The subcompact 2011 Mazda2 hatchback joins the economy-car segment as a stylish entry that's fun to drive, yet it fails to win the recommendations of most reviewers over its competitors. A few critics flatly dislike the Mazda2, but many reviewers like its fun-to-drive character and simplicity. Autoblog.com's Jeff Glucker sums up the attitude of many auto writers, saying, "There are other subcompacts that offer more power, better fuel economy and premium features, but none can put a smile on your face like this littlest Mazda."
Exterior styling gets praise from most reviewers, who appreciate Mazda2's curvy look to the slab-sidedness that's prevalent among the competition. Edmunds.com's Mark Takahashi says the Mazda2 "has engaging character in its front fender bulges and a shoulder line that gives extra definition to the body sides." Some critics are not fond of Mazda's signature happy-face grille, which The Wall Street Journal's Dan Neil calls "a silly, magic-mushroom-eating grin."
Two versions of the Mazda2 are offered, and both are four-door hatchbacks. The sole engine is a 100-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder, matched with a five-speed manual transmission. The optional automatic is a four-speed, which disappoints many reviewers who mention rivals with more sophisticated five- or six-speed transmissions. The base Mazda2 Sport is equipped with air conditioning, remote keyless entry, power mirrors, power windows and AM/FM/CD stereo with four speakers. The Mazda2 Touring adds cruise control, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, two additional speakers, a trip computer, fog lights and 15-inch alloy wheels. Among the few add-ons available are white pearl paint, an auto-dimming mirror and some dealer-installed accessories.
Fuel mileage is 29 mpg city/35 mpg highway/32 mpg combined with the five-speed manual, and 27 city/33 highway/29 combined with the four-speed automatic. Critics say those numbers are less than expected for such a lightweight car with a small engine. Automobile Magazine's David Zenlea explains, "Given the 2's weight advantage and sleek profile, one might have expected it to come in near the head of the subcompact pack in efficiency. Instead, fuel economy is a liability, especially in the automatic-equipped models."
Handling and responsive steering is where the Mazda2 excels, most reviews say. Although the 100-horsepower engine delivers weak acceleration, the way the car corners makes it engaging and enjoyable to drive. Car and Driver's Michael Austin says, "The Mazda2 hustles through corners with Miata-like athleticism and plenty of steering feel."
Cars.com's Bill Jackson says the ride is where the Mazda "absolutely shines" on the highway for the suspension's ability to soak up lumps in the road. But The Wall Street Journal's Neil says his Mazda2 Touring test vehicle "wallowed and pitched and bounced around corners, sometimes quite manically."
In a Road & Track comparison test, the manual-transmission Ford Fiesta accelerates to 60 mph in 9.7 seconds, while the Mazda2 takes 9.4 seconds. Editors conclude, "Despite giving away 20 horses to its Ford cousin, the Mazda2 is lighter, quicker and nimbler."
In a Car and Driver comparison between the Mazda2, the best-reviewed 2011 Honda Fit (Base MSRP: $15,100 to $16,860) and the 2011 Ford Fiesta (Base MSRP: $13,320 to $17,120), the Mazda finishes second to the Honda. Writer Michael Austin still hits on the fun-to-drive theme, however, saying, "If the Mazda2 gives up a little to the competition in space and refinement, it gives more back in mile-per-mile driving enjoyment."
But the Mazda2 offers little terms of features, creature comforts or technology, reviewers point out. CNET gives the Mazda2 a low rating for its lack of available features such as satellite radio, Bluetooth or even a USB port. Writer Wayne Cunningham notes, "It is rare these days to find a new car so bereft of technology," adding that other low-priced cars offer such modern-technology conveniences.
But that simplicity can also an asset. Edmunds.com's Takahashi says, "What's sort of refreshing about this class of cars is that there aren't a lot of features and interior gadgets that forever require adjustment."
