2013 Mazda2

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If you want a really small car – but still need four doors then you’ve pretty much got two choices:2013 Mazda2 side profile

The Mazda2, subject of this review – or its chief rival, size and price-wise, the Toyota Yaris sedan.

Both stretch less than 13 feet bumper to bumper. That’s a small footprint. For some sense of scale, the Hyundai Accent and Chevy Sonic sedans are each more than a foot longer; the “compact” sized Toyota Corolla is more than two feet longer.

The 2 and Yaris each also have a starting price under $15k, making them among the most affordable new cars available – period.2013 Mazda2 interior shot

So – which to pick?

The Yaris is newer (redesigned in 2012 vs. 2010 for the current 2). It is significantly quicker (0-60 in about 9.3 seconds vs. well over 10 for the Mazda) and it gets slightly better gas mileage (30 city, 37 highway vs. 29 city and 35 highway for the Mini-me-sized sized 2).

But, the 2 – being a Mazda – is without question the more fun to drive. Its handling and ride quality are both superior to the Yaris – unless you like lots of body roll.2013 Mazda2 cornering (And overly nannyish traction control and ABS.)

Also: Odds are good you’ll be able to haggle down the price of a new 2 to below sticker in anticipation of the next-generation 2 – which is due out sometime next year.

Anything else? Let’s take a look… .

WHAT IT IS2013 Mazda2 vs. Ford Fiesta

The 2 is Mazda’s entry-level subcompact – 18.2 inches shorter, overall, than the Ford Fiesta it shares a platform with.

Unlike its main same-sized rival, the Toyota Yaris, the Mazda2 is sold only as a hatchback sedan; no hatchback coupe version is available.

Base price is $14,720 for the Sport trim – $16,210 for the Touring, which adds leather trim, chrome exhaust tips, a decklid spoiler and other cosmetic upgrades.

The Yaris starts out slightly less at $14,430 – and ends up slightly higher at $16,540.

WHAT’S NEW2013 Mazda2 from up high

This will be the final year for the current generation Mazda2. A major update is on deck for next year that will likely include some form of the “Sky-Active” fuel-efficiency technology Mazda has been incorporating into the standard or optional drivetrains of models like the 3 and 6.

It’s almost a sure thing that, at the very least, the next 2 will get a more technologically up-to-date (and fuel efficient) six-speed automatic or CVT transmission.

More than one bodystyle maybe offered as well.

WHAT’S GOOD

Fits places that would stymie almost anything else on four wheels – that also has four doors.

Cheerful, snazzy interior with excellent all-around visibility.2013 Mazda2 cargo picture

More back seat legroom than its bigger-on-the-outside Ford Fiesta cousin.

Large trunk area (13.3 cubic feet) for such a tiny car.

WHAT’S NOT SO GOOD

Gas mileage is substantially less than larger, more powerful Fiesta’s (40 on the highway).

Optional four-speed automatic is Betamax-era technology that hurts this car’s fuel economy potential – and its performance.  Betamax ad picture

Although air conditioning is standard, to get cruise control you have to buy the more expensive Touring trim – which costs almost $1,500 more than the base Sport trim.

UNDER THE HOOD

All 2s are propelled by a 100 hp, 1.5 liter four cylinder engine –  working through either a five-speed manual transmission or (optionally) a four-speed automatic.

Zero to 60 takes about 10-10.2 seconds, with manual equipped cars being noticeably quicker (and more responsive-feeling) due to the five-speed’s more advantageous gearing and because automatics just don’t work very well with small-displacement, low-torque engines  – the chief reason, after the need to eke out better MPGs, that most recent-vintage small-engined cars offer a continuously variable (CVT) automatic rather than a conventional automatic with a torque converter. Small engines – if they’re not turbo’d – tend not to have very much torque to convert.2013 Mazda2 engine

The manual version’s more efficient gearing also manifests in the fuel economy stats. A 2 with the five speed stick rates 29 city, 35 highway but the same car equipped with the four speed automatic comes in at 27 city/33 highway – a noticeable downtick.

