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2011 Mazda 2: Fresh appearance can't hide old powertrain

Posted by Keith Griffin  July 20, 2010 02:53 PM

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(Clifford Atiyeh/Boston.com Staff)

MONTREAL — It's the summer of the Bs — the B-segment, that is, in the automotive world. Manufacturers like Ford, Honda, Toyota, and Nissan have been furiously marketing these subcompact cars, a segment that's expected to double its US sales from 533,000 this year to 1.06 million by 2014. The latest to fly into the fray is the 2011 Mazda 2.

Quick Spin

Previous iterations of the Mazda 2 (not available here) were already light, but the new car shaves more weight for greater fuel efficiency and better acceleration. It tips the scales at an almost-svelte 2,306 pounds. The tiny Honda Fit is 183 pounds heavier.

Its petite size can't overcome the fact this Mazda is powered by a four-cylinder engine with 98 lb.-ft. of torque (double-digit torque numbers are never a good thing in an automobile). The 100-horsepower, 1.5-liter engine, while lacking much oomph, is suitable for urban and suburban driving conditions.

However, the four-speed automatic transmission could disappoint you. Under hard acceleration it hesitates noticeably. Passing on a two-lane road requires a lot of planning. Mazda engineers said they opted for the antiquated four-speed to save money and weight.

The manual transmission, which the company said will reach only 20 percent of all sales, is delightful. Shifts are effortless and the clutch engages without much pressure. Even inexperienced drivers found it easy to use. It is a far superior powertrain that is not irritating in city traffic.

2011-Mazda-2-interior.jpg

(Mazda)

This is a car that seems be aimed at the single-income, no-friends crowd. Mazda says owners will largely be driving by themselves or with a front-seat passenger. That's one reason they didn't attempt to maximize cargo and passenger space. "Let's not sacrifice fun to say we have the same category space as our competitors," said Chris Hill, the vehicle line manager. As a four-door hatchback (the only style available), it's simple to pop down the 60/40 split rear seats and do minor hauling.

The Mazda 2 is a comfortable car to drive and ride in, even for a six-footer. The front seats feature best-in-class legroom. Rear-seat passengers older than 12 might find that space cramped. It's suitable for around-town trips, but could be torturous on extended journeys.

In city and highway driving situations, the steering is spot on. Thanks to software upgrades and a low-inertia motor, the electric-power assist has a natural feel not always found in similar steering systems. "We're really anal about our steering feel," said Dave Coleman, product design engineer.

The exterior design works well because it achieves a coupe-like look, even though it's a hatchback, by positioning the C-pillars (where the passenger window meets the rear quarter) over the rear tires. The front fascia also lacks the almost-goofy smile of the
Mazda 3.

2011-Mazda-2-rear.jpg

(Mazda)

Kudos to Mazda's chief designer Derek Jenkins for acknowledging what so many fail to admit: "The car interiors are plastic, but we worked very hard to get a nice feel," he said. Mazda succeeded with the interior surfaces delivering a pleasant tactile experience for a car that costs $14,730 — including a $750 delivery charge — in the sport trim level with a 5-speed manual transmission. The most expensive Mazda 2 is $16,985 in the sport trim with automatic transmission.

No compact car responsibly leaves the showroom without a raft of safety features (a lesson Honda is slow in learning with its Fit where electronic stability control is an option). The Mazda2 safety features include: anti-lock braking system (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist, dynamic stability control with traction control system, advanced dual front air bags, front seat side air bags, and side air curtains.

A new safety feature that debuts on the 2 is the brake override system, which the Mazda people admit was inspired by Toyota's troubles this past winter. The brake pedal will always override the gas pedal if both are pressed at the same time. The feature will be rolled out to all Mazda vehicles during the 2011 model year.

Fuel economy is EPA rated at 29 mpg city and 35 mpg highway for the 5-speed manual transmission. The four-speed automatic is rated at 27 mpg city and 33 mpg highway.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Clifford Atiyeh is an automotive writer and car enthusiast . He has spent his entire life driving cars he doesn't own.
In the garage: 1995 21-speed Iron Horse, 2002 Jeep Wrangler X (by association)
Bill Griffith is a veteran Boston Globe reporter, having reviewed cars for more than 10 years and serving as assistant sports editor for 25 years. He was also the paper's sports media columnist.
In the garage: 2006 Subaru Baja
AAA's Car Doctor, John Paul John Paul is public affairs manager for AAA Southern New England, a certified mechanic, and a Globe columnist. He hosts a weekly radio show on WROL.
In the garage: Hyundai Sante Fe, Chrysler PT Cruiser convertible
Craig Fitzgerald has been writing about cars, motorcycles, and the automotive industry since 1999. He is the former editor of Hemmings Sports & Exotic Car.
In the garage: 1968 Buick Riviera, 1996 Buick Roadmaster, 1974 Honda CB450
Keith Griffin is president of the New England Motor Press Association and edits the used car section on About.com. He also writes for the Hartford Business Journal and various weekly newspapers in Connecticut.
In the garage: Mazda 5, Dodge Neon
George Kennedy is a senior writer for WheelsTV in Acton, which produces video reviews for Yahoo, MSN, and other auto websites.
In the garage: Lifted 1999 Jeep Cherokee
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