Noise levels are considerably louder than in the chassis-sharing Fiesta, which reviewers say is among the best in class. ConsumerGuide.com says the Mazda2's "engine is fussy when accelerating but is quiet when cruising." Other reviews mention considerable road and wind noise in the cabin.
Interior space is roomy and comfortable up front, according to reviews, but tight in the backseat. Cars.com's Bill Jackson says, "I'm a bigger guy, and while I didn't feel cramped while driving the Mazda2, there's no way someone my size could have ridden behind me."
In a three-car comparison test conducted by Car and Driver, the Mazda2 loses to the 2011 Honda Fit ,and finishes ahead of the Ford Fiesta. Austin points out that while the Mazda actually has 2 cubic feet more interior volume than the Fiesta, both are trounced by the "relatively cavernous" Fit, with its 20.6 cubic feet of cargo space, versus 13.3 cubic feet in the Mazda2 and 15.8 in the Fiesta hatchback. With the backseats folded, the Mazda has only 27.8 cubic feet, while the Fit opens up to 57.3 cubic feet. (The Fiesta hatchback trails both with 26 cubic feet.)
Cars.com's Jackson describes the total package by saying, "Overall, it's a handy car, but I think it's best-suited for young couples, singles or people with children who are still in car seats."
The Mazda2 offers standard antilock braking system and electronic stability control, safety features that are not usually standard in the economy car category. Front and side airbags, plus front curtain airbags are also standard. The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the Mazda2 its top rating of "Good" in frontal offset impact and roof strength tests, but only an "Acceptable" rating in its side-impact crash tests. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not yet crash-tested the Mazda2.
The Mazda2 shares its 98-inch wheelbase and chassis with the new 2011 Ford Fiesta (Base MSRP: $13,320 to $17,120), but the two cars have different powertrains, equipment and driving character. Many reviews say the Ford offers more refinement, more features and is a better value. Edmunds Inside Line's Josh Jacquot says, "It's hard to build a solid case for the Mazda2's cost of entry when a Ford Fiesta Hatchback -- essentially the same car with more power, similar fuel economy and a nicer interior" can be had for a lower price.
Edmunds Inside Line says "we find ourselves split on the 2011 Mazda2" when compared to the Ford Fiesta. Editors explain, "Part of us wants to love it for being a decent small car with ample room and genuinely good manners," but they say the Fiesta offers "the same thing for less green." Editors add that they would definitely choose the Mazda over either the Nissan Versa or Toyota Yaris.
Car and Driver conducts a thorough three-car comparison test with the Mazda2 against the Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit. Road & Track has a shorter, two-car comparison against the Fiesta which provides useful information, but doesn't choose one over the other. Among the most detailed reviews are those from Cars.com, Edmunds Inside Line, Autoblog.com and Automobile Magazine.
1. Car and Driver
The Mazda2 places second in this three-car comparison test, behind the Honda Fit and ahead of the Ford Fiesta. Track test results show that the Mazda2 has the best cornering ability, and editors like its "Miata-like athleticism." But they are disappointed in the way the suspension handles bumps.
Review: 2011 Ford Fiesta vs. 2010 Honda Fit, 2011 Mazda2 -- Comparison Tests, Michael Austin, Sept. 2010
This detailed review by Bill Jackson gives plenty of information and driving impressions. Jackson calls the Mazda2 "a welterweight fighter: all quickness and agility, without sacrificing ride and practicality."
Review: 2011 Mazda Mazda2, Bill Jackson, Nov. 1, 2010
3. Edmunds Inside Line
Edmunds Inside Line's thorough review includes track testing figures and good driving impressions, along with a two-minute summary video. Editor Josh Jacquot says flatly, "The 2011 Mazda2 is not a breakthrough performance. Rather, it's a fine small car -- not bad, but not great." He recommends the Ford Fiesta as a better value.
Review: 2011 Mazda2 Full Test and Video, Josh Jacquot, Aug. 4, 2010
4. Road & Track
This brief comparison test doesn't pick a winner, but includes track performance of the Fiesta versus the Mazda2. The less expensive Mazda2 had 20 fewer horsepower, but proved faster and nimbler, thanks to its 275-pound weight advantage. Editors say, "If you're looking for driving spirit in your daily driver, the Mazda2 with the manual transmission is the ride for you."
