First Drive: 2011 Mazda2

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Whatever you do, don't call the 2011 Mazda2 a Fiesta clone. At least not within earshot of a Mazda employee--that is, unless you're looking to be educated on the many differences between the two. But whether this is Mazda's take on the Fiesta or a unique car in its own right, it's very good, and that comes through whether you're dicing it up in city traffic, slogging down the freeway, or hustling through the back country.

Disclaimer: Mazda flew us up to Montreal, lodged us in a very nice old town hotel, and fed us high-end French and Italian food like they were afraid we might be starving to death. Along the way, we found about 5 hours of seat time in the new Mazda2, touring what must be some of the roughest roads in the province.

Not A Bed Of Roses
First, lets dispense with the complaints. Though we know this is a $14,000-$18,000 (for most buyers) hatchback, we could still stand a little more power, particularly in the four-speed automatic model. With the five-speed manual transmission you can keep the revs of the 1.5-liter, 100-horsepower engine up above 3,500 and have enough juice to keep things interesting, but it requires a good bit of stirring the gearbox. The wide-spread four-speed, however, invariably winds out one gear only to fall a bit too low in the powerband for the next. And there's no manual shift mode with the slushbox, either. Not very zoom-zoom.

The Mazda2 is also not a comfy home for drivers much taller than six feet. At 6' 2", I found little leg room and the tilt-adjustable steering wheel could have gone a bit higher even when set to its maximum elevation. Headroom wasn't ample--I had about two inches to spare--but it wasn't claustrophobic, either. At any rate, you're not going to get much in the backseat behind a six-footer, though children should be comfortable behind even the rear-most seating position. Regular-sized folk will find legroom front and rear surprisingly good, however, with enough room to seat most adults at all four corners. Compared to the Mazda3, you're not giving up much interior space.

That's really all we can pick at on the little car--for its price range, the interior is nice but not special, the seats comfortable and supportive but not sporty, and the cargo room is better than you'd expect with the almost coupe-like profile, especially once you lay down the 60/40 split folding seats. Oh, and you'll easily average somewhere in the mid-30s for miles per gallon, too, even if you like to flog it about a bit--or at least we did.

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