously produced, “For sale: baby shoes, never used.” Well that’s a bit depressing. No wonder he shot himself. It’s rumoured that Hemingway considered this snippet his best work. Get ready to eat your heart out Papa Bear, ’cause I can sum up the Mazda2 in one syllable: “Wheeee!”

Eh? Hmm, seems that’s not good enough for our Editor. But wait, there’s more!

Mazda’s current design language has taken a bit of stick for transforming the once-handsome ‘3 into a grinning buffoon that ought to be available in a rich purple colour called “Why So Serious?” Just as it’s being shown the door, here comes a car that Nagare seems to fit: this little hatch is cute and it works.

Particularly in green, the Mazda2 resembles some kind of anime aphid. Not surprisingly, at least to me, this iridescent-beetle shade of paint is far and away the best-selling, no doubt for its stand-out qualities and sense of fun. The swooping lines and – for such a small car – relatively large wheels add a dollop of go-fast appeal. The smirking grille seems to be snickering at its cousin, the gawp-mouthed Fiesta. No wonder: at just 2306 pounds, the ‘2 is nearly ten percent lighter than the Ford.

Step inside though and fun time is over. The interior of the Mazda2 is about as playful as a textbook on tax law and as austere as a Calvinist’s underpants drawer. No armrest, dour switchgear, swathes of black plastic: it’s like a Rubbermaid funeral parlour.

There’s also a bit of cheapness. Painted metal peeps through the incompletely-covered back hatch and, this being the sporty GX (Touring) model, there’s some red seat-piping that appears to have been appropriated off a ski-jacket from Hot Tub Time Machine. The rough plastic seams in the door panels look like Mazda is pre-empting the inevitable cheap BYD knock-off.

Still, everything’s where it should be. The driving position feels like it was set up for, well, driving. Forward visibility is good with little of the A-pillar blind-spots that are the plague of the segment; ditto for shoulder-checking. The gear-shift is console-mounted which won’t overjoy every driver but in the time-honoured hackneyed phraseology of Tom McCahill, it “falls easily to hand”. The centre-stack’s simple layout means you need not hunt for buttons to quickly flick the radio station while keeping your eyes on the road.

Again, this being the highline GX (Touring) model, there are several extras as-standard including automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers and redundant controls on the steering wheel. In an increasingly well-equipped and competitive segment, the lack of Bluetooth handsfree is a strong box to leave unchecked, but frankly, I feel the ‘2 would better suit an even more basic model as all the safety equipment and most of the power group is standard anyway.

We’ve moved recently, so the Mazda2 was put through its haulage paces with frequent trips to IKEA and the like. Admittedly, it’s no Honda Fit, but the space was adequate enough for lamps and tables and chairs. Rear seat space is not going to be extra-comfy for adult passengers as it would in a Versa. Mind you, you’re not going to want to load this car up with people or heavy stuff anyway.

And here’s why: the Mazda2 accelerates like a small dog attached to a fat person by one of those retractable leads. With only 100hp on tap and peak torque coming in at lofty 4000 rpm, the ‘2 was never going to be a barn burner. Still, as the hatch buzzes energetically off the line in first gear, you can’t help thinking, “Well, it is pretty light…” And then you shift into second and fall into a power vacuum from which even the most energetic flooring provides only a molasses-slow escape.

However, once the yappy terrier finally overcomes the initial inertia of Obesity McButterpants, you discover that there’s a simple solution to the limited motivating power of the 1.5L. Flog the absolute bejesus out of the thing.

Here then, the Mazda2 transforms into the proverbial Great Little Car. The steering is so quick, light and responsive that even though the 100hp under your foot is a bit asthmatic from a dead stop, the ‘2 is all too eager to ‘scuse-me-pardon-me its way through lumbering traffic like a meerkat jumping the queue for the Ark. You may be the least powerful thing on the road but suddenly, everyone is In Your Way.

It’s weird, but this bonkers freneticism extends even to the highway, where you’d think the Mazda2’s feeble powerplant and vulnerability to crosswinds would be insurmountable obstacles to pleasant motoring. Not a bit of it. At one point I found myself blazing along in the wake of a BMW M6, a car with five times the horsepower of the little green hatch. Was the big Bimmer’s pilot in command of a car that could flick me into the weeds with the tiniest of teutonic shrugs? Undoubtedly. Was he more engaged with his car than I was? The jury remains out.

And another thing, the whole “light as a feather, stiff as a board” crashy ride of small cars seems to have been given the slip by Mazda’s engineers. The ‘2 can be a little unhappy over washboard situations and it does tend to pogo about with harsh steering and braking inputs (harsh throttle inputs? Don’t be silly), but it’s quite smooth overall.

So it’s cheap and cheerful and kinda slow, but still excellent fun to thrash. The Mazda rep I spoke to seemed a bit bemused about the car’s success; it’s selling at effectively twice the rate they had apparently expected. Obviously those searching for more comfort and power are going to look very hard at a Fiesta. Those wanting sheer passenger volume would do well to peruse a Versa catalogue and the mountain-bike crowd needs to pop in to see Honda.

