Mazda2 Road Test Review
by Martha Hindes
2012 Compact Car Buyer's Guide - Top 10 Picks
Any auto with a "Zoom Zoom" designation under its belt would have to be a fun drive, right? Put that factor in a very small package, add in some attitude, and watch what happens. If it's the 2012 Mazda2 subcompact hatchback, it's going to make some waves.
For the past couple of decades, Mazda’s have been known for their cute styling, sense of fun and feisty-ness, and an ability to kick the seriousness out of a string of competitors in the process. And they seem to always smile when they do it. That's the kind of game a niche car can undertake when it has the flexibility to play. And that's a reason its ongoing "Zoom Zoom" marketing shtick has fit so well.
Consider what the 2012 Mazda2 starts with. This is no bubble car. Lithe and lean, it won't need an Atkins diet to get into shape. Rather, it looks ready for a Victoria's Secret photo shoot for cars.
From the mildly stretched hood to the blunt end rear, it has styling definition that swoops in an ascending line rearward to land at the angled tail lamps below a top-mounted spoiler. A steeply sloping windshield might not seem the best fit for one who cuddles close to the steering wheel while driving, but it sure lends a sense of motion even when the "2" is standing still.
Inside, the cuteness gives way to a more practical character in the expected cloth trims and plastics. Space inside is at a premium and preciously guarded a payback of sorts for the sleeker exterior shape. One can't trim off excess fat without reducing the overall silhouette. Even the gear shift is a little startling at first, protruding from the center console in the same kind of space saving positioning that minivans have adopted. It just feels weird to shift the Mazda2's manual transmission on an angle, but it works. It also feels a bit weird to reach around for controls situated behind it. It's the only hitch in an otherwise sensibly laid-out IP with easy to read gauges with clearly defined, multiple readouts. But like all things auto, those oddities probably would become second nature with time. While the stick shift is standard, an available four-speed automatic occupies the same shifter location with less maneuvering, but also less fun.
At this point we need to mention that the front-drive Mazda2 is actually a five-door, five-passenger model, with a small trunk area accessed by an overhead liftgate. Losing the fold-down split rear seats (with pop-up headrests out of the way) for a schlepping task opens the availability of more cargo room.
Spunk in appearance and performance don't always mesh. A hundred horses gallop out of Mazda2's 1.5-liter inline four (that rates at 29/35 MPG). That's not a lot of oomph compared with some competitive subcompacts. But since it weighs less, and has a smaller cargo area to load up, it should have less heft to haul around. Maybe. Those 100 horses get their exercise launching from a standstill and critics just love to cite dismal 0-to-60 numbers that it takes to get to cruising altitude. (When you're stuck in a 5-mile-an-hour rush hour crawl, how much does that matter?) Once coasting at speed, however, the spunk returns with a good dose of agility. During a trip home from our local airport, we zipped around some lumbering semis with total ease and comfort, thanks to its responsive, electric-assist power steering.
The Mazda2 comes in Sport and Touring versions. Choosing the more up-market Touring brings some standard amenities, such as leather-wrapped steering wheel with wheel-mounted controls, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlamps, fog lights and cruise control among them. Available Mazda2 options include a few items basic to some other more premium compact autos, such as auto dimming mirror with Homelink, compass, Bluetooth, cargo net, and navigation (a portable setup from Garmin) plus a center armrest (yes, that's an option). A downloadable app enables Mazda Assist, its 24-hour, GPS directed roadside assistance service. Unlike some competitors with repair kits, there's actually a space saver spare.
And safety gets attention in the Mazda2 with standard features that are optional, if available, on some other compacts. Those include stability control, four wheel antilock brakes, front and rear head airbags, height adjustable headrests and more.
For a vehicle that can bend the budget in the $14K range, it might not have all the bells and whistles of one costing some ten K more. But if style, attitude, whimsy and the ability to maneuver easily around a steel hauler in express road traffic are important assets, consider it a done deal. We'll bet Mazda's brazen little winged M on that as it drives off into the sunrise.
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