Can actual fun truly be had in a 100hp hatch? I absolutely adore this little car. In fact, I'll go as far as to say it's certainly my current favourite in the subcompact segment.
Last week, I talked about the issues in objectivity that the vast majority of auto writers face when we’re so generously handed new vehicles ranging from economy hatchbacks to supercars on a daily basis. This week, I was given something that, at first glance, the vast majority of the Canadian public would pass off as a “tinny piece of crap”. In fact, this little car has been selling so slowly in the United States that Mazda USA just may axe it from the country altogether. In all its glory, the vehicle I’m referring to is the 2013 Mazda2 GS.
Powered by a buzzy little 1.5L 4-cylinder engine, the Mazda2 may as well have a couple of rodents running on hamster wheels under the hood. It has 100-horsepower and 98 lb-ft of torque. I drove the automatic version of this as a rental a couple years ago, and came out very underwhelmed. Who’d have thought that a transmission could make such a huge difference? My test car was given a conventional 5-speed manual, and boy, what a wonderful transmission. If you’re driving in within the city limits, the little 2 is one of the most tossable compacts on the market currently. It feels quite a bit lighter than a Fit, sportier than a Yaris, and better built than the Accent/Rio. It does however, lack the “verve” and style of its sibling, the Ford Fiesta.
That’s okay though, because though the thought of an $18,300 (as-tested) subcompact escapes my mind completely, the base Mazda2 GX comes in at a humble $14,450. My top-of-the-line GS tester came equipped with everything you can get on a Mazda2, minus the automatic transmission (a $1,150 option, which should be skipped anyway). On top of the base GX, the GS gives you 15″ alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, automatic headlights, a beefier sound system, sportier seats, and keyless entry. Is it worth it? Factoring in the fact that negotiating your way with the local Mazda store would probably save you a little bit, it’s not a bad deal in the slightest.
It’s interesting; even though I’m aware of the price and car class difference, I couldn’t help but continuously try to compare the Mazda2 to my beloved Mini Cooper. Where BMW invested vast sums of money into ensuring that the Mini had excellent driving dynamics, this little hatchback from Japan seems to have just as much character and quirkiness without the price tag or questionable reliability of the German car. In fact, even if you compare it to the svelte Fiat 500, it’s still just that much better. Yes, I’m still talking about the Mazda2. Also, when talking about driving dynamics, I can’t help but mention the shifter. Where it takes a couple minutes for even the most proficient driver to get the hang of a new clutch, the one in the Mazda2 is a pleasure. The shifter is among the best in the industry (seriously; it’s Honda-levels of good), and the relationship between the clutch and the shifter is of the “meant-to-be” nature.
My tester was also equipped with Michelin X-Ice snow tires. I’m generally a big advocate on the side which argues that driver training should be improved rather than mandating winter tires, but on a car this small, it’s asking for trouble to not invest in beefier rubber. With these tires however, the little car is an absolute brute in icy conditions. My colleague and I were driving the Mazda2 and a 2013 Yaris LE (automatic) back-to-back and there was no contest as soon as a little bit of snow was on the ground. My Mazda2 was virtually unstoppable.
Oh, and don’t even get me started on the fuel mileage on this thing. Booting around the city with a bit of a heavy foot, I managed to average 6.2L/100km in purely urban commuting. This is also taking into consideration the fact that it was in below-freezing conditions and on winter gas. Spectacular. Highway mileage was a bit worse than I’d have imagined; even using cruise control, I wasn’t able to beat 6.9L/100km no matter how hard I tried to conserve the expensive stuff. Another point goes to the Mazda2 over the Mini Cooper because the Mazda takes regular fuel whereas the German car seems to have a thirst for premium.
There’s been a continuous rivalry between the Mazda2 and its cousin, the Ford Fiesta. Here’s what I think though; the Fiesta has the availability of the “Titanium” trim line. For $20,000 flat, the Fiesta comes with heated seats, a power sunroof, 16″ alloy wheels, SiriusXM satellite radio, and a few other options. Keep in mind, none of the above are even offered on the Mazda2. I do, however, personally find the Mazda2’s relatively spartan cabin a more pleasant place to be in. The lack of a centre armrest combined with the shifter being placed relatively high (à la EP3 Honda Civic) is a bit of a nuisance, but your neighbourhood Mazda dealer will be happy to install an armrest for you at the reasonable cost of $190. In comparison, a similar armrest at the Mini dealership a few years ago would have cost me upwards of $600.
I absolutely adore this little car. In fact, I’ll go as far as to say it’s certainly my current favourite in the subcompact segment. It legitimately saddens me that more Canadians don’t understand the practicality and available savings (both to their wallets, and the congestion of the roads) on getting a car in the subcompact class versus a compact. Upgrading one car class gets you next-to-no safety advantage, barely any more interior room, and that puts you into Corolla CEs, Civic LXs, and Mazda3 GXs; all of which, while being great cars, are far too common and vanilla. Buying a car like this will be a surprising amount of fun to drive to work every day, and on top of everything, it’s cheap to buy, cheap to operate, and cheap to maintain. How can you go wrong with that?