Tag Archives: Mazda 2

About face

The 2016 Scion iA, not to be confused with the Mazda 2 (Image: Toyota Motor Corporation)

The 2016 Scion iA, not to be confused with the Mazda 2 (Image: Toyota Motor Corporation)

Is Scion’s new direction the right one?


The sales woes of the Scion brand have been well documented as of late, including here on this humble blog.

Right now the struggling Toyota subsidiary is valiantly trying to reverse its falling fortunes, announcing three new models and chopping three of its worst sellers, the xB, xD, and iQ.

So far, two of those three company-savers have been unveiled, destined for 2016 showrooms. The iM is a small, sporty hatchback that would compete with the likes of the Honda Fit, while the familiar-looking iA subcompact sedan would compete with just about everyone.

The iA is a jarring thing, because it’s not really a Scion. Anyone keeping tabs on the industry will recognize the body shape and familiar flanks of the Mazda 2 sedan, albeit one with a strange (and huge) grille that serves to put design distance between it and the Mazda.

A third model has yet to be unveiled.

1978 Dodge Challenger (aka the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda), a product of desperate times.

1978 Dodge Challenger (aka the Mitsubishi Galant Lambda), a product of desperate times.

When the iA first rolled onto the scene, it was a head-scratcher. What’s going on here? A Toyota-owned car company getting Mazda to built a car for it? What gives?

Badge engineering is a frowned upon activity for carmakers, but at least that would keep it in the (corporate) family.

Trans-corporate badge swapping like this reeks of 1970s-80s desperation – the kind that saw Chrysler leap into bed with Mitsubishi in order to get some diversity in the merchandise it was offering.

“We don’t have the resources to compete, but never mind that – can I offer you a (Plymouth) Sapporo?”

As weird as those rebadged imports were, the Scion bed-hopping is even more unusual, because it’s going behind the bleachers with close competitors. Not just Mazda with the iA, but also Subaru with the FR-S.

But maybe I’m just not getting it. Subaru and Mazda both offer modern, competitive tech-laden cars that are known for their sporty handling and attitude. Toyota? Not so much, but that’s fine – car companies don’t have to make each marque all things to all people.

Having well-regarded underpinnings for new model makes sense, even if it comes from someone else.

Is it wrong to bash badge-swapping if the donor car is a good one?

Is it wrong to bash badge-swapping if the donor car is a good one?

The appeal grows when you consider the financial incentives of paying another company to provide you with a manufactured product, without the need to invest much of your own capital into design, tooling and production.

In Scion’s case, just like in Chrysler’s way back when, the idea is to move units and make money. That’s what a company needs to do to stay afloat.

I don’t disagree with this reality, nor Scion’s decision to target big-volume segments like compact hatches and sedans. What I do disagree with is the form the product is taking.

Scion was founded to serve as a youth-oriented, edgy brand that stood in stark contrast with its parent company and its competitors. Rebadged Mazda’s and hatchbacks that could so easily carry a Toyota badge are not distinct and don’t distinguish the brand. Buyers might be lured into one for value and versatility, but not for individuality.

In other words, Scion risks diluting the image it has built for itself, confusing its purpose for existing. What’s the point of a Scion brand if they’re not even Scions?


Bring in the versatile funk


Many posts ago, I let slip an idea I had for resurrecting the Scion brand. It seemed like a good fit at the time, and even though new products have been announced since then, I still feel like it would be worthwhile.

A car company like Scion wants economical and versatile cars, yes? And they want them to be fun, and quirky?

Everyone in 1970s car ads skied, it seems.

Everyone in 1970s car ads skied, it seems.

I propose a modern-day line of cars that draw from the spirit and intent of the lowly Fiat 124.

Yes, the little Italian workhorse that spawned so many different body styles – sedan, coupe, wagon, roadster – between 1966 and 1974.

Durable, boxy, but attainable, the four-cylinder-only lineup is still readily identifiable (and not just because it was copied by Lada from 1970 to 1988).

