2011 Mazda2 Touring

The thing about the Mazda2: Think more along the lines of Laguna Seca, not Indianapolis. “Which means what?,” you may be wondering.

The thing about the Mazda2: Think more along the lines of Laguna Seca, not Indianapolis.

“Which means what?,” you may be wondering.

Well, it’s like this. Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca (yes, Mazda has the naming rights to the course, which makes this all the more apropos), is 2.238 miles long, has 11 turns, and has an elevation range of 749 to 929 feet. It is a challenging track to drive (for some of us, it is a challenging track to even stay on). The fastest “official” race qualifying lap was set by Helio Castroneves in 2000. It took him 1:07.722 to make it up and around and through.

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Now think about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A 2.5-mile oval. A track with four turns. The record holder for a fast qualifying lap there is Arie Luyendyk, who swept around Indy at 236.986 mph—in 1996. (The indomitable Castroneves qualified for the 2003 500 with a speed of 231.725 mph.) Consider that delta between 118.968 mph and 236.986 mph. But chances are, the drivers had to work hard at setting the records. But the nature of the work was different.

So here’s the thing: Laguna Seca is more about handling and agility than it is about raw speed and horsepower. And if you were going to take the Mazda2 on a track, you’re likely to do better—and have more fun—on one with twists and turns than you would on something that is a giant oval.

In point of fact, of course, you’re unlikely to be on any track, period, so this analogy may seem somewhat pointless. But, it isn’t. (Of course, as I am writing this, I am going to say there is a point to it, but if you’ve stayed with me this long. . . .)

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The Mazda2 has a 100-hp, 1.5-liter, DOHC engine. 100 hp. It has a curb weight of 2,359 lb with the automatic transmission, so the 100 hp isn’t as anemic as it might sound. Oh, and about that automatic transmission: it is a four speed. Four. (There’s also a five-speed manual.)

When I was getting on M-14 west of Plymouth, I was doing one of those “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon. . . “ internal chants.

When I was driving in and around Plymouth and the neighborhoods, I had an absolute blast.

And that’s the thing: the Mazda2 is about squirting around, not about straight-line acceleration. The four-speed is setup to provide quick shifts. So think twists and turns, think darting in and out, think sliding on that snow-covered surface then adjusting the electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering and quickly recovering. Think that if you’re driving in a town you’re actually going to get a smile while commuting, but that if you do a lot of highway driving you’re going to be, well. . . .

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(Yes, this picture shows an interior with the five-speed manual.  But the piping on the seats and essentially everything else is the same.)

The car is good, functional, fun transportation. The interior is fit, but not something that you’re likely to get excited about. The materials are good, but you’re pretty much getting what you should expect nowadays in terms of air con and power doors and windows and the like.

The thing is: This car was designed and engineered to be what it is. It isn’t a small car pretending to be a version of something bigger. It isn’t a $17,000 car (MSRP: $16,235 + $750 for delivery, etc.) pretending to be a more expensive car.

It is purposeful. Nowadays, that’s extraordinary.

Generally, most of us not only don’t drive to work on racetracks (slight understatement, that), but we pretty much have a routine go of it on a daily basis. And so the question of whether a car can actually make that routine somewhat more special—and let me hasten to add “a car that mere mortals can afford,” because I suspect that if we had a Pagini Zonda F or the like, we’d be geeked all the time—is worth it. And that is a question that needs be answered individually.

But there is one more question that can be added to the litany: Why not?

Selected specs

Engine: 1.5 liter, DOHC four with variable valve timing

Material: Aluminum block and head

Horsepower: 100 @ 6,000 rpm

Torque: 98 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm

Transmission: Four-speed automatic

Wheelbase: 98 in.

Length: 155.5 in.

Width: 66.7 in.

Height: 58.1 in.

EPA fuel economy: 27 city/33 hwy MPG