Inexpensive, Not Cheap
This is a point Mazda drove home with regularity: there's a difference between cheap and inexpensive. Yes, it's marketing speak, but it's also true. There are cheap cars (think most 1990s Kia/Hyundai vehicles, the previous-generation Chevrolet Aveo, the Chrysler Sebring, etc.) and then there are inexpensive cars that are still well-made (that list is shorter, but the base MINI Cooper fits, as does the Honda Fit, and, to a lesser degree, the Nissan Versa and Toyota Yaris, two of the Mazda2's primary competitors).
The fit, finish, and feel of the Mazda2 really is one of inexpensiveness, not cheapness. There's no outright lack of quality, but rather a cost-conscious lack of polish and panache. And that fits right in with the Mazda2's role as a cost-conscious city car, fuel-conscious commuter, third/fourth car for the luxury/sports car owner, and entry-level sporty hatch for the first-time buyer or college student. The plastics used aren't particularly pretty, but they feel durable; they aren't particularly nice to the touch, but they enclose the cabin quietly and without squeaks or rattles; the fabrics aren't premium, but they have texture that makes them feel and look like more than simple cloth.
A Car Born Of (And For) Economic Necessity
In a way, the Mazda2 is the perfect recession car: for the still-wealthy, it's both affordable and useful--a way to conspicuously non-consume. For the less well-off, it's a microcosm of what it takes to get through the week: making the most of meager materials through careful technique and artful invention.
As fuel prices continue to flirt with a return to $4-$5 per gallon levels amidst the worst petroleum disaster in history, we are also beginning to take seriously as a nation taxation and pricing of carbon emissions and fuel economy regulations. All of these add up to a reality that makes us glad there are cars like the Mazda2, and not just like the Yaris, Versa, or Honda CR-Z. It's easy for the funsuckers to punch a Rolls-Royce or a Ferrari in the face; even easier to send a big American V-8 to post-bailout banishment; it's not so easy, however, to take away a car that delivers smiles behind the wheel when it manages a real-world 30+ mpg average. In fact, there's no need to.
And that's exactly why the Mazda2 is such a brilliant car. Unlike the premium-positioned Fiesta or MINI, or the purely econo-class Versa, Fit and Yaris, the Mazda2 strikes a balance between them while offering what only the MINI really does as well: genuine hatchback fun.