Not only would it likely appeal to the nostalgia-stricken and wannabe avante-garde hipsters alike, it could draw in those looking for a sporty RWD offering that doesn’t break the bank.

After all, it was a nimble thing, by all accounts. Boldride.com has a series of excellent Fiat 124 track photos, including one of a sedan lifting its wheel in a corner (isn’t that adorable?) while battling a 124 coupe.

Again with the skiing. This time, a 124 coupe.

Again with the skiing. This time, a 124 coupe.

It would be hard not to compare the concept of a modern day 124 with the original xB – the car that put Scion on the map. That model was a funky take on the lowly compact hatchback, and it initially sold like gangbusters.

It was also unique and instantly recognizable as a Scion, something a rebadged Mazda or Subaru is not.

I don’t expect to be paid handsomely by Scion for this helpful suggestion (I’m here, though – call me) – rather, I’m just putting the idea out there. You know, if it appeals to this writer, there must be at least several other weirdos who’d also like to see it happen.

The full model range of the Fiat 124. Something for everyone.

The full model range of the Fiat 124. Something for everyone.

In the land of giants

2014 Mazda 2 proves a surprisingly liveable road trip companion*

*too bad about the transmission

The Mazda 2 beams with joy after reaching the Rockies...all by itself!

The Mazda 2 beams with joy after reaching the Rockies…all by itself!

Like Texas of the North, it just seems that everything’s bigger in the province of Alberta.

Personal wealth, population growth and the proportions of private vehicles all outstrip the national median. Oh, and there are big mountains, too.

The only thing not in oversupply after landing in a hot, sunny Edmonton two weeks ago was rental car choice – the airport cupboard was as bare as supermarket shelves before a hurricane. A cab took me to an off-site agency, where I waged a bloody battle for the last four-wheeled machine that didn’t possess a half-ton carrying capacity.

Beggars can’t be choosers, so fate and circumstance left me holding the keys to a diminutive Mazda 2 – a zygote of a vehicle by Alberta standards, but one that would ultimately carry me for several thousand kilometres over two weeks.

As a 6’4″ man with a sensitive back and (maybe) a similar ego, I was a little worried. Would Mazda’s smallest offering ultimately break me like an adolescent’s heart?

My initial fears proved unfounded. After two weeks of driving across picturesque landscapes both urban and rural, mountainous and endlessly flat, the Mazda 2 proved itself to be a comfortable, roomy, and compliant driver, albeit one with a few qualms.

The nitty-gritty

First off, the car’s drivetrain is more likely to inspire flashbacks to the 90s than get pulses racing. With a 1.5-litre four-cylinder (the only available engine), making 100 horsepower and 98 foot-pounds of torque, the hatchback’s power numbers fail to impress when viewed on paper.

Transmission choices are also archaic – a five-speed manual and four-speed automatic rounded out the gearbox menu.

"You think you're pretty tall, huh? Let's dance."

“You think you’re pretty tall, huh? Let’s dance.”

Venturing inside the silver 4-door rental tester, the base-level interior matched the drive train for sheer minimalism. A tachometer and CD player with radio presets joined power windows and door locks in the luxury item category, though the door locks were inconveniently placed on the centre console and the exiting door had to be locked via a key.

Air conditioning came in handy on the hottest of days, and when acrid forest fire smoke encroached from faraway blazes. However, being a windows-down kind of guy (and wanting to maximize mileage), AC usage was kept to a minimum during the trip.

The Mazda’s spartan instrumentation didn’t leave much room for computing power. A trip meter was provided, but on a long road journey through vast stretches of wilderness, a miles-till empty display would have provided piece-of-mind (especially given the car’s less-than-exact eight-bar digital fuel gauge and tiny gas tank).

These little details proved an annoying yet minor distraction from an otherwise compliant vehicle.

The drive

The first few days of the test involved inner-city and highway driving in and around the rapidly growing city of Edmonton, as well as a trip to Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies – about three-and-a-half hours each way.

