Mazda takes a minimalist approach to the Mazda2, its entry in the subcompact market. The five-door hatchback, which shares underpinnings with the more upscale Ford Fiesta, isn't exactly feature-laden, even in Touring trim. That's not a criticism, simply an observation.
Appearance: Our tester came in the eye-catching "Spirited Green Metallic," which, judging from the comments Peter got from employees at fast-food drive-throughs, is a hit with the younger demographic. Even with sculpted body panels and arched fenders that give it some visual flair, the 2 still has clean lines. Up front, the 2 has elongated headlights and the mischievous "Mazda grin" that, for better or for worse, has become the automaker's signature. In the rear, the Touring model adds a high spoiler.
Performance: Handling, not power, is the 2's forte. The 1.5-liter four-cylinder puts out just 100 horsepower, which probably is better-served with a five-speed manual transmission than the lackluster four-speed automatic — yes, four — of our tester. Still, the Electronic Power Assisted Steering and the car's light weight (2,359 pounds) give the driver confidence that he or she can toss the car around and it can handle it. We both liked the driving feel, if not the anemic power. (Merging onto the interstate can be an adventure.) Another drawback to the automatic: You get slightly less in the way of fuel economy (27 city/33 highway) than with the manual (29/35).
Interior: The cabin, as with most economy cars, is simple in both layout and materials, with plenty of hard plastic. (Even the armrest is an option. Peter would have liked an adjustable steering wheel.) The controls on the center console and the steering wheel were intuitive and easy to reach. We liked the gentle orange glow of the buttons and gauges at night. Also impressive: the Touring model's textured cloth seats, which were comfortable and set off with red piping. Peter had enough headroom up front, but the backseats can be cramped, even for kids. In the rear, the cargo hold is deep, if not expansive, and the rear seats don't fold down flat. Another nit: the door-lock buttons in the center console by the parking brake.
Our 3 favorites
Color: If you're a subcompact, why not announce your presence in this flashy green?
Handling: I was teased enough to want to try the manual.
Style: The 2 may be an economy car, but it's not pedestrian in appearance.
Sharp seats: Black textured fabric with red piping, very comfortable and sporty.
Trip computer: Get your average mpg and distance to empty.
Handling: Lively and quick response.
The bottom line: We've driven most of the competition in this segment and think the horsepower and storage options come up short. But you can't deny the Mazda2's fun factor and price point, which make it worth investigating.