Review and photos by Mike Schlee

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2013 MAZDA2 GS

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Mazda Canada

Since its introduction in 2010, the Mazda2 has earned a reputation for being a cheeky little subcompact.  Like the Honda Fit, the Mazda2 proves that buying a diminutive car doesn’t necessarily mean you are forced to have diminutive amounts of fun.  Despite its underpowered engine and equally out of date transmission options, the Mazda2 was still a great execution on Mazda’s part.  But, it is now almost three years later and a swarm of newcomers to the subcompact party have arrived, all sporting the latest technology.  Is the Mazda2 now irrelevant in the marketplace?

2013 MAZDA2 GS
2013 MAZDA2 GS. Click image to enlarge

To find out, I headed up to Mazda Canada and got behind the wheel of a 2013 Mazda2 GS.  Being that this car is frugal and fun to drive, I was delighted to find the five-speed manual transmission gear shifter sticking out of the floorboard on my test vehicle—the best way to maximize both.

For 2013 there are no real big changes to the Mazda2, just a colour swap—Aquatic Blue is out and Clear Water Blue is in.  My GS tester is the top trim available and receives niceties like upgraded cloth seats, cloth door inserts, auto headlights, auto windshield wipers, heated mirrors, fog lights, side skirts, an upgraded stereo, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 15-inch alloy wheels and a rear spoiler.  There are some features strangely absent from the Mazda2 option list though, ones that many of its competitors offer too, like Bluetooth, heated seats, and satellite radio.

2013 MAZDA2 GS
2013 MAZDA2 GS
2013 MAZDA2 GS
2013 MAZDA2 GS. Click image to enlarge

The front seats are comfortable enough and the upgraded dual-cloth seats feel more premium than usually found at this price point. But don’t expect your arms to be too comfortable as there is no centre armrest and the armrests that do exist in the doors are hard and annoying.  Overall, the Mazda2 could do with a slight material quality boost and the missing options added.

Despite these few shortcomings, the interior is otherwise a pleasant place to be.  Sightlines all around are good and there is a distinct lack of intrusive blind spots.  Rear seat space is surprisingly good and legroom is ample.  But the real shocker is that headroom is okay for the average sized person; anyone less than 5’11” would fit without issue in the back of the Mazda2.  Cargo space is limited, but more usable than the exterior dimensions would suggest; there are 377 L in the hatch.  With the rears seats folded, the load floor is not level, but still affords decent room as cargo space grows to 787 L total.  A nice feature in the cargo area of the Mazda2 is an adjustable rear storage bin that is great for keeping your stuff from sliding around, which is important as throwing this lightweight little 1,051 kg subcompact around is a real treat.

The steering feel in the Mazda2 is pretty good in the grand scheme of things, but exceptional upon remembering this is an entry level vehicle and not a sporty coupe.  Handling is tight, accurate and predictable.  The Mazda2 goes where you want it to when you want it to.  My particular test vehicle had Michelin X-Ice winter tires installed, so no comments on actual levels of grip through the corners can be made.  These soft 185/55R15 tires may have added to the comfortable ride of the 2 as none of the usual short-wheelbase choppiness was present in the Mazda2 considering its size and handling prowess.

Nearly equaling the Mazda2’s steering feel and responsiveness is the five-speed manual transmission.  Although it may seem out of date with a mere five forward gears, this tranny is a real gem for a front-wheel-drive vehicle, never mind a subcompact.  The throws are short, smooth, and exact and are right up there with the best currently from Honda.  The clutch is overly light, though, and hard to modulate.  Finding the exact clutch engagement point takes a bit of practice but since the transmission is so fluid in its operation, it will compensate if your engagement is missed slightly.

2013 MAZDA2 GS2013 MAZDA2 GS
2013 MAZDA2 GS. Click image to enlarge

Even as a featherweight vehicle, the 1.5L is not enough motor for the Mazda2.  At 100 hp and 98 lb-ft of torque, the engine is always revving hard to keep the Mazda moving.  If this engine were given Mazda’s ‘SkyActiv’ treatment, well then it would be near perfect, and get better fuel mileage.  As it drives now, the engine returns decent fuel economy and I was able to average 7.3 L/100 km during my week with the car, which is not too far off its official Natural Resources Canada ratings of 5.6 L/100 km highway and 6.8 L/100 km city.

The 1.5L power plant does rev freely through its entire rpm range and reminds me a lot of the 1.6L unit found in my 1990 Miata.  Something I wasn’t expecting from this engine is how dead quiet it is at idle.  It barely makes its presence known until reaching the high rpm range, and even then is not thrashy or rough.  Other NVH levels in the Mazda2 are about what should be expected in a thin-skinned subcompact; in other words, be prepared for noisy highway driving

Perhaps Mazda’s greatest feat with this car though is the styling.  As my wife noted upon seeing the car in our driveway, Mazda has pulled off a successful job in styling the Mazda2 to look attractive and not suffer from the awkward, disproportionate look that so many other subcompacts suffer from.  Even with diminutive 15-inch wheels, the Mazda2 looks good from all angles, if not cute.

What Mazda has done with the 2 is make a modern, stylish car based on some of its older technology.  At an as-tested price of $18,300, it is a contender amongst the best of the subcompact segment already.  Just imagine if Mazda upgraded the drivetrain and feature content….

Pricing: 2013 Mazda2 GS
Base price:
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,495
Price as tested: $19,895

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Crash test results
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)

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