The base Mazda 2 didn’t come equipped with a tilt/telescoping steering wheel, but I found the wheel was already optimally placed for my stature.

So too was the cushy-yet-supportive seat, which provided proper back support and was the right height for the wheel.

Headroom and legroom was surprisingly abundant in the Mazda 2’s cabin, and the armrests never once caused elbow soreness (a common complain on long-haul drives). Amazingly, I had lucked into a very comfy subcompact for this journey.

On the road,  the car’s light weight (about 2,300 pounds), tight turning radius and 55-series tires (mounted on 15-inch rims) made for a taught feel and nimble road manners. At all speeds, the steering remained weighted and on centre, with no play or need for minor corrections at high speed.

"Finally, a field as cheerful as I am!"

“Finally, a field as cheerful as I am!”

These mannerisms came in handy not just on the streets of downtown Edmonton (clogged with menacing mountains of moving steel) but also on hair-raising hairpin mountain roads where the car’s handling and precision was an asset.

In a straight line, the cog-challenged automatic was happy to revv close to redline under moderate acceleration, making the most of the engine’s meager horsepower, but was reluctant to leave the comfort of overdrive at speed unless the accelerator was nearly floored. With no cruise control (another gripe), this meant a falloff in speed before a looming monster in the rear-view necessitated a throttle jab and the desired downshift.

An overdrive lockout button was located on the shifter, which ended up being used regularly in loftier elevations. Equipped with the manual transmission, I could see this car coming alive and being a fun little runabout, not unlike older Honda Civic hatches from the late 80s and early 90s.

The front disc/rear drum anti-lock brakes reliably brought the featherweight car to a halt in short order, and exhibited a firm, consistent brake pedal feel that didn’t go unappreciated.

With double-trailer transport trucks regularly plying area highways, mingling with the standard single-occupant commuter vehicle favoured by Edmontonians (A Ford F-350 or Ram 3500 crew cab 4×4, often with lift kit), the wee Mazda seemed to be in a perpetual state of menace.

However, absent from the driving experience – on 110km/h highways as well as on windy mountain passes – was the buffeting normally encountered by small cars traveling fast outside of a vacuum. The little Mazda must have all the right curves, as it stayed planted in its lane as crosswinds slipped around it.

I’ll admit to feeling a little emasculated by my losing hand in the automotive size contest, but not having to spend more than $40 at the gas pump was a bonus that gave me just a little feeling of smug satisfaction.

Mazda lists the automatic’s fuel consumption at 7.1 litres/100km in the city and 5.8 on the highway, while the 5-speed returns slightly better numbers. Even with the automatic, these numbers are better than those returned by, say, the Nissan Micra, and pretty much identical to those of a base Chevy Sonic.

What next?

A lack of interior refinement and available features is a handicap for the 2 that could affect sales, though a replacement looms on the horizon. Recently, Mazda announced it will be introducing the subcompact’s successor sometime in 2015 as a 2016 model.

The new model is expected to incorporate the ‘Kodo’ design language currently seen on the Mazda 3 and 6 (thus banishing the last of the demented clown faces to the scrap heap of history), while also piling on the technology.

It's not the size that matters; it's where you go with it.

It’s not the size that matters; it’s where you go with it.

A fuel-efficient Skyactiv engine of an undetermined small displacement will likely be found under the hood, and it should be safe to say goodbye to the 4-speed automatic, and possibly the 5-speed stick as well.

Despite being modestly endowed with power and saddled with a museum artifact for a transmission, the Mazda 2 held up well during two weeks of extensive driving under very diverse conditions.

From the endless fields of Saskatchewan to the towering peaks of British Columbia, in rain, heat and forest fire smoke, the tiny hatchback proved easy to like and held its own against Alberta’s road-going battlecruisers.

If the next generation of Mazda 2 keeps the current model’s nimble, roomy attributes – and low price – while bringing the technology up to date and boosting mileage, Mazda will have a very competitive vehicle on its hands.