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Small Car, Big Deal

The 2011 Mazda2

The world automotive press, especially here in the US, has been all excited about the upcoming North American debut of the new Ford Fiesta. Except that it’s not really a debut, but more of a reintroduction, as the Fiesta was sold here back in 1978-80. In 1981 Ford introduced the Escort to the US, and that spelled the end of the road for the Fiesta. In North America anyway. It’s been going strong in the rest of the world ever since, and the recent spike in gas prices, not to mention the global financial collapse, has gotten automobile manufacturers rethinking their “bigger and faster is better” way of doing business. Thus, we have Ford bringing bask the Fiesta sometime this summer.

Somewhat lost in the shuffle is the introduction to North America of the Mazda2. Mazda and Ford have been in a partnership since the 1970s. The predecessor of the small Ford Ranger pickup in the US was the Courier—a rebadged Mazda B1600 truck. (In an ironic twist, Mazda dealers until recently sold a rebadged Ford Ranger pickup as the B2600.) In this same spirit of cooperation, the Mazda2 shares a platform with the Fiesta. Although it may be new to North America, the Mazda2 has been around for a while, winning car of the year awards in Japan, New Zealand, Chile, Bulgaria, and Greece (as well as in New York in 2008, even though the car wasn’t yet available here). In the three years since its introduction, Mazda has sold over 370,000 units. Like the Fiesta, will hit US dealers sometime this summer.

Going with a trend which I hope to see catch on with other manufacturers, the new Mazda2 is actually smaller than the model it replaces. In the US it will be available only as a five-door hatchback (a three-door hatch is also available in some other markets). If you’ve been paying attention at all to automotive advertising the past few years, you know the Mazda catch phrase by now: “Zoom-Zoom.” In this smaller, compact design they’ve decided to call it “Zoom-Zoom Concentrated.” Let’s hear it right from them: “Mazda pursued a concentrated, taut form for the body as a virtue in itself, not to simply reduce the car’s body size. This creative background was advantageous in efforts to achieve maximum dynamic performance within the new MAZDA2’s compact body. In other words, the MAZDA2 possesses the essence of Mazda’s spirit of compact, sporty dynamic performance.”

Whew! Apparently a lot more goes into car designing than sitting around and sketching “dream cars” like we did as school kids. Designers, according to Mazda, used certain body lines, along with the way light is reflected off of them, to give the illusion that the Mazda2 is moving even while it is standing still. I’m not sure why this is important, but I do think it’s a good-looking little car. This design philosophy does make me wonder though—it if looks like it’s moving while it’s standing still, what does it look like while it’s moving? Does it look like it’s going faster than it is? Back to its looks, I must say I prefer the more subdued grille on the UK version, compared to the large, grinning front end we’re seeing on all new American Mazdas.

Anyway, the new Mazda2 in the US will be powered by a 1.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, mated to either a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. I’m kind of surprised in this day and age of five- and six-speed automatics that Mazda has stuck with these rather old-fashioned transmissions. In the UK you’d have a choice from three different gasoline and two diesel engines, but there’s no automatic transmission offered at all.

Overall, silly grin or not, the Mazda2 is looking like it’s a great little car.

Read “You Auto Know” every other week in Artvoice and more often on AV Daily at Plus check out Jim’s bolog:

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