The car: Mazda2
The Mazda3 has been a favourite with Canadians ever since it launched in '04, but it's always been one of the pricier small car options. Now Mazda is willing to sell you a piece of its sporty ethos for bargain basement pricing. The question is: how much zoom-zoom do you actually get in the cheapest Mazda you can buy, the Mazda2?
Price: $19,690 including freight (five speed manual GS)
Power: 100 horsepower at 6,000 r.p.m.; 98 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 r.p.m.
Fuel economy (city/highway): 6.8/5.6 litres/100 kilometres
Standard (GX base model): Traction control system, anti-lock brakes and dynamic stability control, power windows, power mirrors, power door locks
Options (GS Highline model): includes automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, steering wheel audio controls, MP3 playback and auxiliary input, fog lights
Sorry, I'll try to be more serious.
Nope, no good. Wheeee!
The Mazda2's 100 h.p. makes it one of the least powerful cars available in Canada. In fact, the only thing slower to get up and going is the 70 h.p. Smart Car which, if I'm being brutally honest, has always seemed pretty silly ever since they stopped offering it in a turbodiesel.
Certainly the gearing gap in the first to second shift will give you pause the first few times you drive the little Mazda; merging from a stop can be a little daunting if you're turning right with traffic bearing down on you. The 1.5-litre engine doesn't have much going on below 3,000 r.p.m. and unless you're redlining first, you can drop into a torque-hole from which even the most enthusiastic flooring offers a slow escape.
However, it takes all of about 15 seconds to get used to the power shortfall and all of about 20 seconds to fall in love with the quick, sharp steering and light chuckable nature of the '2. This is the proverbial Great Little Car: in it you feel like a TIE Fighter wending your way through an asteroid field full of dullards in SUVs. The '2 flits like a gnat, the cheeky grille grinning apologetically as you 'scuse-me-pardon-me elbow your way through traffic.
Get it on the motorway, and that lightweight construction is less of a liability than you might think. It's not a quiet car by any means, but nor is it overly tinny and buzzy. It's not a slouch in third and fourth either; where you half expect it to fall on its face, it zips up behind cars packing thrice the horsepower.
Drawbacks? Well, some of that bargain-basementism extends to the interior, which is spartan at best. It's also a pretty small car, which is great for parking but not the best if you're picked to carpool for hockey practice.
Examining the flagship vehicles for a car company tells you a great deal about their engineering and design philosophy. Nissan has the supercar-killing GT-R. Subaru has a turbo-charged rally-car for the streets in the STi. Toyota has the nearly unobtainable LFA hypercar, more musical instrument than track weapon.
Mazda? Well, they've got the Miata: a car that's time and again proved that pure driving pleasure isn't about a bunch of techie driving aids or a whack of power. The reason the Miata keeps cropping up on every auto enthusiast's must-own list is that it's fun, fun, fun for cheap, cheap, cheap.
While I maintain that the Mazda2 could do with about 10-15 per cent more power from that 1.5-litre engine everybody else in the segment is putting down those numbers there's no mistaking the Miata DNA in its bloodline. This is a fun car for cheap. Buy it with as few options as possible and laugh all the way to the bank.