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Motoring: MAZDA2 has taken the long road to North America

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | November 1st, 2010

There is an old saying that goes, “better late than never.” Mazda surely agrees with that statement as the MAZDA2 is finally on sale in Canada.

While competitors like Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Hyundai have been selling cars in what is known as the B-class segment for years now, Mazda North America had stayed away from it — until now. Their absence from this segment didn't make sense, because in the Asian and European markets, the MAZDA2 has existed for some time.

The 2011 MAZDA2, which went on sale in Canada in July, is actually the fifth-generation model of this B-segment car. While this is an all-new model for Canadians, this generation of the MAZDA2 first went on sale in Japan back in 2007.

While aesthetically not much has changed since its inception, Mazda has made quite a few changes to ensure the car will work on our roads and in our climate, such as installing different suspension and damper settings to better cope with some of our concrete highways. There is a Dynamic Stability Control system that is unique for the North American market, plus six airbags to keep you in one piece in case of an accident.

The most interesting thing is, despite all the new equipment, the 2011 MAZDA2 is 100 kg lighter than its 2007 model. Its total weight is 1043 kg (with manual gearbox), which makes it the lightest car in its class. How they accomplished this is through clever engineering. Mazda wanted this car to be light, but did not want to compromise on safety. To save weight, they looked at lighter suspension components, lighter speakers for the stereo, lighter gear-selector module, optimized wiring harness layout and lighter hinges to get to the weight target they had set out for. Why? Because weight is crucial for a small car with a small engine. The lighter the car, the better fuel mileage it will have and the more nimble it will be — two things people look for in a zippy urban runabout.

But Mazda has always been about “Zoom-Zoom.” So how much zoom do you get from a car that has an engine displacing just 1.5-litres and produces just 100 hp and 98 lb/ft of torque?

Not much. This car might be light, but it's also not what anyone would call fast. Zero-100 km/h takes about 10.2 seconds with the manual, 12.1 seconds with the automatic. That means most minivans will leave you in their dust. But somehow this car doesn't feel deathly slow.

What came as a huge surprise, though, were its manners on the highway. Most small cars feel tired and noisy on the highway and their stability at high speeds is not very encouraging. I drove the MAZDA2 on the highways quite a lot, and found its manners to be excellent. Only thing I wished for was a sixth gear to calm the engine revs at highway speeds. Also worth noting is the lack of wind noise at highway speeds, possibly the best in its class.

Adding to its comfort are its seats, which are nicely padded. Sure they won't offer you Rolls Royce levels of comfort, but they don't feel bargain basement either.

Part of its comfort came due to its excellent ride. Mazda has worked its suspension set-up to not only make it handle well, but also absorb the bumps. Most small cars can rattle your fillings out, but the MADZA2 took all the bumps in its stride and left my smile intact.

This front-wheel drive hatchback also zips around corners quite well, thanks to its electric power steering system, similar to the one used in their RX-8 sports car.

So while the MAZDA2 might not be the most powerful car in its class, it is probably the most fun to drive.

Need space? Well there is a decent amount of that available in its cabin. Legroom both front and back is adequate and its deep trunk is one of the biggest in its class. Also remember that the rear seats fold down for extra cargo space.

So it's good to drive and has lots of room, but what if you are into gadgets, will the MAZDA2 satisfy your needs? It can, depending on your budget because not much comes as standard. Things like the factory fitted Bluetooth hands-free system and a Pioneer multimedia system are available on the accessories list.

If you like to dress up your car in eyesore decals, you're in luck; you can choose from a variety of decals on offer for the side of the car from Mazda themselves. They call them “Mazda Skins” and this option is unique to Canada. How many Canadians will end up spending money on this accessory remains to be seen.

As for buying the car, it is quite affordable. Prices for the MAZDA2 GX start at $13,995. An automatic gearbox can be added for $1,100, and A/C can be added for another $1,195. If you want power mirrors, keyless entry, four speakers for the stereo (base car comes with just two), cruise control, trip computer, exterior temperature gauge and steering wheel mounted audio controls, they are all included in the “Convenience Package” for $895.

So it won't break the bank to buy, and it certainly won't break you to run. Mazda claims it will achieve 7.5-litres/100km in the city and just 6.0-litres/100km on the highway (for the automatic). I had averaged 6.8-litres/100km in my week, so these figures are quite accurate.

The MAZDA2 has already been a global hit thus far. The new model was crowned “World Car of the Year” back in 2008. Whether it will be a sales success in North America is yet to be seen. It might not be revolutionary enough to make people sit up and pay attention, and it might not even cause its competition sleepless nights, but if you are in the market for a small, economical car, the MAZDA2 should certainly be on your shopping list, perhaps even on the top.
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