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Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Mazda’s smallest car, the Mazda2, first went on sale in Canada in the middle of 2010 as a 2011 model, about the same time as the Ford Fiesta hatchback which has the same platform and similar styling but a different engine, automatic transmission and interior. The Mazda2’s Canadian introduction coincided with a refresh of the third-generation Mazda2 which had been on sale in Europe and Japan since 2007 and was named World Car of the Year in 2008.

For 2012, the only change to the Mazda2 is a slight improvement in fuel economy when fitted with the optional 4-speed automatic transmission. City/Hwy ratings are now 7.1/5.8 L/100 km (40/49 mpg Imperial) improved from 7.5/6.0 L/100 km (38/47 mpg Imp.).

The 2012 Mazda2 continues to be offered in two trim levels, GX ($14,095) and GS ($18,195). The inexpensive base model includes such standard features as five-speed manual transmission, power windows with driver’s automatic up and down, power door locks, power mirrors, 60/40 split folding rear seatbacks, AM/FM/CD stereo with 2 speakers, auxiliary audio input, a height-adjustable driver’s seat, tilt steering wheel, 15-inch tires and steel wheels, anti-lock brakes, stability control and six airbags. Air conditioning is available as a $1,195 option and a Convenience Package that includes cruise control, steering wheel-mounted audio controls, two additional speakers, outside temperature gauge, trip computer, keyless entry, and body-coloured door handles and mirrors goes for $895.

However, if you want alloy wheels, fog lights, rain-sensing wipers, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and upgraded cloth seat upholstery, you have to move up to the GS trim. The Mazda2 GS includes all of those things, plus body-coloured door handles and mirrors, chrome tailpipe tip, side sills, body-coloured rear spoiler, air conditioning, steering wheel audio controls, sporty cloth seats with red piping, cruise control, keyless entry, trip computer, exterior temperature gauge, silver interior trim, and six speakers. The only option is the 4-speed automatic transmission for $1,150.

Our test car this week is a “Spirited Green” 2012 Mazda2 GS with the optional automatic transmission. The price as tested came to $20,940 including a $1,495 Freight charge and $100 federal air conditioning levy.

Competitors for the Mazda2 GS ($18,195) include the Toyota Yaris SE ($18,990), Honda Fit Sport ($18,780), Hyundai Accent GLS ($17,199), Kia Rio5 EX ($16,995), Ford Fiesta SES ($18,999) and Chevrolet Sonic LT ($17,495). Standard equipment varies slightly, but in general the Mazda2 GS lags behind its competitors. For example, the Hyundai Accent GLS and Kia Rio EX are priced lower, but come with a standard sunroof, heated front seats, centre armrest, leather shift knob, and satellite radio – features that the Mazda2 doesn’t offer. As well, most of the Mazda2’s competitors have standard 16-inch tires, while the Mazda2 has 15-inchers. The thing that irks us the most is that the Mazda2 GS doesn’t offer Bluetooth hands-free phone or a telescoping steering wheel, while most of its competitors do.

On the positive side, the Mazda2 has a nicely-finished interior with an attractive instrument panel, bright gauges, silver trim around the shift lever, gauges, and air vents, high-quality fabric seats with red piping, and fabric door inserts. Notable interior features include one-touch up and down front windows, variable intermittent wipers, exterior temperature gauge, rain sensing wipers, and variable intermittent rear wiper with a heated park position.

The Mazda2’s cabin is a smaller than many of its competitors but not to the point of being cramped. Passenger volume (2,466 litres) is less than the Fit, Accent, Rio and Sonic, but larger than the Fiesta and Yaris. Still, the Mazda2 has four large doors that make getting in and out easy, and there is room for four adults of average size. “Sitting behind myself” in the rear seat, I found my knees touching the front seatback, but headroom was okay.

The driver’s seat has a manual height adjuster and I found it comfortable during a week of mostly city driving. In the GS, the small leather-wrapped three-spoke steering wheel includes controls for audio and trip computer on the left spoke and cruise control on the right. As mentioned, it tilts up and down but doesn’t telescopic in and out.

The gauge cluster includes a large central speedometer and a smaller tachometer on the left, and a trip computer display on the right with a fuel gauge, gear indicator and odometer. In the trip computer, the driver can scroll between outside temperature, average fuel economy, instant fuel economy, and average speed. The only drawback is that the LCD is not easy to read.