In a number of current model year cars (including the 2’s cousin, the Ford Fiesta, which has a much more technologically up-to-date six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission) the automatic-equipped version delivers better fuel economy than the manual-equipped version. In the Fiesta’s case, 30 city/40 highway vs. 29 city/38 highway).2013 Mazda2 automatic transmission

The ’80s-era four-speed automatic is the 2’s most obviously obsolescent point, functionally speaking.

The good news – for Mazda – is that the Yaris is similarly afflicted. The Toyota’s optional transmission is likewise a four-speed automatic . And, likewise, the Yaris’ mileage dips a bit when fitted with this transmission in place of its standard five-speed manual: 30 city, 36 highway vs 30 city, 37 highway.

Of course, the difference is less – and so not as noticeable.2013 Mazda2 manual transmission

One thing that is noticeable, on the other hand, is the Yaris’ superior get up and go. A five-speed version can get to 60 in just over 9 seconds – significantly quicker than the 2, despite both cars having  identical engine displacement (1.5 liters) and the Toyota having only 6 more hp (106 vs. 100) . . . on paper, at least.

But, beware – Toyota buyers. The automatic Yaris is a slug. It’s at least a second slower to 60 – and thus, when so equipped, is slower than the 2.

ON THE ROAD2013 Mazda2 on the road

100 hp doesn’t sound like much  – and it isn’t much. My 1200 cc motorycle’s engine is almost as big as the 2′s 1.5 liter engine – and it produces about 40 more horsepower. But, the 2 has something in common with my motorcycle: It’s a flyweight – just 2,306 lbs. To give you a sense of the lightness of this sedan, consider the curb weight of the (physically smaller) Fiat 500 coupe: 2,363 lbs.

A new Corolla weighs 500 pounds more (2,800 lbs.)

Because the 2 is so small and light, the engine has guts enough to pull 100-plus mph in fourth (with the five-speed manual) and to maintain 70-75 something in fifth with the engine turning around 3,000 RPMs (redline is 6,000). Put another way:2013 Mazda2 on the road 2

The 2 – like all modern econo-compacts – has sufficient power to keep up with the ebb and flow of modern traffic . . . provided the driver is willing to work the engine to get it. Don’t expect the car to respond much without giving it at least half to-three-quarters pedal to the floor when accelerating away from a stop  – and pedal firmly to the floor when you need to merge/pass.

It’s ok – you won’t hurt the thing.durability testing picture

Mazda – like every car company – puts every engine through what most people would consider Medieval torture tests. Operating at or near redline for hours, for instance. That’s why the redline’s there, incidentally. To show you how fast you can safely spin the engine. So long as you don’t spin it faster, you’ll be fine. Especially if you only spin it fast for a few seconds at a time – unlike what they do to these poor engines on the test stand during durability trails.gas mileage picture

As mentioned earlier, the 2′s only real drivetrain deficit is its crickety four speed automatic. It’s as shocking to find one of these in a current-year car as it would be to find an ashtray built into the arm rest of an Airbus 380 seat. It’s an anachronism – and not just psychologically speaking. There is a reason why newer-than-2 cars (post 2010) almost all have at least six speeded automatics.

And that reason is fuel efficiency.

All else being equal, the 2 could probably hit 40 MPG if it had a modern automatic transmission.

Expect the next-gen 2 to have exactly such a box.

AT THE CURB2013 Mazda2 front profile

The best part of the 2 is inside – where you’re greeted by a very typically Mazda sharp-looking dash/console. The overall appearance is similar to what you’d find in the larger (pricier) 3 and even 6 – especially when trimmed out in the same handsome “piano black” and aluminum facings – and with the same cheery orange-red backlighting.

