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.

  • RICK Lou, not sure about panthers and Cougars , BUT at 76,I now consider myself a vintage Rolls Canardly. I roll down one hill and Canardly get up the next! Wishing you a Very Happy, Merry HanaKwanzaMas. 🎅🎄
  • Lou_BC The dealbreaker for me is the $80k starting price in Canada.
  • Zipper69 The Grenadier was designed ground up to be a "better Land Rover" and by most press accounts comes close.What little we know about the Quartermaster it's clear that it's intended for serious off road work without additional aftermarket fettling needed.The price is clearly a barrier, but IF it's the real deal, it will have a slot in the market.
  • Michael Charging more for less. Hmmmm
  • FreedMike Meanwhile, over at Nissan, you can get a perfectly nice, well equipped Frontier four-door that has a V-6, 4wd, and is capable of all the "truck stuff" you could ever want for $36,000. And unlike the "pay over sticker or go f**k yourself" nonsense you get at the Toyota place, the Nissan store will probably happily make you a nice deal.