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Road Test: 2014 Mazda Mazda2

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Story and photos by John LeBlanc

Perhaps you’ve noticed the glut of subcompacts popping up on the Canadian new car market lately. Despite the continuing popularity of the next-size-up compact cars and crossovers, the desire to attract buyers who would normally shop used car lots and offer a vehicle to lower their corporate fleet fuel-consumption averages are two of the main reasons why automakers have been breeding new subcompacts like rabbits.

Most of these tiny cars are nothing more than alternatives to public transit. Basic transportation with about as much driving excitement as a moving sidewalk. Yet there’s one subcompact hatch that’s been making driving enthusiasts happy since it debuted in 2007 in Europe and 2011 in Canada: the Mazda2.

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Along with the Mazda CX-9 midsize crossover, the front-wheel-drive, five-passenger, four-door Mazda2 is one of the last Mazdas co-developed with Ford, in this case, the Fiesta. Because of this, the small hatchback does not receive the Japanese automaker’s Skyactiv fuel-saving technologies, or its new Kodo design language.

While you can get a 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage for as little as $13,948 (all prices include freight and pre-delivery inspection fees), the more refined Mazda starts at $15,945 for the base model 2014 Mazda2 GX and is comparatively priced with other fun-to-drive subcompact hatches, like the aforementioned Fiesta, Honda Fit and Chevrolet Sonic.

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My Mazda2 tester came with the higher-up GS package. It adds $3,850 to the price and extras like alloy wheels, side sill extensions and a rear spoiler, automatic headlights with dusk sensor, fog lights, heated front seats, chrome tailpipe extension, air conditioning, steering wheel mounted audio controls, remote keyless entry, leather-wrapped steering wheel, six-speaker audio system and more. And while a $1,150 four-speed automatic is optional, my tester also came with the standard five-speed manual gearbox.

What you won’t find on the Mazda’s options list are any “big car” features like a navigation system or full leather interior that have been migrating down to these bottom-feeder ranks. That definitely helps the Mazda’s power-to-weight ratio. Although it’s low on the glitz and glam, the Mazda’s simple and easy-to-use monochromatic interior will remind enthusiasts of the brand’s MX-5 sports car. All the controls feel robust and of high quality. Its driver’s seat was both comfortable and very supportive in hard cornering.

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Unlike the 197-horsepower Ford Fiesta ST, Mazda never got around to making a hot hatch version of the Mazda2. As such, a 1.5-litre four-cylinder gas engine is its lone powerplant. It makes 100 hp and 98 pound-feet of torque. If that doesn’t sound like a lot of juice, it isn’t. In the subcompact segment, only the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage (74 hp and 74 lb.-ft.) makes less. But with a curb weight of only 1,043 kilograms, the Mazda is one of the lightest vehicles you can buy, and is a big reason why its 9.4 seconds zero to 100 kilometres per hour acceleration time matches the more powerful (120 hp, 112 lb.-ft.) yet 108-kg heavier Fiesta 1.6 hatchback. As well, the Mazda scores a competitive 6.8 litres per 100 kilometres fuel economy estimate in the city. But another sixth-gear would help the 2’s 5.6 L/100 km highway rating and reduce the engine noise at highway speeds.
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Overall, the Mazda2 feels less like a small car trying to be a big car and more like a subcompact hatch trying to be a Miata. Instead of isolating the driver from the road (as in the Kia Rio5) the Mazda2 allows more intimacy. Even if you have to take a few lessons to learn how to drive a stick, don’t get the autobox. The slick-shifting five-speed manual is a joy to use. Compared to the Fiesta’s five-speed, the Mazda2 is much slicker, with shorter throws and more accurate engagement. And yes, you’ll feel more bumps and hear more road noise in the smallest Mazda, but the 2 is more anxious to string corners together, where the Fiesta is less interested.

In the end, the Mazda2 is a polarizing car. It can’t compete with some of its subcompact rivals in the luxury car features department. But it does separate buyers who view their vehicle as merely a transportation device from those who see a trip to the corer store as yet another chance to hone their driving skills. So if small car driving pleasure is at the top of your new small car-shopping list, the 2014 Mazda2 will deliver plenty of subcompact smiles.

Road Test: 2014 Mazda Mazda2 GS

WHAT I LIKED: City-friendly proportions; slick-shifting manual gearbox; agile handling

WHAT I DIDN'T: Rivals offer more room, better fuel economy and more features

Type of vehicle Subcompact, four-door hatchback Engine 1.5L L4 gas engine Power 100 hp @ 6,000 rpm; 98 lb-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm Transmission Five-speed manual Brakes Front disc/rear drum with ABS Tires P185/55R15 all-season Price (base/as tested) $14,450/$18,300 Destination charge $1,495 Natural Resources Canada fuel economy (L/100 km) 6.8 city, 5.6 highway; 7.2 as-tested Options GS Package ($3,850) 15-inch alloy wheels; side sill extensions and a rear spoiler; automatic headlights with dusk sensor; fog lights; heated front seats; chrome tailpipe extension; air conditioning; steering wheel mounted audio controls; remote keyless entry; leather-wrapped steering wheel and more.

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