Once you close the door, you don’t feel like you’re in a low-bucks econo-box – as you do in the Yaris.2013 Mazda2 at the curb

Design highlights include the 2′s shifter lever – which has been moved up off of the center console in between the seats and placed in a toggle-style position in a pod that grows out of the center stack. This frees up space on the floor console and eliminates the problem of drink spillage all over the shifter/trim plate.

It also puts the shifter itself closer to hand.

More covered storage space could be added, though. As it stands, all you’ve got is the (small) glovebox and the cargo area behind the rear seats – which of course you can’t reach while you’re driving. The center console itself just has cupholders and change cubbies; no covered (or deep) areas to stash items such as electronic devices you may want to hide from prying eyes.2013 Mazda3 shifter

Like the Yaris, the 2 is a really small car – especially for a sedan. At least by the standards Americans are used to. In Europe, micro-cars are commonplace  – due to narrower roads and higher fuel prices. The 2’s doors seem almost wafer thin (though they seal tightly and road noise at highway speed is excellently muted) and the B pillar where the back door hinges attach looks like it wouldn’t help much in a T-bone wreck with a big pick-up or SUV.

And of course, it wouldn’t.

While the 2 gets high marks for crashworthiness, remember that these ratings compare a given car’s performance against others in its same size class. You can put 20 air bags into a micro-compact and it’s still not going to protect you as well in an accident as a larger, more physically substantial car with no air bags at all. No slam of the 2 as such; this fact o’ physics applies equally to other microscopic-in-size cars – like the Yaris, for instance.

Just a reality check – and something to keep in mind.2013 Mazda2 back seat picture

Backseat legroom is coach class, but viable: 33 inches. About the same as in the Yaris (33.8 inches) and – surprisingly – more than in the 2’s cousin, the physically larger Ford Fiesta, which only has 31.2 inches of second row legroom.

The 2 also scores well on cargo space – 13.3 cubic feet vs. 12.8 for the Fiesta.

THE REST

Shoppers will notice the 2 does not offer GPS as a factory (or dealer installed) option. This is not a bad thing, actually. Factory GPS units have a number of liabilities. One, they are expensive – typically adding $1,500-$2,000 to the price of the car vs. $500 or less for an aftermarket rig such as a Garmin or TomTom.TomTom picture

Two, the pace of technology improvements is so rapid that a factory-installed GPS unit may be as long-in-the-tooth as floppy discs in as little as two or three years. Aftermarket rigs are easier – and much less expensive – to upgrade.

Three (and unlike a Garmin or TomTom) you can’t take the in-dash  GPS unit with you – or out of the car and use it in another car.

So, if you want GPS, don’t sweat that it’s not factory available in the 2. Just go out and buy a TomTom or Garmin.

Base Sport models are well-equipped, with almost all of the essentials – including air conditioning, power windows and locks, plus a decent CD-playing stereo – included in the car’s base price.2013 Mazda2 spoiler

The one item missing from the menu of standard features is cruise control. To get that, you’ve got to step up to the more expensive Touring model – which includes a lot of stuff you may not especially want, such a a decklid spoiler, chrome exhaust tip and leather trim.

I think Mazda ought to let you buy cruise control as a stand-alone option instead of trying to up-sell you into the more expensive Touring trim.

THE BOTTOM LINEMazda2 rearview

If you’re a stick driver – and want a car that’s more fun to drive – the current 2 is still a better choice than the Yaris. But if you must have an automatic, you might want to wait a few months to see what the next-Gen. 2 has to offer.

Just be prepared to spend more to get it.

