In order to keep costs in check, Mazda doesn’t offer a lot of options: two trim lines (Sport or Touring), manual or automatic transmission, pearlescent paint, and from the dealer an auto-dimming mirror with a compass and garage door opener. That’s it: no no Bluetooth, no USB jack, no navigation system, no backup sonar, no backup camera, no sunroof, no sports-handling package, no leather-trimmed seats. Where Mazda didn’t skimp is on safety: You don’t have to pay extra to get dynamic stability control (DSC), a car’s most important safety feature after safety belts and ahead of airbags (of which Mazda has six). Air conditioning is also standard on all Mazda2’s. Some economy cars have a no-AC model so they can promote a lower sticker price. Why Not Swap a USB Jack for the CD Player? If Mazda wanted to provide a limited-frills car, keep costs down, and still appeal to buyers, this new model (it debuted in 2010) should have jettisoned the CD player and replaced it with a USB jack. The cost would be similar. You don’t need focus groups to tell you the CD player is old technology even if it can play MP3 or WMA CDs. Look at the people in the PR photo above: You think Millenials buy CDs or burn CDs? People want to connect a music player or music key via USB. End of discussion. Mazda’s meager iPod solution was to giveyou a line-in jack (right) and make the CD player also read MP3 and WMA files, same as just about every other car does. But that’s the end of the cockpit infotainment offering, not the beginning. Every automaker thinks the CD has outlived its usefulness. Every automaker is scared to be the first to jump off the wagon. They fear a loyal buyer somewhere has yet to hear about the iPod. The Mazda2 would have been the ideal car to say bye-bye to the shiny disc. Cockpit: Less-Is-Mostly-More Dashbord & Instrument PanelThe cockpit materials are good for a car starting at $15,000. The dashboard is uncluttered because a car at this price point doesn’t have all the gadgets of a Mazda RX-8. The radio faceplate has a nice piano black surround but the six radio presets are on the far side (a reach) and the two most distant buttons slope away from the driver. The instrument panel comprises a center speedometer, a smaller tachometer on the left, and an LCD panel on the right for the onboard computer. By tapping the menu button, you cycle among the odometer, trip odometer, trip economy, and outside temperature. The instrument panel is the wrong place to situate a thermometer or clock because the passenger wants to see it as well. In daylight, the onboard computer isn’t as visible as it is in this contrast-enhanced photo. Not Enough Audio Information Another LCD display in the middle of the center stack provides audio information, but not very much: just 12 characters at a time. The cryptic display on the right is from an MP3 CD. The “941” is the clock; if you look hard you’ll see a colon in the time display. This display, too, is hard to read a times, and makes you feel Mazda’s cost cutters were a little too enthusiastic. On the Road: Fine Near Home, in Snow, Less at Home on Interstates In a week of driving, it was fine driving around town, in fact more fun than you might expect. And on a three-state trek ending in New York’s Finger Lakes, the Mazda2 was stable on dry pavement and did fine plowing through a late winter snowstorm. But a car with a short wheelbase (98 inches here) is at the mercy of rough Interstate highways, so our time passing through Pennsylvania was no treat. With three people on this trek, there was adequate luggage space for the weekend. The back seat passenger was okay with knee room once the front seat passenger moved his seat forward, not to the point of discomfort, but a couple inches more than he preferred. The cupholders in the center console tray were smallish (don’t corner hard with drinks on board) and there’s only one 12-volt outlet. Doesn’t Completely Feel Like the Mazda3’s Little Brother The next car up in the Mazda line, the Mazda3 (see review), is two feet longer. Both offer better handling and sportiness than most of their competitors. With the Mazda3, I walked away thinking, “I wouldn’t mind driving this car again.” With the Mazda2, it was, “You can see where they saved a few bucks and, come to think of it, it handled pretty well for a cheap car.” The Mazda2 is basic transportation, made even more basic by the white paint on my test car (check out Mazda2’s in Spirited Green Metallic and True Red that show off the car’s