Review: Ford Fiesta vs. Mazda2 -- Comparison Test, Editors of Road & Track, Oct. 5, 2010
5. Automobile Magazine
With extra technical detail and descriptive driving impressions, Automobile Magazine gives excellent coverage of the Mazda2. Writer David Zenlea says, "The 2 may lack the do-it-all versatility of the Fit or the high-tech sophistication of the ritzier Fiesta, but it brings a solid combination of driving engagement, maturity, and value."
Review: Driven: 2011 Mazda2, David Zenlea, June 24, 2010
6. Motor Trend
This review emphasizes the Mazda2's track performance. In Motor Trend's standard figure-8 test, the Mazda2 records a best-in-class performance, and it impresses editors with its fun-to-drive nature. Writer Edward Loh asks, "Where does this athleticism come from? The answer appears to be power-to-weight ration, with not much of either being the key."
Review: First Test: 2011 Mazda2, Edward Loh, Aug. 11, 2010
In this Edmunds.com summary review, Mark Takahashi comments, "The Mazda2 is fully up to the demands of interstate driving but would do its best service as a suburban runabout." He like the "chipper styling," but not the "outdated automatic transmission," or "so-so fuel economy."
Review: 2011 Mazda Mazda2 Road Test, Mark Takahashi
CNET gives extra attention to a vehicle's electronic technology, and also provides an excellent road-test review. Editor Wayne Cunningham says the Mazda2 "fails miserably as a tech car, lacking even a Bluetooth phone system or a USB port, but it can be kind of fun to drive." It earns a rating of "poor," or 1.5 out of 5 stars in CNET's tech-oriented scoring system.
Review: 2011 Mazda Mazda2 Touring, Wayne Cunningham, Nov. 8, 2010
This review gives a good balance of the Mazda2's plusses and minuses. Writer Michael Karesh feels that Mazda didn't go far enough with the Mazda2. He says, "The excellent chassis deserves a much better powertrain."
Review: Review: 2011 Mazda2, Michael Karesh, Sept. 20, 2010
10. The Wall Street Journal
Auto critic Dan Neil is clearly not impressed with the Mazda2, especially compared with its chassis-mate, the Ford Fiesta. Neil is disappointed in the Mazda2's suspension, "less-than-stellar highway fuel economy," lack of features and general "mediocrity."
Review: Mazda's Hot Hatch -- Minus the Heat, Dan Neil, Oct. 29, 2010
ConsumerGuide.com's standardized review covers two Mazda2 models, and they earn the editors' Best Buy recommendation. They warn of slow acceleration and a small backseat, but conclude, "If you're shopping small, put the Best Buy 2 at the top of your list."
Review: 2011 Mazda2: Road Test, Editors of ConsumerGuide.com
12. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) gives the Mazda2 its top rating of "Good" for frontal offset crash test and roof strength test, but one lower rating of "Acceptable" for side impact crash test results.
Review: Mazda2, Editors of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
Autoblog.com covers the Mazda2 with good detail and insightful opinions. Writer Jeff Glucker says the Mazda2 is best at "driving enjoyment, not fuel efficiency," and it is "proof that a small, slow, inexpensive car can be fun to drive quickly."
Review: Review: 2011 Mazda2, Jeff Glucker, Jan. 3, 2011
14. USA Today Magazine
USA Today's auto writer James Healey covers two Mazda2 Touring models, a five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic. Healey likes the Mazda's basic four-speed automatic better than the Ford Fiesta's electronically controlled dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission. But the Mazda's five-speed manual is a "gem," Healey says, with a "crisp-feeling, short-throw shifter" and "forgiving, easy-touch clutch."
Review: New Mazda2 Zooms Right into Your Heart, James R. Healey, Oct. 29, 2010