Home » Underrated: The Humble Mazda2 is a Sub-$8,000 Box Of Epic Fun, Especially On The Track

Underrated: The Humble Mazda2 is a Sub-$8,000 Box Of Epic Fun, Especially On The Track

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Joy in simplicity has become a bit of a rare concept in economy cars over the past few years. Between ever-increasing screen sizes, overly complex infotainment software, bloated curb weights, characterless powerplants, and the death of the manual gearbox, it’s not exactly a high water mark. There’s still some good stuff here and there, but there are far fewer options than there were just ten years ago. 2014 was chock-full of simpler, more inexpensive fare; in fact it marked the final year of one of Mazda’s best econoboxes, ever: The 2 hatchback — a vehicle that is actually fun to drive on the track.

Let’s discuss what makes the Mazda2 such a categorically good car (get ready for footage of me wheeling my own around a track), as well as why it’s an absolute deal in the used car market.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

The Basics

The Mazda2 subcompact debuted in dealer showrooms back in July 2010 and was very well-received. Against its Ford Fiesta (which it has a lot in common with), Honda Fit, Kia Rio, and Toyota Yaris competition, the 2 was widely regarded as very fun to drive, nice to look at, and easy to fit into.

2014 Mazda2
Mazda

It also sports a spacious interior for its size, and a surprisingly among of cubic feet behind the front seats: Up to 27.8 cubic feet with the rear 60/40 bench folded flat—impressive for such a teeny hatch.

The 2’s specs aren’t exactly earth-shattering: the naturally aspirated 1.5-liter four-cylinder produces 100 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque, which makes its way to the front wheels via a four-speed conventional automatic or five-speed manual transaxle. Thanks to its featherlight curb weight of around 2,300 pounds (shocking by today’s standards), it’ll hit 60 mph in just over nine seconds, and cross the quarter mile mark in 17 flat, as reported by Car And Driver back in 2012.

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2012 Mazda2 36hi 1

It also wasn’t the most economical in its class, but it wasn’t bad with an EPA-rated 28 mpg city and 34 mpg highway when new.

Mazda2 track car
Two-wheeling over Turn 1 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway’s Outside Road Course – Cali Photography

The Fun Factor

Mazda’s no stranger to taking pride in building cars that are fun to drive, and the 2 was no different. Heck, even the press release from its final 2014 model year mentions that the 2 fit into Pirelli World Challenge’s Touring Car B class, and that if folks were inclined to learn more, Mazda Motorsports had them covered. I’ve written about TCB quite a bit in the past at other publications; it’s a class that I sincerely miss from pro touring car racing. Luckily, it lives on with healthy car-counts in SCCA club racing‘s B-Spec class.

But here’s the reason for my brief tangent into motorsports: The 2 is such a naturally fun car. I’ve got all the experience here as I owned one for eight years, covering over 120,000 miles, a few autocrosses, and dozens of track days.

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It’s such a light and tossable chassis—hell, it could pull 0.85 G when new on stock suspension and tires, which ain’t bad at all.

And thankfully, a few minor modifications can really help enthusiasts take advantage of this. Notably, an aftermarket rear sway bar, eccentric bolts up front to gain a little negative camber, stronger brake pads, and some decent aftermarket suspension work. Like Koni STR.T dampers and aftermarket springs by Racing Beat, Eibach, or H&R. Or any number of coilover options. Cornering grip becomes downright impressive with very little effort.

Upgrading the suspension and giving it a good alignment helps with its already-quite-good electrically assisted steering, and installing new shifter bushings and a short shifter really improves this input. For a light bump in power, a short-ram intake helps gain a few ponies and gives it a throatier intake sound, and there are still some aftermarket exhaust systems out there. There’s also a header option, too. Chris Taylor Racing sells a B-Spec-approved ECU tune that shifts the power band around and gives it better response.

Mazda 2 and Honda Fit on track
Cali Photography

Manual gearing is pretty good, and the engine feels reasonably torquey, but 100 horsepower is still 100 horsepower. It’s fun for ripping around city streets, but quickly becomes not enough when passing on the highway or dealing with steep grades.

By the time I was ready to sell mine and start investing more time and money into my 2011 BMW 128i, I’d thrown on lightweight 15×7.5 wheels, sticky 205/50/15 tires, Fortune Auto coilovers with Swift springs, a rear sway bar, camber bolts, track-ready brake pads … and that’s about it. I also removed the rear seats and threw in a Sparco QRT-R fixed back racing seat, and would remove the front passenger seat for track days. This netted a curb weight of 2,098 pounds—thing was a total riot on track and often kept up with far more powerful hardware in the corners.

