2011 Mazda 2: Best of the Slow Cars? (with Video)
October 27, 2011
Work stuff took me to Carlsbad, California, this week, and when everything wrapped up around 1 p.m. yesterday, I couldn't face a drive back into Los Angeles on I-5/I-405 -- not without having some fun in the Mazda 2 first. But there wasn't time to go Mount Palomar and that left me with Ortega Highway (California 74).
Ortega's kind of a good road, but it's also a major commuter artery between Orange County and Lake Elsinore, so thinking you're going to get any kind of open stretch on a weekday afternoon borders on delusional. For that reason, I avoid it. Ordinarily. And then I remembered this little road that meanders south from Ortega Hwy just before you get to the lake. The long-term Mazda 2 and I had our mission then.
Not sure why I've never driven the Mazda 2 on a back road before, but I hadn't. Maybe I was worried about the lack for torque for accelerating out of corners. Maybe I was worried about climbing hills -- Glendora Mountain Road, for example, has a lot of those.
But on this road, at this pace (brisk, but not all out, as I encountered other motorists who weren't so mindful of the double yellow boundary) the Mazda 2 had just enough at 4,000 rpm in 3rd gear. The engine was smooth and happy and sweet sounding at this speed. Of course, I'd drop to 2nd or upshift to 4th at times, just because I enjoy the shifting.
I really enjoyed the rest of the package, too. This road is a little bumpy, but the 2 has enough suspension travel/compliance that it never got uncomfortable. It was composed, too, over the bumps and wrinkles in the road, so there's no reason to complain that, 'eh, this car has a twist-beam axle so that's a liability for handling.'
Turn-in is quick, not as ridiculously sharp as a Mini Cooper, but still great for a car in this class. The excellent steering feel we keep writing about really comes into play on a road like this, because you know what's going on with the front end and you have the confidence to press harder.
As you'll see if watch more than a few seconds of my long, riveting (riveting being a euphemism for mediocre) video, I made a couple laps, because it was such a good time. Didn't use the brakes hard, because the pace wasn't fast enough and because I didn't want to be scrubbing off speed if I didn't have to. But when I did use them, the pedal feel was good.
It was a great autumn afternoon (finding a 4-mile open stretch on a particularly twisty part of Ortega Hwy was icing), and I just don't think I can't let the Mazda 2 wrap up its tenure in our fleet without me taking another drive like this. So I'm angling to keep it for another weekend.
Erin Riches, Senior Editor @ 15,767 miles