DIGITAL EDITOR ANDREW STOY: Sometimes you forget how good you have it as an automotive journalist until you get into something really basic like this 2014 Mazda 2 Touring. If crank windows were still being made, this thing would have 'em. Turns out there's a trim level below this, too, but I can't imagine what remains to leave out (turns out it's the fog lights, cruise control and leather steering wheel wrap).
But hey, I lament the fact that I often evaluate computers more than cars and that's certainly not a problem here. In fact, it turns out the 2 is a fun, tossable economy car with seat-of-the-pants feel that far outstrips its meager numbers. Thanks to good gearing and a responsive little four, the Mazda feels at least 30 hp and lb-ft stronger than it is on paper. Steering and braking have both had the Mazda treatment, too, making this car a trip to fling around in nice weather.
I mention nice weather specifically for a reason, since I also got to commute in the Mazda 2 in a nasty snowstorm. Even with winter tires, the front end got squirrely in a hurry, invoking traction control with even the slightest throttle tip-in. The car is simply too light even over the engine to get much grip in the slick stuff. I'll give it points for quick warm-up and good defrosters, though.
Cute and cheap, the Mazda 2 has earned its place as a sprightly alternative to the Nissan Versa or Toyota Yaris. That said, if it was my money, the Chevy Sonic and Honda Fit offer a nicer overall experience for roughly the same cash.
ASSOCIATE EDITOR GRAHAM KOZAK: Here's an excellent demonstration of the importance of good winter tires. Take a Land Rover Range Rover Sport and a Mazda 2 and throw them on to snowy Detroit roads. Which car feels more solid, more confidence-inspiring?
My vote goes to the Bridgestone Blizzak-equipped Mazda over the summer tire-wearing Rangie. The little front-wheel drive 2 felt far more sure-footed on snow and ice; already a fun car to throw around in sunny weather, the Mazda remained playful and kart-like in inclement conditions. I drove it everywhere -- from expressways to unplowed side streets, and I never perceived a lack of control.
Why, again, do people claim they need an SUV to navigate in bad weather?
Ah, but maybe the placebo effect was at play here. I certainly felt confident behind the wheel, but the snow tires didn't prevent the traction control light from flickering on and off after nearly every stop sign and red light. Andy is right about wheelspin in snow and ice. Maybe the key to worry-free winter driving is to convince yourself that the car can handle the conditions (these days, they often can if you drive at a responsible speed), thus minimizing the panicky over-corrections that lead so many drivers straight into the ditch.
But this probably isn't the right place to explore the philosophy of winter driving. And at 2,306 pounds, I'm not really sure what you can do about the 2's less-than-half-track-like road holding except for filling the small cargo space with sandbags; traction and stability control would probably grind the car to a halt on automatic transmission-equipped vehicles. On manual cars like our tester, though, it's fun once you know what to expect -- and you're not hauling any precious cargo, like kids.
We've had an exceptional amount of snow and particularly frigid temperatures this year, but across most of the country (and during most of the year here in metro Detroit) the Mazda 2 is a great vehicle for someone looking for inexpensive wheels favoring driving dynamics over a flashy, overworked interior. $17,360 is a grand or so more than I'd have expected for this car, but compared to the bare-bones Yaris that stickered for $16,477, it's a bargain both on paper and on the road.
I even like it over the Ford Fiesta, unless you either need a more cutting-edge technological suite or can spring for the Fiesta ST.
EDITOR WES RAYNAL: Somebody saw I was in the Mazda 2 for the night and said “you're gonna love it.”
I said, “Does it have heated seats? A heated wheel? Satellite radio? No? None of it? Then I won't love it.”
Wrong. I did love it -- or at least liked it a whole lot. Just the other day I said I guess you can't get much of a good car for less than $20,000. Yes, you can. This one. It's fun and practical, and for those on a budget, all the car they need.
The $20K statement was about the Ford Fiesta coming in a tick over that figure. Like the Ford, this 2 reminds me of a happy little puppy. It's eager, honest.