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21 COMMENTS

  1. I have always liked small cars and finally bought one new when everything was falling apart in 2009 and many cars and trucks were very inexpensive.
    I bought a base 5 spd/no air Saturn Astra (Opel and other names) for USD11,200 new. It has been trouble free excepting some warranty air leak in the fuel filler neck. I am the type that times and rolls the lights as I hate to go fast to get stopped at the next light. I am pretty good at it in timing the first flash of green so the impatient twits behind me end up getting through faster than from a full stop and their fuel consumption is far better too. Does that make me a clover? I do get out of the way for those that don’t want to put up with my style.
    My use is under 3000 per year as I don’t have far to go.
    My other car is a 347 cid 12 psi pumped factory five Cobra that would be far more pleasurable with 200 HP less. Anything under 50 is a hassle.
    Both are fairly light which is why this Mazda appeals to me. I would find it far better if it could come with no airbags and other expensive or performance compromising features.
    Nah, I will get truly serious about taking better care of my asstra to make it last as it does well the utilitarian driver car that I wanted.
    I’d be curious to have anyone post a price that they were offered for the subject car. Many people will not ever get back the increase in efficiency if they drive short distances.

    • Hi MT,

      I do the same – so, I’d say you’re not a Clover!

      The defining essence of Cloverism is not slow driving; it is trying to force others to drive at whatever speed you’re driving.

      On the small/light car thing: I’m working up a review of the ’14 Mitsubishi Mirage. It’s got three cylinders – and only weighs about 1,800 lbs.

  2. If I were in the market, the Sonic would be an ok car except that it comes with OnStar Inside. That’s a deal breaker. That’s why I hate GM.

  3. Over Labor Day Weekend the wife and I made the rounds of about 8 or 9 car dealers to get my wife her first new car in 15 years after a series of used cars that just seemed to fall in our laps.

    I was pushing for a Mazda 3, but wanted to let her decide on one that spoke to her. We ended up going with a Chevy Sonic LTZ Hatchback and are very happy with it.

    The 1.4L Turbo 6 spd stick gets up to speed quickly (8 seconds) and is rated 35 MPG City and 40 on the Hwy, although we are seeing an average just a bit under that right now (my fault – lol). The suspension was designed by the Corvette Division Engineers and boy does it work well! Plus the Boyz in the Hood aren’t as likely to be capable of stealing a stick shift car.

    Other than some annoying trim option limitations – i.e “leatherette” only in the top of the line LTZ (or what we used to call “Pleather” ) and lack of a CD with the radio system my wife really likes this car.

    Personally, I find the lower leg area cramped (sideways) by the console but otherwise head room and seating is pretty decent for my 6′ frame and 210 lb fat arse.

    Anyway, despite all the goobermint interference and automobile mandates, we are hedging our bets since the $10 a gallon gas idea might not be so far off. This wouldn’t be our G.O.O.D. vehicle anyway.

    Seriously, anyone considering an econobox might take a look at the Sonic – and if you watched the Superbowl you would know that not only does this car do backflips, it even “skydives” – what more could you ask for?

    How about the fact that there is now a Performance Chip available for this car as well! (Shhhh – don’t tell the wife)

    • Hi Glenn,

      I like the Sonic, too –

      But, that turbocharged engine (which of course is why it’s both quick and fuel efficient) would scare me off. I’d be leery about potential down-the-road repairs, which could involve great expense.

      Chevy – and numerous others – are using turbos to maintain power (and improve economy) using ever-smaller engines. The Sonic is a case in point. Ordinarily, a car this size would use a closer to 2 liter naturally aspirated engine. But, thanks to the turbo, they can use a much smaller 1.4 liter engine and obtain better hp and MPG than they would with the larger, naturally aspirated engine.

      However, the catch is the smaller engine has to work harder to make that power (when under boost) and of course, there is the matter of the turbo (and related peripherals) all of which are subjected to extreme of heat/pressure and no matter how well-designed, nonetheless add another layer of complexity to the engine – one more thing to potentially break down or require maintenance.

      I hope I’m wrong about the latest-generation turbocharged gas engines – that they will go 150k-plus miles without requiring more in the way of popping the hood than the usual routine stuff (oil and filter changes). But to date, turbo’d gas engines have had a history of significant (expensive) problems cropping up at relatively low odometer readings.

      We’ll see, I guess!

        • Bill in NC

          I do not disagree with you at all.

          But for a 3rd car – cheap ain’t all that bad – especially if gas goes up after the Obamanator starts WW3.