But for the enthusiast with the project RX-7 that’s constantly in pieces, a Mazda2 is worth a good hard look as a daily driver. Whether its handling superiority is going to outweigh the power shortfall is going to be decided on a case-by-case basis. I’ll say this though: if they manage to bump power output by ten to fifteen percent (SKYACTIV-G?) it’ll be a no-brainer.

Mazda provided the vehicle, insurance and one tank of gas for this review.

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4 of 76 comments
  • Serj Serj on Jul 25, 2011

    I'd be very interested in driving one of these as I've already done a fiesta hatch and a 500. I ADORED the 500. it's funky, refined, feels and drives spirited, and was much roomier than i anticipated (at least in the driver's seat) the Fiesta 5-door was much of the same, except the OMGBUTTONS version of Sync and the fact that BOTH my thighs were touching BOTH the door and the side of the center console kinda killed it for me. I'd actually still go for it if there wasn't a Fiat dealership right down the road with pretty much anything i want RIGHT on the lot. based on what I'm hearing here, it seems like the real picks in the segment would be the 500 or the Fit. Fit if you need the space, and the 500 if you can trade the space for a refined and funky ride. I was geek'd enough about the Fiat that i was seriously contemplating how I'd squeeze 2 carseats in the back and live with the lack of cargo room. EVEN NOW, after buying a full-size sedan.

    • See 1 previous
    • Ciddyguy Ciddyguy on Jul 25, 2011

      @Les Quit going by your neighbors etc and do the research on the Fiat. The studios are off shoots for the most part from Chryco dealerships as a stand alone Fiat/Alfa Romeo dealership. And I've read good stories of studios bending over backwards to make things right when something DOES go wrong. You WILL have to get beyond what was true 30 years ago and go check them out. I'm looking to buy one myself before long.

  • Les Les on Jul 25, 2011

    Nearest Chrysler/Dodge/etc.. dealership is over an hour's drive away from me, nearest Fiat 'Studio' is almost twice that distance, and anyway any car company that bases part of it's business model on trying to make their dealerships the only source for maintenance and repairs is a company I'm inherently suspicious of... especially in this segment.

  • Nrd515 I bought an '88 S10 Blazer with the 4.3. We had it 4 years and put just about 48K on it with a bunch of trips to Nebraska and S. Dakota to see relatives. It had a couple of minor issues when new, a piece of trim fell off the first day, and it had a seriously big oil leak soon after we got it. The amazinly tiny starter failed at about 40K, it was fixed under some sort of secret warranty and we got a new Silverado as a loaner. Other than that, and a couple of tires that blew when I ran over some junk on the road, it was a rock. I hated the dash instrumentation, and being built like a gorilla, it was about an inch and a half too narrow for my giant shoulders, but it drove fine, and was my second most trouble free vehicle ever, only beaten by my '82 K5 Blazer, which had zero issues for nearly 50K miles. We sold the S10 to a friend, who had it over 20 years and over 400,000 miles on the original short block! It had a couple of transmissions, a couple of valve jobs, a rear end rebuild at 300K, was stolen and vandalized twice, cut open like a tin can when a diabetic truck driver passed out(We were all impressed at the lack of rust inside the rear quarters at almost 10 years old, and it just went on and on. Ziebart did a good job on that Blazer. All three of his sons learned to drive in it, and it was only sent to the boneyard when the area above the windshield had rusted to the point it was like taking a shower when it rained. He now has a Jeep that he's put a ton of money into. He says he misses the S10's reliablity a lot these days, the Jeep is in the shop a lot.
  • Jeff S Most densely populated areas have emission testing and removing catalytic converters and altering pollution devices will cause your vehicle to fail emission testing which could effect renewing license plates. In less populated areas where emission testing is not done there would probably not be any legal consequences and the converter could either be removed or gutted both without having to buy specific parts for bypassing emissions. Tampering with emission systems would make it harder to resell a vehicle but if you plan on keeping the vehicle and literally running it till the wheels fall off there is not much that can be done if there is no emission testing. I did have a cat removed on a car long before mandatory emission testing and it did get better mpgs and it ran better. Also had a cat gutted on my S-10 which was close to 20 years old which increased performance and efficiency but that was in a state that did not require emission testing just that reformulated gas be sold during the Summer months. I would probably not do it again because after market converters are not that expensive on older S-10s compared to many of the newer vehicles. On newer vehicles it can effect other systems that are related to the operating and the running of the vehicle. A little harder to defeat pollution devices on newer vehicles with all the systems run by microprocessors but if someone wants to do it they can. This law could be addressing the modified diesels that are made into coal rollers just as much as the gasoline powered vehicles with cats. You probably will still be able to buy equipment that would modify the performance of a vehicles as long as the emission equipment is not altered.
  • ToolGuy I wonder if Vin Diesel requires DEF.(Does he have issues with Sulfur in concentrations above 15ppm?)
  • ToolGuy Presented for discussion:
  • Kevin Ford can do what it's always done. Offer buyouts to retirement age employees, and transfers to operating facilities to those who aren't retirement age. Plus, the transition to electric isn't going to be a finger snap one time event. It's going to occur over a few model years. What's a more interesting question is: Where will today's youth find jobs in the auto industry given the lower employment levels?