The AM/FM/CD audio system in the GS includes six speakers and the sound quality is quite good, but the audio display can be difficult to read in the sun’s glare, and satellite radio is unavailable (the Accent, Rio and Fiesta have standard satellite radio). For portable music devices, there is an auxiliary port and a 12-volt powerpoint in the lower centre console, but no USB input.

As mentioned, a Bluetooth hands-free phone system is not available.

Another small beef: the Mazda2 doesn’t have driver’s centre armrest or seatback storage pockets – while others do. There are some open storage bins in the centre console and some cupholders between the seats, but storage options are generally poor.

The rear hatch is easy to lift up and the trunk area is fully lined. However, the Mazda2’s cargo area behind the rear seats (377 litres) is considerably smaller than its competitors, the Fiesta (435 litres), Yaris (442 litres), Fit (585 litres), Accent (487), Rio (425 litres) and Sonic (539 litres). The split folding rear seatbacks can be folded down if there are only two occupants to create more luggage space, but note that they don’t lie flush with the trunk floor.

The Mazda2 GS is powered by a free-revving 100-hp 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine that’s relatively underpowered in the subcompact class. It lags behind the 106-hp Toyota Yaris SE ($18,990), 117-hp Honda Fit Sport ($18,780), 138-hp Hyundai Accent GLS ($17,199), 138-hp Kia Rio5 EX ($16,995), 120-hp Ford Fiesta SES ($18,999) and 138-hp Chevrolet Sonic LT ($17,495).

Independent acceleration tests conducted by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada show that the Mazda2 with an automatic transmission is more than a second slower to 100 km/h than its competitors. The Mazda2 (four-speed auto) accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 11.9 seconds; that compares to the Fiesta (six-speed auto) in 10.7 sec, Accent (six-speed auto) in 10.4 sec, Rio5 (six-speed auto) in 10.3 sec, and Fit (five-speed auto) in 10.5 sec. Still, the Mazda2 feels lively around town because the transmission is geared to enhance acceleration in the 0 to 60 km/h range and the engine has lively, free-revving nature. No doubt, performance would be enhanced in a Mazda2 equipped with the standard five-speed manual transmission.

Fuel economy is thrifty, but highway fuel economy is hindered by the lack of a fifth or sixth gear. Most of the Mazda2’s competitors offer 5 and 6-speed automatic transmissions which provide better fuel economy on the highway. The Mazda2’s city/hwy fuel consumption ratings (L/100 km) of 7.1/5.8 L/100 km compare to the Honda Fit 7.1/5.4 (5 auto), Hyundai Accent 7.0/4.8 (6 auto), Kia Rio5 6.8/4.9 (6 auto), Ford Fiesta 6.9/5.1 (6 auto), and Chevrolet Sonic 8.3/5.5 (6 auto). Still, the Mazda2’s automatic transmission changes gears smoothly and responds well to throttle input. A button on the shift lever allows the driver to lock out fourth gear to keep revs up when more performance is desired.

I particularly enjoyed the Mazda2’s quick and accurate steering response and nimble handling. My car was equipped with Yokohama Avid S34 185/55R15-inch all-seasons which proved quite capable in wet and dry conditions. The car feels solid and tossable and its tight turning diameter of 9.8 metres is tighter than the Fiesta, Rio, and Sonic making it easy to manoeuvre in the city. Highway cruising is quite comfortable. The driver’s visibility is good, helped by rear head restraints that lie flush with the top of the seatbacks when not in use.

Braking performance is surprisingly good, due in part to the Mazda2’s comparatively light 1,057 kg curb weight (with automatic transmission). Equipped with standard front disc/rear drum brakes with ABS, the Mazda2 brakes from 100 km/h to a stop in just 42.2 metres (dry). That compares to the Fiesta in 43.2 m, Accent 45.1 m, Rio5 44.7 m, and Fit 42.0 m. (AJAC figures). Interestingly, the Accent and Rio have 4-wheel disc brakes.

In conclusion, though the Mazda2 seems inferior on paper in many respects, I still liked it better than some of its more powerful, better-equipped, more fuel-efficient and less-expensive competitors. It looks and feels well built. It’s fun to drive. It’s practical. It’s economical. And I suspect, it’s reliable, as Mazda’s tend to be.

I just wish it could pair with my iPhone!


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