          I work 2 miles from home so could easily ride a bicycle if I felt like getting sweaty at 5:30 am – but I don’t! 😉

      • I hear you Eric – maybe I will send you an update each year as we go forward.

        Of the other cars we did test drive (and the Mazda 3 was not one of them that day) all were naturally aspirated and not one could get out of its own way on a downhill with a tailwind – basically a death sentence in my opinion – especially with all the FloriDUH drivers we have here. Plus we have no hills here anyway, but lots of head winds at times.

        Truthfully the Sonic was never on our radar, and I was a bit concerned with the lack of history on this engine, but we both liked it and since it was actually a step down in size from the Mazda 3 coupled with the fact that we had GM points and basically got about $4500 off list in discounts the price was almost ridiculously low.

        We went ahead and bought the full service package which I wouldn’t normally do – to add some degree of protection regarding this untested unproven factor. Plus I checked and the Turbo is only about a $700 replacement and fairly easy changeover – not the $3K it would cost on some cars of yore.

        The Turbo boost on this car is very low, so it is not spinning at what it could be (damn it)…so hopefully by keeping the friction and heat down it will last a bit longer, we shall see…stay tuned.

        • Morning, Glenn!

          Yes, please keep us posted. Fingers crossed – it’ll be ok.

          Ideally (my preference, anyhow) would be a turbo-diesel engine. These typically are overbuilt to cope with the higher stresses experienced by a compression-ignition engine and (well, pre low-sulfur fuel) enjoyed the additional protection of a fuel that also had lubrication properties.

          We car jockeys have been told by the engineers at the car companies that the new crop of gas turbo engine have also been sturdied up and (as you’ve noted) the characteristics of the turbos are different – less boost, for instance.

          It’ll be interesting to see how it all pans out in five or so years… assuming, of course, Obomber hasn’t ended the world before then.

  4. According to factory publicity, all Mazda models will be SKYACTIV by 2015. The new Mazda3 just came out, leaving the 2, the 5 mini-minivan, and the CX-9 not yet changed over. The 2 is clearly due for a revamp, and the SKYACTIV 6–speed manual and auto transmissions will arrive when it happens.

    Disclaimer: I work for Mazda at a low level. These comments are not based on any real insider info. Have to say that the training people at my facility just received a new 2014 3 for dealer tech classes. It’s an attractive car in the videos, but downright gorgeous in person. Suspect you’ll like it, Eric. (Mazda is expecting such buyer demand that we employees cannot yet lease a new 3 through the company, to leave stock available for dealers.) It will make an interesting comparison with this 2.

    • Morning, EK!

      I expect nothing but goodness.

      Mazda is one of my favorite brands, along with Nissan and Audi (I have a new A6 TDI this week; review coming soon).

      The current 2 is a nice package – let down only by its so-so gas mileage (relative to what’s available since the current 2 came out in 2010).

      My hope is the next 2 will maintain the current car’s curb weight – or even better, cut it down by 100-200 pounds – and use the SKyActiv equipment to push the highway MPGs to 45.

      It ought to be doable.

      I hope it will be done!

      • Dear Eric,

        Really glad you did this review. The Mazda 2 is one of my favorite cars, along with the Honda FIT.

        I like all kinds of cars, as long as they have “character.” As long as they have a guiding concept, and carry that concept out.

        They don’t have to be powerful, necessarily. They don’t have to be beautiful, necessarily. It doesn’t matter so much what the particular guiding concept is, as long as it is a basically worthwhile concept, and executed well.

        Well-designed econoboxes actually required a great deal of design skill.

        Consider a toilet in an ordinary suburban house, vs. a toilet in a modern airliner. The latter requires far more design precision than the former. There is simply not enough room for mistakes.

        Ditto a Chevy Suburban vs. a Honda FIT or Mazda 2.

        Despite their relatively high sticker prices, these bottom of the line econoboxes are the modern counterparts to the VW bug.