lines) that’s still fun to drive. Easy to Configure (Few Options) Configuring a Mazda2 is pretty easy because Mazda has a good website, second only to Honda in the latest J.D. Power survey (see story) and because there are few choices. There’s one body style, a four-door hatchback; with a 100-hp front-drive engine with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic (add $800); in a Sport (base) trim line or in a Touring model that adds fog lights, 15-inch alloy not steel wheels, cruise control and a trip computer, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with steering wheel audio controls, and six not four audio speakers. The only option is pearl white paint for $200, which didn’t do a lot for the car, I thought, plus dealer installed accessories such as a self-dimming inside mirror with compass and garage door opener. Should You Buy? The Mazda2 comes up short on offering the most basic cockpit infotainment choices – factory installed USB jack and Bluetooth. On a car this cheap, it’s less of an issue that there’s no navigation. Why increase a subcompact’s price by 10% for onboard navi when you can add a decent dash-top navigation unit for $250? For someone who doesn’t care about cockpit tech, and doesn’t mind that fuel economy is good not great for a subcompact (27 city, 33 highway with the four-speed automatic), the Mazda2 is a fine car and it’s more fun to drive than you might expect. Especially since two main competitors, the Toyota Yaris and Nissan Versa, aren’t known for their handling. But the sort-of-competitor Honda Fit blows them all away on fun-to-drive. The closest Mazda2 competitor is the Ford Fiesta (review), which shares a common design platform with the Mazda2. The Fiesta costs a bit more but it also gets better gas mileage, has more cockpit amenities, and offers Ford Sync on most models, with Bluetooth, USB jack, rudimentary cloud-based navigation via cellphone link, and no-cost emergency crash notification. If you know how to drive a stick shift, get it on the Mazda. You’ll get better performance, better fuel economy, and save $800. The Mazda2 is an important vehicle for Mazda because of its sales volume worldwide. It would get a few thousand more sales in the U.S. if Mazda offered something like Sync in the Mazda2. 2011 MAZDA2 KEY FEATURESInfotainment Base audio – AM/FM CD/MP3/WMA head unit, 4 speakersUpgrade audio – AM/FM CD/MP3/WMA head unit, 6 speakersUSB / iPod jack – N/ALine-in jack – StandardBluetooth – N/ABluetooth audio – N/ASatellite radio – N/AHD Radio – N/A12 volt adapters – 1120 volt adapter – N/ANavigation – N/A (Mazda offers dealer accessory portable unit)Rear seat entertainment – N/ADriver Aids Parking sonar – N/ARear camera – N/ABlind spot detection – N/ALane departure warning (LDW) – N/AAdaptive cruise control (ACC) – N/ASafety Airbags – 6Antilock braking system (ABS) – Standard Dynamic stability control (DSC) – StandardTraction control – StandardElectronic brake force distribution (EBD) – Tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS) – Embedded telematics – N/AMayday calling – N/A2011 MAZDA2 Specifications General specs – Four- to five-passenger subcompact hatchback front-drive sedan. 1.5-liter, 100-hp four-cylinder engine. 156 x 67 x 58 inches (HWD). Weight 2,306-2,359 pounds. EPA fuel rating – 29 mpg city / 35 mpg highway manual transmission. 27/33 automatic. (Regular gasoline) Price – $14,975 (Mazda2 Sport, manual gearbox) to $17,430 (Mazda2 Touring, automatic, pearl white paint). Competitors – Ford Fiesta, Nissan Versa, Toyota Yaris, Honda Fit. Mazda2 in BriefPro – Affordable, fun-to-drive small car, good handling. Air conditioning and all key safety features included in base price. Con -No factory USB jack, Bluetooth. Small back seat. So-so mpg for 2,300-pound car. Bottom line – Well-built and affordable, with decent handling offset by unavailable Bluetooth and USB. But traction control and stability control come standard on all Mazda2’s. Better to be annoyed by the crummy infotainment … and alive. If a compact car is more car than you want, check out the subcompact Mazda2. Just nine inches longer than a Mini Cooper, it has a passable back seat and passable trunk space. The price is right at $15,000-$17,000. What’s not so right is an infotainment package that’s nearly three decades old: a CD player and four speakers, six on the upscale model. No USB, no Bluetooth. That’s going to cost Mazda some sales, especially since the Ford Fiesta, with Sync, is essentially similar.