Imagine taking a stroll with a hyperactive puppy; agile, lightweight, and ready to play. With a curb weight of just 2,306 lbs (manual transmission), the 2012 Mazda2 possesses just such a playful persona, and, according to Mazda, is the lightest vehicle among its competitors.
Energetic puppies can be tiring, however, and typically do not provide the inherent usefulness or utility of a more responsible, grown-up canine companion. Likewise, the Mazda2’s low curb weight and playful handling nature had a tendency, in our opinion, to overshadow a vehicle which seemed to lack a true semblance of “daily-driver” practicality.
When first driving the Mazda2, the playful, puppy-like handling nature was readily apparent, begging us to push harder and faster through corners. If brought to its limits, we found it possible to actually invoke over-steer, a trait we had not yet found in any of our previously-tested, front-wheel drive economy cars. Encouraging the lightweight Mazda was a 1.5-L four-cylinder engine (MZR) that produced 100 HP and 98 lb-ft. of torque. Despite its low horsepower rating, we found the MZR to have a sweet spot between 3,500-5,000 RPM, which allowed for secure, confidence-inspiring highway passing maneuvers.
In our test vehicle, the MZR was mated to the Mazda2’s standard five-speed manual transmission, which, when so equipped, possessed an EPA-rated fuel economy of 29 city/35 highway MPG. Our week of spirited driving resulted in a respectable 32.5 MPG, besting our recently-tested 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door SX (31.1 MPG).
The five-speed manual’s shift lever was well-weighted and engaged gears with a positive feel. These were good traits to possess, as the engine’s limited power band required frequent gear changes to stay on-boil. The clutch, however, suffered from a short pedal travel and abrupt engagement, which, in tandem with the MZR’s diminutive low-end torque, provided for embarrassingly difficult off-the-line starts.
If desired, a four-speed automatic transmission was optional in both Sport and Touring trim levels.
The Mazda’s compact interior and exterior dimensions allowed for a tidy 98” wheelbase. The car’s small footprint, along with exceptional outward visibility, made all types of parking situations a breeze.
The downside to the vehicle’s compact nature, however, resided within an absence of front- and rear-seat leg room (42.1” and 34.8”, respectively), as well as a small rear-seat-up cargo capacity (13.3 cubic feet). Accordingly, this driver’s six-foot, four-inch frame quickly grew tired of the Mazda2’s “knees-in-my-face” driving position, and our toddler’s umbrella stroller was unable to lay flat across the cargo area.
With an as-tested MSRP of $16,190, inclusive of a center armrest option, our top-of-the-line 2012 Mazda2 Touring 5-speed manual’s pricing fell right in the middle of the sub-compact economy car class. Selecting the optional four-speed automatic transmission would have increased the bottom line by $840.
In comparison, our well-equipped 2012 Kia Rio 5-Door SX, with its standard six-speed automatic transmission, commanded an only slightly dearer $17,795.
The Rio SX also featured a much longer bumper-to-bumper warranty (5-year/60,000-mile vs. 3-year/36,000-mile), a better power train warranty (10-year/100,000-mile vs. 5-year/60,000-mile), and more interior passenger volume (88.4 cubic feet vs. 87.1 cubic feet). As well, the Rio SX included several premium features, as standard, which were not available on the Mazda2 (back-up camera, power-folding side-view mirrors, automatic headlamps, touch-screen audio interface).
During its week with us, the 2012 Mazda2 Touring clearly projected its intent to provide outstanding driving dynamics and a compact, easy-to-maneuver footprint. Given its lack of passenger and cargo space, along with its comparatively low value within its class, however, we believe there are better choices which exist, both in terms of utility and value.
Daniel Buxbaum has had a life-long passion for all things automotive. Dan’s passion for automotive journalism recently secured him a position as customer service director and contributing writer for Parts & People, a multi-region automotive trade publication. Dan also writes for Examiner.com, maintains his own blog (straightlineconcepts.wordpress.com), and is an active member of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Press (RMAP).