Now in its third year on the market, the 2012 Mazda Mazda2 may just be the most enjoyable subcompact five-door hatchback on the market.
While its "zoom-zoom" isn't necessarily as evident in the styling as its flashier and bigger siblings, it competes with distinction on the sportiest end of the spectrum against cars like the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, or Chevy Sonic. In other words, it'll let you drive rings around a Toyota Yaris, Hyundai Accent, or Kia Rio--and leave you grinning while you do.
The Mazda2 shares quite a lot of basic engineering with the Ford Fiesta, but uses Mazda's 100-horsepower, 1.5-liter engine and either a five-speed manual gearbox or an archaic and sluggish four-speed automatic transmission. We drove only the manual, and that's clearly the one to order if you're a Mazda buyer to start with.
The engine likes to rev, and you'll need to do that to keep up with traffic. Like a number of Mazdas, the Mazda2 is borderline underpowered, so you need to wring it out to progress speedily. But it's worth it: the combination of accelerator progression, clutch engagement, and smooth shifting makes the Mazda2 one of the very, very few manual cars we enjoyed driving even in grim Friday stop-and-go New York City rush-hour traffic.
The handling is on the neutral side for a front-wheel drive car, and the Mazda2 handles tight, curving roads like few other subcompacts.
And it produces pretty good gas mileage, considering it lacks a sixth gear for highway cruising: 29 mpg city, 35 mpg highway, for a combined 32 mpg in the manual version. The automatic, however, exacts a penalty, bumping combined mileage down to a subpar 29 mpg.
We like the little Mazda's flowing form better than that of the more stylized Fiesta with which it shares its structure. And thankfully its frontal "smiley face" is less extreme than the worst of Mazda's now-departing cartoony styling theme.
Inside, the 2012 Mazda2 appears thrifty, with painted metal in places--but not cheap. We found the seats comfortable for long trips, and although the rear seat back just flops down onto the cushion--rather than the cushion folding forward as in the versatile Honda Fit--it's got a surprising cargo volume. Six-foot-tall drivers are about the limit, though, and rear seats are a bit cramped for full-size adults. Given the two-tone options in newer cars like the Chevy Sonic, you may find the Mazda2's color palette of dark grays and blacks a litlte drab.
The pricing and options list for the Mazda2 are pleasingly simple. The base Sport model starts at just $14,530 (plus $785 delivery) and offers few options. The better-equipped Touring starts at $16,020 adds a handful of standard features. Even if you tick every box on the list, you'll stay below $20,000. And if you're looking to add driving pleasure to your daily travels, we think the 2012 Mazda Mazda2 is hard to beat at the price.
For more details, see the full review of the 2012 Mazda Mazda2 on our sister site, TheCarConnection.