2011 Mazda 2 Touring: Shift Tower
December 14, 2010
The shift lever looks a little funny, since it seems to jut right out of the instrument panel. Seems like it should come out of the floor, like a shift lever should.
But after driving around an old Porsche 911 recently, it's pretty clear to me that Porsche has something to learn from this cheap and cheerful Mazda. All you have to do is take a look at the proximity of the Mazda 2's shift knob to the rim of the steering wheel.
After driving around recently in a Porsche 911SC -- a car of the early 1980s, when the Porsche 911 still carried the DNA of the Volkswagen Beetle -- it made me wonder how anyone could drive those early 911s very quickly. You practically have to reach all the way under the dash to find the shift lever, which is about two inches too low and two inches too far forward. It makes you feel like you're driving some ancient tractor, pretty much the opposite of what you'd expect from a sports car. No wonder there's still a thriving trade in aftermarket shift linkages for early 911s that moves the lever back between the front seats where you can reach it (and never mind the comfort of the front seat passenger).
The Mazda 2 addresses the same issue of limited space between the front seats by making the shift linkage do the old rally car thing and come out from the dash -- it's one of the advantages of having the engine in front of you instead of behind. There's no fumbling beneath the dash for the shift lever; just move your hand a few inches and there it is. A crisp, sure shift action in the Mazda style with light-effort throws, strong spring loading into the shift gates and firm gear engagement does the rest.
When you've got an engine that needs an active hand with the gears to get the best from it, everything has to be right. From ergonomics to the mechanical bits, the Mazda 2 is a good lesson in how to do it right. Now, if we could just do something about action of the clutch pedal, eh?
Michael Jordan, Executive Editor, Edmunds.com @ 4,391 miles