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I have had the pleasure of driving a lot of cars over the years and many of those were exciting to drive in their own special way. German cars have always been my passion, but anything with a serious focus towards performance and driver involvement has also drawn my attention. The greatest maker of “affordable” performance cars in my opinion is BMW….it’s the car guy’s car.

I currently drive a 1989 BMW 325i but considering its age and unpredictable behavior I was in need of something very affordable yet still fun. I make an 80 mile round trip commute to work several times a week and deliver pizzas on the weekend, so I needed a car that could meet those demands. I began my search and found an underrated and relatively unknown little beast called the Mazda 2.

There were several options I considered, but none of those other cars would have allowed me to purchase a used car that was only one year old at the time and had only 26,000 miles on the odometer. Naturally as a performance car enthusiast I sought out the most enthusiast focused specification of the Mazda 2 line which is of course the Touring model that adds a few very important upgrades…and of course I went with the manual transmission. I ended up with a 2012 ‘Spirited Green’ 2, although this color wasn’t my first choice it was the cheapest one I found within a 300 mile radius…which was the distance I was willing to drive for a good deal.
My experience with the Mazda 2 over the past 15 months and 35,000 miles has been nothing short of a blast! This car has taken everything I’ve thrown at it and then some. I knew this little car would be fun to drive based on the low curb weight of about 2,300 lbs. and the manual transmission but I had no idea how rewarding this car really would be. Although low on power, the engine is willing and pulls strong all the way to its somewhat low redline of about 6,200 rpm.

As I mentioned earlier I deliver pizzas on the weekends. Short of racing a car on a track each weekend, there is no better way to put a car through its paces and to find out what it’s made of than to deliver pizzas in it. During a typical 4 hour shift I usually deliver about 12 pizzas and cover on average about 60 miles. These are hard miles consisting of constant acceleration, braking, and turning. I drive that little 2 like it was stolen most of the time I’m delivering. That car seems as though it was designed from the factory with this type of work in mind. Since the engine only produces 100hp I am able to drive it at full chat most of the time.

The braking in the 2 is excellent. I can stand on the brakes from 60mph and with no drama this thing comes to a halt very quickly. The engine is willing. Although low on power, it loves to rev. That’s one characteristic that I love so much about BMWs and carries over to the 2…an engine that loves its redline, not loathes it. The handling is superb. I have driven my fair share of fast front-wheel drive cars and the balance and turn-in on the 2 is the best I’ve experienced. The chassis is so well balanced. Lift throttle over-steer can easily be induced and the car only seems to become more fun to drive as the tires wear out.

I have made two small changes to my 2 and will possibly make one or two more….although the car is great as is, I installed a Corksport air intake with intake duct and I swapped to a better set of tires that were slightly wider. The changes were perfect. The intake has made a massive difference in driver sensation and possibly a slight difference in performance. The sound this little engine makes with a cold air intake is pretty impressive for a car with just over 100hp. My next enhancement will likely be a Dynotronics remote tune in order to extract a little more power and to slightly increase the red line. Other than that I am happy with this car. There are a few other modifications that might be worth doing, but I love how this car performs as is.

The only issue that I’ve had with my 2 up to this point is a clunk coming from the steering rack. The clunk is definitely noticeable, and based on the chatter on the forums pretty common. I decided to just “drive through” the clunk and see what happens. After 35,000 miles of living with the clunk….everything is holding up fine. So I have 60,000+ miles on the odometer and the car has performed flawlessly as far as I’m concerned. Delivering pizzas I am constantly crashing over large speed bumps, potholes, and other nefarious road obstructions….the suspension has taken every bit of it in stride.

Another noteworthy testament to this car is that it has been over the Tail of the Dragon (Deal’s Gap) in Tennessee no less than 3 times. I pushed this little beast to its limits for all 318 of the curves on the Dragon and it begged for more. The engine was at or near its red line for a large portion of the 11 mile stretch of US 129 and it never batted an eye. The first year I did the Dragon it was my buddy in his Mazdaspeed 3 that struggled to keep up with my 2 in the twisties, and the next year my same buddy struggled to keep up in his 2010 VW GTI. Obviously on a track with longer straights he would have the advantage, but minimum corner speed is king on the Tail of the Dragon.

So needless to say from all the praise I have been giving my Mazda 2, I am a fan of this car. Being a diehard BMW enthusiast I look for a certain set of criteria in a car, and amazingly the 2 meets all of my expectations in a performance vehicle. I look forward to Mazda’s next version of the 2 but I am also slightly nervous that just as BMW has been doing lately, Mazda will engineer out some of the fun to meet the demands of non-enthusiast drivers. When the new 2 arrives on our shores in the next year or two, I will be watching closely….so please get it right Mazda.
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