The 1.5-liter engine in the Mazda2 is one of the smallest gasoline engines on the U.S. market, but its performance is exciting, with a 5-speed manual gearbox. We didn't get to drive the 4-speed automatic, but we have doubts, partly because it's only a 4-speed and partly because it's hard to imagine it making the Mazda2 any better to drive than the 5-speed. Maybe if you never leave the city.
The engine pulls well at lower revs and comes on stronger at 4000 rpm where the torque peaks. It sounds good above 4000, and zings responsively all the way up to 6300 redline. The drive-by-wire throttle responds quickly. We read one review that called the engine gutless, but we say nonsense. Although if the Mazda2 had the Fiesta's 119 horsepower from a related 1.6-liter engine, it'd be way hot.
It's really smooth at 75 or 80 mph. More Mazda attention to mechanical detail. The engine is mounted in a manner to reduce the fore-aft motions of front-wheel-drive four-cylinders.
The brakes have a nice responsive feel, and stop the lightweight car quickly. Vented discs in front, drums in the rear, with ABS, brake force distribution and brake assist.
The suspension is fairly conventional, with MacPherson struts in front and a trailing-arm torsion beam in back. We drove the Mazda2 over twisty two-lanes on the California coast, and found that it cornered flat and sucked up most bumps. The electric power steering reacts quickly.