        The car makers probably should not be blamed for the prices. They are artificially inflated by all the government mandated crap.

        If it weren’t for that, I see no reason why a bare bones Mazda 2 for Third World consumption could not sell for half the price — 7500 US.

  5. Is it just me, but it seems that automobile development has not advanced in the last 15 years or so.

    Yes we have more IPod jacks, dash displays, and embedded chips to do things, but really advanced? No “meaningful” fuel efficiency improvement etc. Same-same with the latest skin shapes. I mean start with a decent 10 or 15 year old car, throw $5,000.00 to paint, upholster & restore it, and you end up in basically the same place.

    • Hi Gary,

      It depends on your perspective. Some of the recent advances – direct fuel injection, cylinder deactivation (that actually works), CVT transmissions, etc. – would appear more dramatic in terms of their benefits if modern cars weren’t so %$#!! heavy.

      Instead, these advances have brought us back to about 1983, in terms of fuel efficiency.

      I have to concede, also , that “safety” technology has made tremendous strides during the past decade or so. However, these things – smart air bags, collision avoidance technology, etc. – are arguably peripherals.

      I think we’d have a great deal more in the way of truly revolutionary changes in design if the industry were not effectively a cartel controlled by a relative handful of giants who use the regulatory apparat to prevent would-be latter-day Henry Fords (and Preston Tuckers) from ever upsetting their apple cart.

      • Thanks Eric. That was where I was going. I look at the broadside picture of the Mazda box and think “so, they want my roughly $20,000 to own it, and I get what for my money?”.Tucker learned the had way didn’t he? We are such gullible consumer suckers. I laugh when the Chevrolet Cruze radio ad tells me I will get an IPod jack and Bluetooth (about a $3.00 plug and chip) if I buy one.

  6. Cars in this class are interesting exercises in minimalism. Besides just being cheap, they have a few valid applications. For instance……driving or trying to park in a mega crowded, downtown urban environment. Or as a “toad”….. towing it behind a motorhome.

    And despite its deficiencies as a “real car,” it is a lot safer, comfortable, and more utilitarian than shoe leather, skateboards, bicycles or motorcycles. If those were my only other alternatives, I’d buy and drive a Yaris or Mazda 2 with a smile on my face. 🙂

    ps. I’d think twice about waiting for the next generation Mazda 2, just to get a more sophisticated auto transmission. EVERY new car generation is going to have a lot more of those Big Brother tracking and control devices that you’re always warning us about. We have reached a tipping point where “modern” cars bring more bad than good.

  7. Stick with a Tom Tom. The Garmin has a neat feature which shows your average moving speed, average overall speed and your highest speed reached as well as big display of your current speed but other than that, I found the thing pretty useless. The warning for traffic cameras was weak (the Tom Tom gives me a choice of many different sounds – bells, cows mooing, etc.) and the Garmin couldn’t seem to figure out the difference between feet and meters. After using the Garmin for a couple of months, I replaced it with a Tom Tom and use the Garmin in my other car as a speedometer.

  8. Repeat When Necessary,

    I would recommend sitting in the car and setting the seat to your preference.

    I am not too tall (5’11” /180cm) but some cars have more headroom than others. A 1991 Camry was a snug fit for me, but a 1980 Corolla had room to spare.

    Another issue is the view of the road. A Neon had headroom to spare for me, but the rear view mirror blocked a significant view of the road.

  9. Great review, Eric. How’s the headroom? I know you’re a pretty tall guy. I am too, and that’s often the weak spot of cars this size.

    • Thanks, Repeat!

      Up front is fine… back is teenager/kid viable and small adult usable (for short hops). I’m just extrapolating on that, though, based on my own frame. Everyone’s different – especially torso-to-leg-length ratio. Someone who’s fairly tall but whose upper body is taller relative to their legs might be ok back there, while a person the same overall height but with longer legs and shorter torso might find it too cramped. This is why it’s so important to try a car out in person instead of just going by the specs….

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