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Straightaways … not so much, but that’s OK as it was such an overall riot, and never gave me any issues whatsoever.

2014 Mazda2
Mazda

Downsides and Costs

I recommend the Mazda2 to anyone who’s after the thrifty small car life and doesn’t want to spend too much cash up front. However, there are a few potential downsides to keep in mind.

It’s a tall-person-friendly hatch, but doesn’t have the best legroom. Fully pushed back, I wasn’t able to stretch my legs out as much as I wish I could’ve, and I did a lot of roadtrips at its helm. Then, it’s chock-full of chintzy, cheap plastics; par for the course for subcompacts back then, and it never bothered me. Though, it might be thing for some people.

2012 Mazda2 39hi 1

Besides that, there’s not much negative to report … it feels weird to say this after several years of German car ownership.

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Maintenance is pretty minimal — just regular synthetic oil changes with some minor services thrown in. Make sure those spark plugs are done around 80,000 miles. There’s not much to look out for, either: Oil pans may prematurely leak, and sometimes the audio system has issues. The clutch pedal can also develop a clicking noise, but it’s nothing a little grease won’t remedy. That’s about it.

The car possesses MacPherson strut front suspension and a twist beam out back, so there aren’t a whole lot of bushing to inspect and replace. Again, joy in simplicity, and the rear beam allows for above-average rotation when matched with a good suspension setup.

Mazda 2 values
AutoTempest.com

Parts prices are very inexpensive, too. In fact, lot of consumables are shared with its FoMoCo contemporary the Ford Fiesta. Fun fact: The Mazda2’s engine even has FoMoCo branding on it—I learned this when I was given a blown-up example for parts many years ago, and was looking into getting the camshafts reground … sigh, I should’ve done that.

Anyway, it’s got immensely inexpensive maintenance going for it. Plus, the 2 doesn’t have a whole lot of oil, coolant, ATF, or gear oil running through it—even better.

As far as pricing goes, clean Touring trim examples seem to fetch around $8,000 at the high-end on a dealer lot. These have handsome 15-inch alloys, fog lights, cruise control, and a stylist rear spoiler. Expect to pay around the same for low-mileage Sport trim in top shape. Sadly, manual transmission examples are a little rare, but they’re certainly out there. While COVID messed with values a tad, it’s still quite easy finding one with either an automatic or manual transmission in good overall shape for $6,000 or less. Especially private-party.

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2014 Mazda2
Mazda

Give One A Good Home

Whether you’re looking for a thrifty and functional commuter, something you can turn into a little demon in the corners, or some combination of the above, don’t overlook the humble Mazda2. It’s low in cost, small in size, and large in moxie. The more I blabber about it here, the more I consider selling everything off and returning to the quaint 2 life myself.

2010 Mazda2
2010 Mazda2

Especially considering that there will probably never be another car like it in the future. Who knew a cute little econobox could make such an impact after just a short four years on the new car market?

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Marques Dean
Marques Dean
24 days ago

Fun little cars like these are the reason why I still keep my 2012 Fiat 500 Abarth.
Fuel efficient,affordable (easy on the insurance, registration and maintenance) and a go-kart when it needs to be. Not many Mazda 2 models left on the market,most of the ones I’ve seen were rebuilt after accidents and still command a premium to a point.

Box Rocket
Box Rocket
25 days ago

Can confirm the Mazda2 is a hoot to drive for what it is.

If you want a newer version (albeit as a sedan), look over at Scion/Toyota: they sold the 2 as the Scion iA and later the Yaris iA after Scion folded. They should have called it the iM (for Mazda) but that went to the Corolla iM hatchback.

It got one last name change before they ended production, to just the Yaris after Toyota stopped offering their own Yaris here briefly before the latest model came out. I think they also started selling it as a hatchback here, then, too, but I’m not sure.

You can get a Mazda front bumper cover for the iA/Yaris fairly inexpensively to dramatically improve the looks, but a quality paint job might be out of reach for some. I think the headlamps also have to be swapped out, due to the garnish on the Toyota version that would protrude where the Mazda grille goes.

Fun fact: You can “import” the updated Mazda2 (even in hatchback form) from Puerto Rico and it’s 100% legal in the U.S., thanks to being certified to sell in P.R. Shipping isn’t the cheapest, but it’s roughly the same as doing the face transplant, and then you get a hatchback with all the right logos from the factory.

Last edited 25 days ago by Box Rocket
Marty Densch
Marty Densch
29 days ago

There’s a shop where I live (Beloit, Wis.) that builds Spec-Miata race cars, Advanced Autosports. They worked up a Mazda2 into a B-spec racer shortly after the car came out. Not sure what ever happened to it.

