Review by Jacob Black, photos by Jacob Black and Stephanie Wallcraft
When I was a teenager, the go-to advice from every adult on the planet seemed to be exactly the same. “Just be yourself,” they’d say. “You don’t have to have money, you don’t have to be quirky, or the fastest at everything, or the best, just be yourself”.
I think the Mazda engineers said the same thing to the Mazda2 the day it rolled off the production line. “Just be yourself, little fella’”. And they were right. The Mazda2 proves you don’t have to be the quickest, quirkiest or the most expensive – if you’re true to your purpose and your nature, you’ll charm anyone.
And the Mazda2 is charming thanks to its calm authenticity, its quiet confidence, and its cheerful styling.
It is a tiny car, with a tiny 1.5L engine, which pushes its meagre 100 hp and 98 lb-ft of torque through a tiny five-speed manual gearbox. Despite the lack of poke, there is a peppy engine note that never sounds harsh or rough, the Mazda2 happily pootles along knowing deep within itself that it’s a great little car, with no need to try and be anything different.
2013 Mazda2. Click image to enlarge
Not that there weren’t any flaws. Our tester had a metallic ringing sound that appeared anytime I released the clutch while accelerating – it sounded exactly like a loose washer ringing against a shaft and may have been any number of things. My money is on automotive journalists thrashing the gearbox on previous test drives; heaven knows I did the same thing. The Mazda2’s peak power and torque come on at 6,000 and 4,000 rpm respectively so it’s little wonder overzealous journos like me give the gearbox a bit of flack.
The gear lever juts out from high on the centre stack – it’s a great position that keeps the lever close to the steering wheel and makes shifts simple. The throw is longer than I’d like, and the gates are nice and wide – a concession to ease of driving over outright sportiness. It’s a good, honest little gearbox – no pretense, just fuss-free gear changes.
“So,” I hear you say. “I guess the Mazda2 is a good commuter car and not much else then?”
Ah, now we get to the second piece of oft-given advice from older folk: “Be careful of the quiet ones.”
I had cheekily suggested to Mazda’s PR team that I’d like to take the Mazda2 out to do an auto-slalom event while I had it. Not only did they allow me, they encouraged me, and also provided a Mazda2 B-Spec racecar for me to sample for the event as well. All of a sudden, I realized there was more to this little car than first imagined.
2013 Mazda2. Click image to enlarge
The day of the auto slalom the B-Spec car was trailered out to me. The only real changes to the race car are Bilstein coilover shocks and race springs, front and rear sway bars, a cat-back exhaust system, and a stripped-out interior. A roll cage and race seats with a five-point harness are added for obvious reasons.
The engine puts out the same 100 hp, and 98 lb-ft of torque, the race car even comes with the same front-disc, rear-drum brake setup. It does have different wheels, however: six-spoke race wheels with slicks instead of the 15-inch steelies with all-seasons and wheel covers on my tester.
My first and second runs of the day were done in the road car. A 77-second run the first time out, a 72-second run next.
On the road I’d found the Mazda compliant and nippy, able to switch lanes and dart through traffic with ease; bumps were certainly felt, but never upset the suspension. On the slalom course the Mazda2 tipped in quickly, but had a large amount of body roll, and the road tires scrambled for grip. Engine noise was loud, but not harsh. I even welcome the gear lever’s wide, accommodating gates – I didn’t have to worry about mis-shifting.
There was a bit of front-wheel understeer, and the car pushed wide on corner exit, but the wheels still felt connected – there was none of the “tuck under” of the outside wheel found in other front-drive cars. Using second when I should be in first cost me eons of time as the engine took a long time to spool back up again.
The brakes held up well with no noticeable brake fade, and the seat did a far better job than I expected of keeping me in place. The pedals were too far apart for heel and toeing, but I’m not sure that would have helped me anyway.
From there I went to the racecar. After letting one of the more experienced educators take me around (he did a 65.2) I had my go. 71 seconds. I could hear James Bergeron laughing at me from Ottawa.