If you're thinking small for your next new-car purchase, the Mazda2 could become No. 1 on your shopping list.
The Japanese automaker's perky subcompact, due to arrive in North America this July, shares its platform with the upcoming Ford Fiesta (Ford retains an interest in Mazda), but goes its own way in terms of design and powertrain.
The Mazda2s originally hit the road in Japan, Europe and Australia back in 2007, countries where buyers tend to gobble up what we North Americans refer to as subcompacts. Now, virtually every automaker building and/or selling vehicles here wants to be prepared for the next spike in pump prices or for when new government regulations in 2015 dictate more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The Mazda2 is a stylish little hatchback that's available only in one body style (the Ford Fiesta will also offer a sedan). That's a shame since Mazda also makes a four-door wagon and two-door hatch variants of the Mazda2 for other countries. Comparatively speaking, the Mazda2 is around 22 inches shorter, 2.5 inches narrower and has 6 inches less distance between the front and rear wheels than the Mazda3 hatch/wagon.
Mazda's corporate smiley-face nose is much in evidence along with some neatly creased and curvy body panels and a fashionably sculpted rear end. Cabin entry is through a set of wide front doors, while rear-seat access is a bit more awkward (this is a small car, after all), but not a major impediment for average-sized adults.
Once aboard there's more room than you'd expect. Taller drivers should find no major issues with foot, knee and elbow room, but full-size back-seaters will likely request that those in front slide their chairs far forward.
The 60/40 split-folding rear bench doesn't fold completely flat into the load floor, but still offers sufficient cargo room for luggage, camping gear and sports equipment, although a roof-mounted rack might be necessary for skis, bikes or other bulkier objects.
The interior's well-laid-out control panel isn't overly trim laden, although Mazda's stylists have dressed up the dashboard and control panel for North American tastes. The same goes for the seat fabrics that convey a stronger sense of quality and longevity.
Getting under way in the Mazda2 involves a 100-horsepower 1.5-liter four-cylinder engine that's connected to a five-speed manual transmission, or optional four-speed automatic. On its European cars, Mazda claimed the "2" was capable of performing a zero-to-60-mph sprint in the 10-second range, which is fairly typical for most subcompacts.
Mazda's testing indicates that the Mazda2 will achieve city/highway fuel-economy numbers of 28/35 mpg with the five-speed stick, while the rating for the automatic is 28/34.
As for model selection, the base $14,700 Sport will arrive from its home plant in Mexico equipped with air conditioning, remote keyless entry, tilt steering wheel, four-speaker stereo system and power windows, locks and mirrors.
Stepping up to the $16,200 Touring adds cruise control, fancier seat covers, 15-inch alloy wheels (instead of steel on base cars), roof-mounted spoiler, leather wrapped steering wheel and a six-speaker audio system with steering-wheel-mounted controls.
Among the few listed options are a center console with armrest and an autodimming rearview mirror with compass. There's no sign of an available backup warning or navigation system or even a power sunroof showing up on the option sheet, but that doesn't mean that some of these, or additional items, won't appear as options once the Mazda2 begins arriving from the factory.
That might not even be a big factor since many Mazda2 shoppers will be budget minded, which means avoiding expensive frills and gewgaws. That's why subcompacts have traditionally been purchased, but it's entirely possible that the era where content limitations arbitrarily placed on these cars could be nearing an end. Just because it's small and good on gas doesn't mean it has to be short on features.
For now, the Mazda2 is an attractive compromise that delivers comforting features at a compelling price.