Joe L
Joe L
29 days ago

Somebody somewhere must have done a Mazdaspeed 3 swap into one of these.

Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
28 days ago
Reply to  Joe L

I think Mazda did one for SEMA back when these came out.

PajeroPilot
PajeroPilot
29 days ago

Love my Mazda 2. I bought one a couple of years ago to do a 90km commute (180km round trip) three times a week as I wanted to save on fuel and avoid putting more kays on the Pajero. My requirements for a car were: good fuel economy, relatively new with relatively modern safely features, a manual transmission and budget of $7000. I ended up with a bright green Mazda 2 Neo (the base model in Aus).

A quarter of the drive is in urban stop-start traffic, a quarter on motorway and half on country roads, with a big arse hill and some twisty bits included. In the winding sections it feels agile and fun. With just myself on board, it has enough power to feel lively and can cruise up the 7% gradient, 3km hill at 120km/hr in 4th gear. Doing this the soundtrack in the cabin is similar to a Cessna though…

I’m not a “manual or die” guy, I more think in terms of the right transmission for the right job. These little light weight cars are an example of where a traditional torque converter automatic would make it miserable to drive. To enjoy a Mazda 2, you need the manual.

The interior might be full of hard plastics but it’s all very well screwed together and my 11 year old example has no squeaks or rattles. A Pioneer Apple CarPlay head unit has given it the niceties of Google Maps on the dash and a reversing camera to make reverse parallel parking ridiculously easy.

I call it the $60 car. It costs me $60 to refuel and $60 to service (just chuck an oil filter and 5w30 synthetic at it). I’m not game to ride a motorcycle to work but this is the next cheapest thing.

Maymar
Maymar
29 days ago

I traded in my 2 after 10 years, a few months back. Cheap and sensible to run, no real problems (had a spring crack just out of warranty which ended up being an excuse to put on Mazda’s lowering springs, and had to replace the rear shocks a couple years ago), and it had more personality than any other newish normal car I’ve driven. On the other hand, it was loud and buzzy, and pretty tiny inside. I mean, we made it work as the sole family car through the rear-facing seat days (good thing I’m stumpy-legged) and creative packing helps, although I found my wife’s old ’04 Accent better for hauling stuff (the pinched rear end and the smallish hatch door were a limitation). Still, excellent little cars.

My Skoda is the Most Superb
My Skoda is the Most Superb
29 days ago

My best friend bought a 2011 Mazda2 back in 2017 for the princely sum of $4000. She had never driven a manual in her life but bought it anyway. We were in college so we cut a deal between us: She’d tutor me in my accounting classes and I’d help her learn how to drive her new-to-her car. I passed my accounting class that semester with an A and she still drives her 2 around to this day.

I’m not the biggest fan of how the clutch operates in the 2, feels more like an on/off switch instead of a pedal with actual travel, but beyond that it’s fun in the slow-car-fast kind of manner. It’s also been very reliable with incredibly minimal maintenance.

My friend would love a new one but of course that’s not possible. She has her eye on the latest Mazda3 hatch with a stick. I told her to get a Miata, she said she’s tempted lol.

Bryan
Bryan
29 days ago

This was a – pun intended – sticking point for me when I was shopping for an efficient commuter 12 years ago. Ended up in a Scion iQ, of all things (which still is my primary driver)

Toecutter
Toecutter
29 days ago

This car would be so much better if it was RWD…

Joshua Christian
Joshua Christian
29 days ago
Reply to  Toecutter

A compact econohatch?

Toecutter
Toecutter
29 days ago

Indeed. The Toyota Sprinter Trueno is legendary for this reason, but the Mazda 2 is a significantly more aerodynamically-streamlined vehicle and of similar mass. From there, they could have improved upon it further by putting in the compact 1.8L V6 from the Mazda MX3 coupe, and maybe tuned it for somewhere around 250 horsepower. That would be a riot to drive with a 6-speed manual from an MX5.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
29 days ago

I spent three weeks putting 3000km on a Mazda2 driving all over the Irish back country. Absolutely one of my top driving memories and it’s hard to think of a vehicle that would provide more joy under those circumstances. If we’d had more HP we couldn’t have wrung it out on those twisty roads through jade hills

Lightweight, low power, manual transmission is the recipe for joy

Don Mynack
Don Mynack
29 days ago

These are getting way harder to find with a manual.

