In case you haven’t heard, the little British “Zoom Zoom” kid with the big ears wants you to know that the 2011 Mazda 2 has joined the mushrooming subcompact class of cars. Mazda says the new 2 is Zoom Zoom “concentrated,” but more accurately it’s really a single Zoom. Not that the sprightly little hatchback isn’t fun to drive, because it is.

The 2011 Mazda 2 may be new to the U.S. but like the Honda Fit and Toyota Yaris before it, the 2 has been sold in Europe and Asia for several years. It has been named Car of the Year in more than 20 countries and voted 2008 World Car of the Year by international automotive journalists.

A product of a Mazda-Ford collaboration, the 2011 Mazda 2 and the 2011 Ford Fiesta are design cousins. Unlike the Fiesta, with a sedan and hatchback body styles, the 2 is offered only as a four-door hatch with two trim levels, Sport and Touring. Both have a single engine offering, a 1.5-liter four cylinder, and two transmission choices, a standard five-speed manual and an optional four-speed automatic.

When it comes to the Mazda 2’s fuel economy, the EPA gives a polite rating of 29 city/35 highway/32 combined with the manual gearbox; 27 city/33 highway/29 combined with the automatic. While the numbers aren’t a fuel economy home run, the 32 mpg combined matches the Toyota Yaris and is better than the Honda Fit and Nissan Versa.

Exterior And Interior

Adopting design cues from its big brother, the Mazda 3, the Mazda 2 retains much of the sleek hatchback styling that the 3 is known for. A drastically swept-back windshield and up-swept body side creases give it a wedged shape, while front fender bulges add an aggressive dimension. The smile-shaped black honeycomb grille doesn’t look as goofy as it does on the 3, in fact, it comes off as being somewhat cute.

Inside, the swoops and creases of the exterior are replaced with the pleasing, simple lines of the dash. The layout is a throw back to when ”less is more,” and function of gauges and controls were apparent from appearance and location. The cabin may be Spartan in appearance, but it doesn’t feel like a stripped down econobox. Hard plastics have an attractive grain and panels fit tightly together. That said, things could be a little more comfortable if the armrest on the door panel where padded.

The arched roofline of the Mazda 2 affords taller occupants adequate headroom front and rear. For longer-legged drivers, there is enough seat travel, aided by a telescoping steering column and height-adjustable driver’s seat, to allow a comfortable fit behind the wheel. Rear-door openings are small and the rear seat is tight on legroom and toe space. Adults won’t look forward to a long ride in the back seats.

Mazda 2

If a toddler is a frequent rear seat passenger, installing a child safety seat can be a challenge because the lower Latch anchors are tightly embedded between the seat cushion and seat back. The 13.3 cubic feet behind the seat can easily accommodate a stroller along with accompanying necessities. Fold the rear seats and the 27.8 cubic feet of space can swallow, with a little maneuvering, a mountain bike without removing the wheels.

On The Road

Weighing in at 2,306 pounds, the 100 horsepower output from the 1.5-liter four cylinder isn’t as anemic as it might sound. Because of its light weight, the Mazda 2 feels quite peppy. And, with 90 percent of the engine’s 90 foot-pounds of torque available at only 2500 rpm, the throttle pedal is quite responsive. From stop to 60 mph arrives in about nine seconds, which is on par with others in the class. Running through the gears of the manual-equipped test car, acceleration feels more brisk than that, but beyond 60 mph the little all-aluminum engine starts to run out of breath. On the Interstate, once 70-75 mph is reached, things settle in and the 2 becomes a competent cruiser.

If you’re wondering where the Mazda Zoom Zoom, or in this case, Zoom, comes into play, it’s on two-lane country roads. The chassis and steering setup result in an uncommonly connected driving experience. The gearbox, operated via a dash-mounted shifter, isn’t Miata snick, snick, but throws are relatively short and the clutch operates with a smooth firmness. The little Mazda corners with precision, and even at speed it doesn’t often call on its stability control, tucking into bends with enthusiasm.

While fun on twisty lanes, the Mazda 2 will most often be used for urban motoring where its small-size maneuverability really shines—it scoots easily through city traffic, fits into small parking spaces, and can complete U-turns in the width of a typical side street.

Nearly all of the 201 miles we drove were, shall we say, a little more spirited than normal. This showed up when our fuel economy numbers averaged 30.2 mpg. That’s not bad, but less than the EPA’s estimated combined of 32 mpg. We’ve asked for another test driver and will update this with expected improved fuel economy numbers.

Economics

A look at the interior of the 2 says this is Mazda’s way of providing a minimalist approach to modern motoring. However, that doesn’t preclude the base Sport starting at $14,180 from coming with a nice array of standard features. These include remote keyless entry; air conditioning; power windows, locks, and outside mirrors; tilt steering column; height-adjustable driver’s seat; a 60/40 split folding rear seat; and an AM/FM/CD audio system. Driver and passenger sunvisor vanity mirrors also are included; a feature not always included in other subcompact base models. The only options are $200 for pearl paint and $800 for the automatic transmission.

Mazda 2

When comparing other vehicles, you’ll find the Toyota Yaris four-door hatchback is nearly $1,000 less. But, except for air conditioning, all the standard features on the Mazda 2 are available with extra-cost option packages or steps up the model lineup. The 2’s kissing cousin Ford Fiesta starts about $1,400 more and, like the Yaris, doesn’t have all the standard features included. Honda’s Fit is $1,000 more and it does include a host of standard equipment. Where the Fit doesn’t quite match the Mazda 2 is the fun factor in driving.

The Mazda 2 is a versatile and nimble little runabout. It is a cheap-run-car, in these days of almost $4 a gallon gas, that’s great for zipping to the super market, commuting or throwing a bike in the back end. And it does have a couple of things the other don’t—a smiley face and enough Zoom to put a smile on your face.

Prices are Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) at time of publication and do not include destination charges, taxes or licensing.