I had some real fun driving it. The steering is spot on, it rides well for such a small wheelbase, body control is good but the ride not harsh, the gearbox is slick. I couldn't really push it too hard on the snowy pavement, but it felt as though it would be flingable and agile on dry pavement. That 100-hp output doesn't sound like much and it isn't, but the engine revs nicely and the thing scoots along just fine.
I like the interior. It's straightforward and comfortable for a sub-$20,000 car.
The 2 is a breath of fresh air. The Mazda 3 absolutely rules its class, and you could make the same argument here, too.
ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: From a dynamics standpoint, there isn't another car in the B-segment that's better than the Mazda 2. Not the Toyota Yaris, Nissan Versa or Hyundai Accent. The Honda Fit and Ford Fiesta are close, but the Mazda still trumps them with a very well tuned chassis for a demeanor that's light and just plain fun. It is a Mazda after all, so it shouldn't be surprising that the 2 is truly an engaging driver.
It's been a few years since I went on the first drive of the 2 up in Montreal, but I remember sitting in the presentation wondering if the nice round 100-hp output of the 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine was going to be enough. After driving it then, and now after spending another weekend with it, I can comfortably say that it's plenty. You're not going win any pink slips at the drag strip, but for motoring around town running errands, it delivers enough giddy-up.
But still, it's “only” 100 hp you say? Yeah, but the Mazda 2 is the lightweight in the B-segment class. When the 2 landed on our shores it was actually a heavy refresh of a current-generation vehicle that was already on sale in other markets around the world as the Demio. The most drastic thing Mazda engineers did was whack weight anywhere they could from suspension control arms to the air intake. For our particular Mazda 2 test car with the manual transmission, that means a 2,306-pound curb weight. To compare, the Kia Rio five-door tips the scales at 2,479 pounds; the soon-to-be-replaced 2014 Honda Fit weighs 2,496 pounds; and the Ford Fiesta with the manual gearbox punches in at 2,578 pounds. So the Mazda is a fair bit lighter than its classmates.
So the 2 is carrying less weight, but chassis tuning plays a part in the equation, too. Steering feels crisp, is quick to respond, and offers good feedback to the driver. The suspension is well tuned to do a good job soaking up bumps with the MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear setup that's usually standard for the segment. It keeps the 2 decently planted when you toss it around some with some body roll, but it's all well controlled. The brakes are strong with nearly instant grab once you start pushing down on the middle pedal, which is always nice.
The manual shifter is fluid and the light clutch is easy to work. The small four-cylinder is at its best when you rev it with peak power up at 6,000 rpm. Throttle response is quite good and is appreciated when you go down a couple of gears.
Where the Mazda 2 does lose ground to the competition is in the cabin. It's far from luxurious, with hard plastics making up the majority of the surfaces throughout. Our Touring model test car is actually the range-topping model in the Mazda 2 lineup, which gets us the leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and cloth seats that have red accent piping and stitching. Oh, and cruise control, trip computer and a six-speaker audio system with auxiliary input jack are also thrown in for the Touring model. I know, exciting stuff. It's a far cry from all the equipment you can get put in your Fiesta from the factory.
But the Mazda 2 is basic transportation that's actually fun to drive and carries a price tag that to me seems more than reasonable. The $17,360 as-tested price seems like a bargain. Thing is, if you do get a Fiesta or Rio equipped with a bunch of options, you're easily over the $20K mark. So, like in any case, you get what you pay for. In the Mazda 2's case, I think it over delivers with its drive character alone for the price.
2014 Mazda 2 Touring
Base Price: $17,005
As-Tested Price: $17,360
Drivetrain: 1.5-liter I4; FWD, five-speed manual
Output: 100 hp @ 6,000 rpm, 98 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Curb Weight: 2,306 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 29/35/32 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 26.2 mpg
Options: Bluetooth kit ($275); rear bumper guard ($80)
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