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
29 days ago

With the manual transmission, the Ford Fiesta (same chassis) is a better option. The real reason to pick this over the Fiesta is if you want an automatic… which would be the PowerShit in the Ford while being a conventional/reliable 4 speed auto in the Mazda.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
29 days ago

I’m ignorant of the differences. What makes the Ford a better buy?

Manwich Sandwich
Manwich Sandwich
29 days ago

The Fiesta has more powerful engine options (such as the turbo ST model) and they’re more widely available and thus, you’re more likely to get one for a better deal.

But again, only a better deal with the manual. And only a better deal with the right engine such as the regular 1.5 or 1.6L non-turbo 4 cyl or the turbo 1.6 in the ST. Stay away from any PowerShit equipped one and stay away from the 1L ecoboost.

Maymar
Maymar
29 days ago

To some extent, the extra power in the Fiesta’s N/A 1.6 is a bit of a wash because it also weighs a couple hundred pounds extra (although if that extra weight comes with more sound deadening, might be worth it). But yes, the ST is something else entirely.

Madewithgenuineparts
Madewithgenuineparts
29 days ago

The only good looking Nagare-era Mazda – learned manual in a modified 2014 Touring (lowered etc) and it’s a great little go-kart, good gateway drug into car enthusiasm for sure

Eric W
Eric W
1 month ago

Got a 2012 in Spirited Green, a delightful color, and I think we only replaced a motor mount up till its untimely totaling a couple of years ago. Was the wife’s car and auto, so I drove it once when we bought it and never again. sigh. Replaced with a CX-30, good so far but not as zippy.

R.Z.
R.Z.
1 month ago

My primary drive around 2012-2017 was a Gen 6 Ford Fiesta which is basically the same car as Mazda 2. In our market region they were produced in the same plant, shared the same Mazda ZY-VE engine and FN 4-AT / Getrag B5 5-MT. The version I got is a SVP variant which has some handling-orientated suspension tuning from the OEM (ride height, camber, toe-in that sort of stuff). Just as Pete mentioned in the article, the car is just so tossable and zippy to drive in the city. The running / repair cost is so low it’s almost a crime to let it go, so it became my wife’s daily drive for her short commute. Whenever I got the chance to drive it again now and then, it’s such a revelation – what a good change from my current much heavier “sporty” sedan. We’re just gonna keep the Fiesta until something fundamental breaks beyond redemption (which doesn’t seem likely). Eying on the electric Mini Cooper as replacement but wanted the EV to mature a bit more.

Cheap Bastard
Cheap Bastard
1 month ago

the naturally aspirated 1.5-liter four-cylinder produces 100 horsepower and 98 pound-feet of torque, which makes its way to the front wheels via a four-speed conventional automatic or five-speed manual transaxle. Thanks to its featherlight curb weight of around 2,300 pounds (shocking by today’s standards), it’ll hit 60 mph in just over nine seconds, and cross the quarter mile mark in 17 flat, as reported by Car And Driver back in 2012. It also wasn’t the most economical in its class, but it wasn’t bad with an EPA-rated 28 mpg city and 34 mpg highway when new.

Those specs are almost a dead ringer for the Mk1 VW GTI (+500 lbs or so, close to a GLI) , just with way better crash protection, better build quality, better reliability, probably better NVH….

Besides that, there’s not much negative to report … it feels weird to say this after several years of German car ownership.

Welcome to the wonderful world of Japanese car ownership!

Last edited 1 month ago by Cheap Bastard
Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
28 days ago
Reply to  Cheap Bastard

Yeah I’ve made the MZ2 to MK1/2 GTI comparison so many times my friends are pretty tired of hearing it.

Younork
Younork
1 month ago

I’m still not over the death of the economy car in the US. The idea of a fun car that is cheap in every way is so appealing, yet completely nonexistent from the new market. I appreciate a car which isn’t pretending to be something it isn’t.

Morgan van Humbeck
Morgan van Humbeck
29 days ago
Reply to  Younork

Ugh. Preach

Wagonsarethebestanswer
Wagonsarethebestanswer
1 month ago

My wife bought one of these a couple months ago. 2011 base model 5-speed, with 63k miles. Peppy/fun to drive if U thrash it around (don’t tell her I said that). I can confirm that the driver’s seat should slide back a few more clicks. Funny thing about the Maz-2 is that they seem really small, but the wheelbase is very nearly the same as our Jetta & Subaru wagons, there’s just barely any front/rear overhangs on the Mazda.

