Sep 072015

Features and Technologies (Score: 4/5) – Old tech but still works brilliantly

The interior is surprising plain. Cockpit layout is basic. Switchgear are intuitive to use. The orange illuminated instrumental panel layout is simple. It gets the job done and we find it matches the character of the car quite well and we like it! Workmanship is great with evenly aligned panels and minimal gaps.

The tilt-only steering wheel and 6-way adjustable driver seat are sufficient for us to find ideal driving position. Ergonomics are great. The gear shifter is mounted just below the HVAC controls on the center stack (like the early 2000 Honda Civic Si) that shortens the distance between the steering wheel; the optimal position for some quick steering and shifting action.

The standard 4-speaker sound system has average bass. Midrange dynamic is a bit lacking yet far better than the ’15 Nissan Versa we recently tested. The audio system comes standard with Aux/USB inputs that are conveniently located in the well-designed floor mount storage bin that is partitioned with various sizes of bins and slots for wallets, cell phones, pack of gum, cups…etc. We love this bin a lot and well used it during our journey. Just this alone we always felt that’s always room for our belongings.

The space planning throughout the interior are excellently thought-out. Attention to detail is second to none. The door panels are curved dramatically toward the door shell to allocate more interior. The 13.3 cu-ft trunk with the rear seat up and expandable to 27.8 cu-ft offers generous cargo capacity for a weekend getaway of belongings for two adults.

There is 87.1 cu-ft of passenger compartment volume squeezed in between the 98” wheelbase. The 66.7” overall width and 58.1”overall height is providing comfortable seating for 4 adults. Its petite 155.5” length makes parallel parking a walk in a park.

Road and wind noise are higher than the segment average. In our perspective, it is within acceptable level and this level of road noise gives a sense of what’s going on between the tires and the road. Wind noise is more noticeable at the A and B pillars but don’t forget you are in a subcompact and a 2-box design. Thus suggests Mazda’s philosophy in keeping the car light, underbody isolation is kept at a reasonable level at the critical areas.

We are not complaining here as we understand lighter curb weight equals to better performance. The only drawback is the headlight low beam illumination is marginal at best.

The interior is the true representation of made in Japan workmanship. We give it thumbs up in keeping up the quality standard and dedication particularly from a small independent company on a low profit low volume product.

Ride and Handling Characteristics (Score: 5/5) – Driving Matters

The most impressive part of the car is in the handling characteristics. The suspension and steering tuning really make driving matters. A big applause for a car this basic but the handling character is as good as some performance cars.

Supporting the platform is subcompact recipe; MacPherson struts with anti-roll bar up front, and torsion beam in the rear. Despite its conventional setup, we have no doubt on the capability if it’s tuned properly it can be as lethal as the ’14 Ford Fiesta ST pocket rocket. More so, the 2 only weights 2,365 lbs where each inch of tire only need to manage 98.3 lbs for its curb weight; hinting for its remarkable amount of grip.

Weight reduction is the result of Mazda’s “Gram Strategy”. Each component is evaluated to shave weight, a gram here, a gram there throughout the car without compromising structural integrity and original function. Adding up the grams for thousands of components in a car, there’s the measurable amount of weight saving. In contrast, Mazda 2 is 280 lbs lighter than its platform twin.

This dedication in weight saving makes the suspension tuning much easier, and resulting in a much better handling car without sophisticated design. The springs don’t need to be so stiff. Shock absorbs will then be less heavy duty. Control arms will be less beefy with skinner anti-roll bars. There are also minimal frontal and rear overhang to reduce polar moment of inertia. All resulting in lightness, the space between front bumper and radiator support is compact, and rear wheels are virtually at the further corners of the car.

Suspension tuning shows Mazda’s finesse in achieving road hugging sporty handling attributes that adore by car enthusiasts. Combining with good bending resistance and torsional stiffness, the 2 handles corners like it is on rails. You can essentially throw the car into a corner. The car just immediately responds to the input. Turn-in and corner exit maneuvers are highly natural and compliant. Attacking the sharper corners at high speed, you can sense how great its roll stiffness is. Cornering limit is much higher than expected.

In the third world like broken streets in the Bay Area, ride can be choppy and busy due to its short wheelbase, and stiff high speed damping. At times, road noise can be unbearable.

Contact patch is provided by a set of 185/55R15 Yokohama AVID S34F all-Season passenger tires rated for good cornering stability, dry traction, and steering response. Hydroplaning resistance and wet traction also appeared to be good as during the stormy and snowy events we encountered in the Eastern Sierra.

The electronic traction and stability controls regardless on or off, we never felt the differences in handling character nor sense its involvement. Tires remain quiet under hard cornering. Understeering is minimal. The Yokohama AVID S34F shouldn’t normal be this good from the all-season rating. Lightness is goodness in handling. On paper, the 2 pulls respectable 0.85 lateral g-force.

Furthermore, this adore by enthusiast driving feel is enhanced by the column mounted electric power steering. This configuration in the Mazda 2 is so good that should become the industry standard for all cars. Its weight, on-center feel, off-center weight gain are all excellent. The steering ratio is also at the perfect 15:1, a slight quicker ratio then the 16:1 norm, but in sporty perspective 15:1 is the perfect balance for being not too abrupt. To be nitpicky, road feel is a bit murky due to the soft and tall tire sidewall; we are just too spoiled by the low profile tires on the Fiesta ST.

Brake Performance and Feel (Score: 5/5) – Faultless

Its handling character makes it a fun car for both new and advanced drivers alike akin to the Miata. In tune with that the brakes demonstrated what Jinba Ittai truly means. Don’t let the subcompact trend disc front (10.2” ventilated), and drums (7.9”) in the back fool you. Like the excellent steering, the pedal operation is perfectly textbook standard and should be adopted by all vehicles. Pedal freeplay is close to none in combine with accurate feedback, modulation is intuitive. Stopping distance is shorter than expected. On paper, the system stops the car from 70 mph in 183 feet.

Descending 4000′ in elevation from SR108 to US395, no brake fade was experienced. Also due to the lightness of the car, forward momentum is at the minimal. In combine with its good handling, you can use its downhill speed to carry the car through the corners. A fun momentum car, and the most environmental friendly way to travel; no brake dust generation and forward speed is propelled by gravitational potential energy.

For those who are incompetent, the standard 4-wheel ABS, electric brake force distribution, and brake assist are there to save you.

Afterthoughts – End of legacy for the land of the free

Driving the 2 to Eastern Sierra and squeezed out 110% of its potential. Rarely a subcompact is meant for this kind of long and demanding road trip. For daily use in the congested Bay Area, the 2 is plenty sufficient for urban environment.

The sense of Japanese culture is strong in the 2 where one uses all the available and often limited resources to make something simple great. Mazda’s philosophy and dedication in car building is also apparent and intact even for a low profit margin car like this.

After all if we have $16,000 in our pocket for a new car, what will we buy? It would definitely be a Mazda 2 Touring with MT. Selling points are Japanese quality workmanship, attention to detail, great steering and brakes, active handling, hatch back practicality, and sensible.

There will be a completely redesigned 2016 Mazda 2. The 1.5L Skyactiv engine, and 6-speed gear box will bring some much needed linear acceleration to the car. At the time of this writing, the 2016 Mazda 2 will not be offered in the American market. Disappointingly, Mazda will be building the 2016 Scion iA that’s essentially a Mazda 2 wrapped in Scion skin with Toyota suspension tuning. We will not recommend the Scion iA for the same reason as to why car enthusiasts are all over the Subaru BRZ instead of the, essentially identical and cheaper, Scion FRS. LZG

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