There's a Speed Read section in our road tests that includes a one-sentence summary called the "Bottom Line." For the 2011 Mazda 2, that bottom line read, "An adequate commuter with legit room for four. And not much else."
Believe it or not, there are plenty of people on the road these days who are looking for just that. In their minds, the simplest way from A to B is a car and as long as that's the way it is, they'll drive one.
But that doesn't mean simple, no-frills commuter cars don't deserve the same attention and long-term testing we're known for. In fact, given the ratio of fun cars to commuter cars currently on the road, perhaps the subject is under-covered.
Knowing full well that the 2011 Mazda 2 Touring is fully average, we've added one to our long-term fleet. We've had exceptional (GT-R, Z06, R8) and we've had terrible (Smart Fortwo) and now it's time for a trip in the middle. Twelve months and 20,000 miles in Mazda's new small Honda Fit fighter, the 2011 Mazda 2 Touring.
What We Got
The 2011 Mazda 2 is available in two trim levels: Sport and Touring. The Sport designation means a 100-horsepower 1.5-liter 16-valve inline-4 with a five-speed manual transmission, 15-inch steel wheels with covers, 10.2-inch front discs with rear drums, intermittent windshield wipers, power side mirrors, A/C, power windows, power door locks, cloth-trimmed seats, 60/40 split-folding rear seats, four-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with aux input, and dynamic stability control and traction control. All of this for $14,180.
The Mazda 2 Touring starts with the Sport and then adds halogen foglights, 15-inch alloy wheels with Yokohama Avid all-season tires, a rear spoiler, chrome exhaust tip, cloth-trimmed seats with red piping, cruise control, trip computer, leather steering wheel and wheel-mounted audio controls; it also replaces the four-speaker stereo with an eight-speaker job.
Of course, there's a price difference here, a reasonable $1,455 in this case. Cruise control alone on the barren, endless, bone-straight highways of California makes that $1,500 worth it. And speaking of the highway, the Mazda 2 is rated at 35 mpg highway when equipped with the manual transmission, which ours is. A four-speed automatic (the Ford Fiesta has a six-speed auto-clutch manual, but we'll get to that later) is available for $800, but brings the fuel economy down to 33 mpg highway.
When it comes to options, our Mazda 2 is relatively light. The Crystal White Pearl paint is $200 and, well, that's it. There's a dealer "installed" Bluetooth kit that clamps to the sunshade, but that Motorola unit isn't a factory option. This dealer option is a necessity for the 2011 Mazda 2, as Mazda didn't think to equip the 2 with either Bluetooth or a USB/iPod cable. Surely nobody looking into a city-slick compact is the type of person to own a Bluetooth phone/iPod. Right?
Regardless, with such scant options available, our 2011 Mazda 2 runs awfully close to its base price, totaling $16,330 including the $795 destination fee. We did not pay $16,330 for this car, however. Mazda provided it to us for the purpose of this long-term evaluation.
Why We Got It
The most obvious and difficult to answer question here is, "Why not get the 2011 Fiesta?" Well, the reasons for this are multiple, but the main ones stand that we already have a fleet full-o'-Fords and the only current Mazda we have, the 2010 Mazdaspeed 3, won't be around for much longer.
And with its 263-hp turbocharged four-cylinder, it's an enthusiast-only machine. But the Mazda 2 with its 100 hp, 15-inch wheels and all-season tires is an example of the kind of Mazda real people buy. And the kind of car Mazda is hoping will make lots of real people turn their attentions away from the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa and the 2's cousin, the 2011 Ford Fiesta.
But why would they? The Mazda 2 isn't the fastest, cheapest, roomiest, most flexible, best optioned, best handling or most fuel-efficient. Is being a solid all-arounder in a highly competitive automotive industry going to cut it?
Life in the Average Lane
TV chef/awesome guy Alton Brown has a theory on unitaskers. The theory is to stay away from them. It's not that a garlic press is the worst thing in the world, but a flat chunk of granite can press garlic, too. And shell nuts. And keep papers from flying around. And kill rats.
That seems to be the theory behind the Mazda 2. It's not the class leader in any category, but the aggregate value should be high enough to justify its existence. Which is why we have one for the next 12 months. We plan to put 20,000 miles on our new five-speed 1.5-liter 2011 Mazda 2 Touring to see if the average really is good enough.
Current Odometer: 1,642
Best Fuel Economy: 36.6 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 29.6 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 33.5 mpg
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.