2013 Mazda2 Touring Review By Carey Russ
DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS
2013 Mazda2 Touring
Subcompact hatchbacks are, in the US at least, usually thought of as slow, underpowered, boring transportation appliances, best used as commute modules or as something, preferably bought used, for a beginning driver. And, alas, too many examples of the genre fit that description all too well.
But not the Mazda2. As its name suggests, the Mazda2 is the smallest Mazda, slotted below the compact Mazda3 sedan and hatchback. Like other small hatchbacks, it gets exemplary fuel economy, especially if driven moderately. Which may be difficult, as the Mazda2 has a frisky personality thanks to a willing engine, well-tuned suspension, good brakes, and light weight. Which, especially with the five-speed stick, encourage maximum use of the engine's ability to rev. It's the Mazda that best exemplifies my wise-guy comment that Mazda makes the best Italian cars never made in Italy.
And despite that, and with as little use of highways and as much use of uncluttered back roads as possible during my week with a well-appointed 2013 Mazda2 Touring, I still got a solid 30+ mpg average. And usually had a grin on my face as large as the controversial Mazda grille. Dial that back a bit, or with more highway driving, and I don't doubt that a 32 to 35 mpg average would be easily attainable. Looking back at my records, I see that I got 34 in the 2011 model I drove a couple of years ago.
Offered in Sport and Touring trim levels, the Mazsa2 is largely unchanged from its introduction here in model year 2011. No changes were or are really needed. Besides some different color choices, the biggest change is that a USB port has been added, next to the jack for an external audio player. Compared to the Sport, the Touring gets alloy wheels, fog lights, a rear roof spoiler, and chromed exhaust tips outside, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, cruise control, six instead of four speakers for the audio system, fancier cloth for the seats, and a trip computer inside.
Both have a 100-horsepower 1.5-liter engine, with a choice of five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. Chassis specification is typical for the small hatch class, with MacPherson struts in front and a torsion beam axle at the rear, but refinement and tuning put the Mazda2 at the head of the class. Interior design and comfort also are far better than expected in a small hatch, and the four doors plus hatch and standard 60/40 folding rear seat maximize versatility. And all examples have all of the safety equipment expected in a car today.
I thoroughly enjoyed my week with a stick-shift Mazda2 Touring. Because of its light weight, power was never lacking. Yes, it felt a little soft when driven hard, but on poor road surfaces I appreciated the Euro-spec suspension tuning. The four-door hatch body style makes optimum use of the car's small footprint, for good interior space in an exterior that easily fits into tight parking spaces. As Mazda's MX-5 Miata was and is to the British and European sports cars of the 1950s and `60s, the Mazda2 is to the small European hatchback -- all of the fun, with none of the warts.
APPEARANCE: As the baby of the family, the Mazda2 presents all of the current Mazda styling cues with shorter, higher, chunkier proportions than the larger Mazda3. Short front and rear overhangs maximize interior space. A small grille at the junction of the hood and front bumper fascia takes visual attention away from the somewhat controversial Mazda "grin" that is the main air intake, and long triangular headlights add eyes to the face. The angular front fenders are familiar from the CX- crossovers and (late) RX-8 sports coupe. The rising beltline adds a dynamic look from the side, and, on the Touring, the five-sided hatch window is topped by a small spoiler. The result is a well-integrated, cohesive look.
COMFORT: Simple but not Spartan, the Mazda2 is a small car done right. Cheap-looking seat cloth and bland hard plastic trim are not to be found, especially in the Touring, which boasts design and materials that would be appropriate in a car costing significantly more. In all examples, the driver's seat cushion height is manually adjustable. Windows and mirrors are power-controlled, seats and steering wheel tilt are manual. Seat comfort is among the best in class. Instruments are easily read and shaded from glare; everything important is lit at night. Audio and climate controls are simple. The gearshift lever is close at hand, placed in a lower extension of the center stack, a quick reach from the steering wheel. Alfa, anyone?
The rear seat offers good space for two medium-sized (under 5-7) adults or three smaller children. As in most sedans and hatches, width is the limiting factor for a center passenger. Four doors means comfortable passenger access, or with the 60/40 rear seatback folded, simple placement of cargo items. You can't beat a hatch for cargo access!
SAFETY: Mazda's "Triple H" unibody construction creates a rigid but lightweight unibody structure to protect passengers, and helps the Mazda2 score high in IIHS crash tests. Side-impact door beams, advanced front airbags, front seat side airbags, and full-length head curtains, a crushable pedal assembly and standard antilock brakes (vented disc front with rear drums) and Dynamic Stability Control are among the standard safety features.
RIDE AND HANDLING: If the Mazda2's basic design -- transverse front engine, front-wheel drive, independent MacPherson strut front and torsion-beam rear suspension -- is typical for a small hatchback or sedan, the attention to detail paid during design and development isn't. It's far more, resulting in a car that has a degree of refinement beyond the expected. The suspension tuning is "European standard", softish but well-damped for control and comfort. There is plenty of body roll and understeer when playing hard, but on the other hand, when the pavement gets poor, compliance and comfort are very good. Electrically-assisted power steering is too often numb, with a feel more appropriate for a video game controller than a car. Not here. Effort is just right, and never too light or too numb.
PERFORMANCE: By current standards, 100 horsepower isn't very much. But with just over 2300 pounds of Mazda2 to move, appropriate gearing in the standard five-speed manual gearbox, and a reasonable 3.85:1 final drive ratio, that's more than merely adequate. Acceleration is not a problem; there's no need to fear short on-ramps into fast traffic. The aluminum alloy twincam four-cylinder engine gets its 100 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 98 lb-ft of torque (at 4000 rpm) from its 1.5-liter displacement, with variable cam phasing broadening the torque spread and reducing emissions. Keep it above 3000 rpm for best results, and even driven hard it has little thirst for unleaded regular. EPA ratings are 29 mpg city, 35 highway. With minimal highway time and maximum enthusiastic driving, I saw a bit over 30 mpg for the week, and could easily have done better.
Note that this is with the five-speed manual. With a bit more weight, different gearing, and likely programming to maximize economy, the four-speed automatic will be noticeably slower in acceleration. EPA ratings are 28/34. Heavy traffic might be less stressful.
CONCLUSIONS : The Mazda2 combines fun with frugality in a small and useful package.
2013 Mazda2 Touring
Base Price $ 16,210 Price As Tested $ 17,600 Engine Type DOHC 16-valve aluminum alloy 4-cylinder with variable cam phasing Engine Size 1.5 liters / 91 cu. in. Horsepower 100 @ 6000 rpm Torque (lb-ft) 98 @ 4000 rpm Transmission 5-speed manual Wheelbase / Length 98.0 in. / 155.5 in. Curb Weight 2306 lbs. Pounds Per Horsepower 23.1 Fuel Capacity 11.3 gal. Fuel Requirement 87 octane unleaded regular gasoline Tires 185/55R15 82V Yokohama Avid S34F m+s Brakes, front/rear vented disc / drum ABS, EBD, BA standard Suspension, front/rear independent MacPherson strut / semi-independent torsion beam axle Drivetrain transverse front engine, front-wheel drive PERFORMANCE EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon city / highway / observed 29 / 35 / 30 0 to 60 mph 9 sec OPTIONS AND CHARGES Armrest $ 170 Cargo Net $ 50 Auto-Dimming Inside Mirror w/Homelink® $ 295 Rear Bumper Guard $ 80 Destination Charge $ 795