First Drive: 2011 Mazda2 Page 2

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Stylish, Modern, But Not A Clown-Face
Looking at the car, the profile and sculpted front and rear ends make for a more coherent package than any other car in the segment, flowing neatly and looking sorted from any angle. Even the Ford Fiesta can't make this claim, with the chopped rear end and protruding headlights making for some odd looks at times.

A wide base, sloping greenhouse, and flared fenders all serve to give the Mazda2 a solid, stable, and sporty look by tricking the eye into seeing a lower, wider car than the measurements actually indicate. Solid work by the design team here.

The only real visual differences you'll note between the various levels of Mazda2 are the trim packages--and they are mighty few. There are only really four variations possible with the 2, in fact: automatic or manual, Sport or Touring. The Touring model upgrades the standard 15-inch steel wheels to 15-inch alloys, adds red piping to the interior, and a spoiler out back. If you want to add navigation or Bluetooth to either model, you can buy Garmin and Motorola aftermarket add-ons directly from Mazda.

Zoom Zoom
It handles like it's lower and wider than it is, too. Between the firmly damped and sprung suspension, the well-tuned electric power-assisted steering (EPAS), and the incredibly firm and sorted chassis, the Mazda2 is a performer even in a segment that also holds the MINI Cooper, for many the benchmark in front-wheel-drive handling.

The reason? It's light. Very light--as in, it weighs less than the second-gen Miata, clocking in at a svelte 2,306 pounds, a weight almost unthinkable in today's safety-obsessed marketplace. Despite the light weight, it's surprisingly quiet thanks to BMW-like chassis dampers placed at key harmonic points on the unibody.

The light weight was earned through careful attention to what Mazda calls its "gram strategy," shaving weight from every component possible. The cumulative results are impressive: 6.4 pounds saved by shortening wiring harnesses, 5.5 pounds saved in the hood hinges and door handles, 2.2 pounds saved on the speakers by using stronger, ligher magnets, and 3.7 pounds of water weight saved by optimizing and downsizing the radiator. Even the suspension was lightened, shaving 3.4 pounds of each suspension member and a total of 29 pounds of unsprung weight through the use of lighter calipers and wheels. The list goes on, with the incremental gains smaller and smaller, but adding up to a lot of weight.

We didn't have the opportunity to put the car on the track or an autocross course, however, so we may find flaws not noticeable on the open road under further review. First impression, however, is that the car is near-brilliant: balanced, lots of grip despite the small 15-inch, 195/50 aspect ratio tires and all-weather tread, and ready to tackle anything from a high-speed lightly banked sweeper to a hard, bumpy 90-degree right with agility.

As we mentioned at the outset, a slight lack of power is the only beef we have with the drivetrain, as the sound and feel of the engine isn't nearly as thrashy or breathless as much of the competition. Sure, the MINI Cooper's 1.6-liter mill sounds a little better (and pulls a little harder, too), but this is an incredibly inexpensive car to be delivering this sort of rounded package. The MINI Cooper starts at $19,500 after all, near the upper ceiling of the Mazda2.

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