Marc Fuhrman
Marc Fuhrman
1 month ago

Oh yeah, these are wonderful little cars. I’ve owned a 2011 since 2016 and have put on like 120k miles on it and it’s just been great. The Z series engine in these are basically just a modernized Mazda B series with a timing chain, so they are super reliable and respond well to tuning. Coupled with the well balanced chassis and slick manual gearbox, these really do feel like a Miata’s dorky little sister.
And the few issues these do suffer from are small and easy to fix. They do have a little bit of an appetite for suspension components like rear shocks, but that’s a two bolt job.And almost all of them have a wonky or straight up non working radio. Basically, one of three resistors on the top of the unit develop hairline cracks in the soldered joints due to yearly heat cycles, causing issues. Pulling the radio out and re-soldering (or just replacing the whole thing with an aftermarket unit) is all that’s needed.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
1 month ago

Talk about retaining value… that’s a 10-year-old car with 62k miles selling for 65% of its original MSRP!

I looked for one for a while and found that [a] most of them have been ridden hard and put away wet, with odometers over 150k and [b] I think they’re overpriced for what they are.

I’ve switched my search to a later model Honda Fit.

EXL500
EXL500
29 days ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

I have a 2015 Fit. The prices they are commanding are pretty high.

Eggsalad
Eggsalad
29 days ago
Reply to  EXL500

Indeed they are. That sometimes happens when a manufacturer quits selling a popular model. I’ve seen 2019-2020 Fits with 30k selling for more than they did when new. Grrr.

EXL500
EXL500
29 days ago
Reply to  Eggsalad

And they’re popular because they’re so good.

Lhn91
Lhn91
1 month ago

I’ve put about 140000 kms (it’s at 259000) into my 5-Speed manual, base model 2011 Mazda 2 (purchased at 114000, in 2017 from a used dealership for $4995 CDN!). It’s my daily commuter.

Yeah, it’s starting to rust, the joys of Ontario winter. Yeah, the clutch pedal clicks unless you push it down from the outer edge of the pedal and has for years now. Yeah, the radio has occasional issues. Yeah the steering linkage likes to get clunky after a while, addressed with some lube. I’ve also had to do the plugs and the oil pan once each, and a frustrating amount of rear shock replacements (twice so far). But it’s otherwise been an incredibly reliable and efficient vehicle that gets great fuel economy and is pretty fun to drive as long as you accept it’s never going to be a top speed beast.

Last edited 1 month ago by Lhn91
Anthony L
Anthony L
1 month ago

Thanks for giving the 2 some love! I picked up mine a few months ago. 5 Speed MT 37k mi. ~$9k
A quick swap of the stereo for an android auto unit and we are good to go. Currently daily driving into Manhattan. Added bonus, it’s small enough to find street parking most days.

Steve P
Steve P
1 month ago

The dash vents and CD player look like a sleeping frog.

Cerberus
Cerberus
1 month ago

While I don’t doubt it’s more fun by virtue of lightweight and simplicity and the small car ability to be hammered on all day without complaint, it’s a good example of why subcompacts are nearly gone. For $20k in 2011, I bought a ’12 Focus SE 5MT with the sport package (17″ wheels and some trim stuff). Cargo with the seats up was almost what the 2 has with them down, it averaged 36 mpg for over 200k with Corolla-like maintenance, 0-60 in about 8 flat, nicer interior (!), fully independent suspension with the rear design developed from one fettled by Lotus, and it was decent to drive for what it was (would be if the stupid damn stability could only be shut off, but that came in ’16 when I bought an ST brand new for $23k). It was also a better car in every way than the more expensive, flimsier (front subframe felt like it was attached with rubber bushings made of old condoms and I’m pretty sure the bumper covers were waterproofed papier mache), rust-prone Mazda3 2.3 5MT hatch it replaced that you wouldn’t even know was the same platform.

Rad Barchetta
Rad Barchetta
1 month ago
Reply to  Cerberus

I went out looking for a used car in that class a few years back. I absolutely adored the Mazda2. What a wonderful little car and such a blast to drive. Great suspension, Miata-like transmission… seems like everything Mazda touched in that era was cool.
Unfortunately it two things holding it back: 1. They were fairly hard to find with a manual when I was looking, and 2. to your point, the value was atrocious. For the same money or less, I could get a newer, better equipped Fit or even a Mazda3. I never did pull the trigger on any of them, though.

Lizardman in a human suit
Lizardman in a human suit
1 month ago
Reply to  Cerberus

Well, the later mazda 2/ yaris has been fantastic for me. Well, besides the toyota face. As for rust, well, I live in the desert.

EXL500
EXL500
29 days ago

A friend has the Scion iA sedan version, and it punches above its weight in smoothness and quality. The grille, however…

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