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At this price, you can't go wrong

At $14,095, the 2012 Mazda2 is a competitive car in the subcompact segment. At $12,095, the same car is a great deal. Buying a new car during the annual model-year change is a time-honoured strategy for bargain hunters.

At $14,095, the 2012 Mazda2 is a competitive car in the subcompact segment. At $12,095, the same car is a great deal.

Buying a new car during the annual model-year change is a time-honoured strategy for bargain hunters. A $12,095 new car with a full warranty is an attractive alternative to many used cars at the same price.

Everybody is squeezing pennies these days, but transportation - safe transportation - is on the top of everyone's mind.

While at the dealership waiting for the car, I wondered out loud about the market for the Mazda2, given the overwhelming popularity of the slightly larger Mazda3.

I was told parents looking for a safe, entry-level car for their children usually pick a 2. Others like it because it's smaller, more nimble and easier to park in the city.

I took out a Mazda2 GX, the base model, with a convenience package and air conditioning.

My car was equipped with a five-speed manual transmission. While I know many people will opt for the automatic, I believe the five-speed is the best match for this car.

Power from the 1.5-litre four is modest - 100 hp and 98 lb.-ft. of torque - but with the manual transmission, drivers can eke every last bit of horsepower out of it. The transmission has short throws and the clutch is light, enabling it to get up to speed easily.

The engine is quite frugal as well, with consumption rated at 6.8 litres per 100 km in the city and 5.6 on the highway.

Credit has to be given to Mazda for keeping the weight down - the less weight a car has to propel, the less fuel it uses. In the 2's case, it tips the scales at a mere 1,043 kg without airconditioning. A Mini Cooper, by comparison, is more than 100 kg heavier, at 1,150. It's even lighter than the Fiat 500.

Keep in mind that both of those competitors are twodoor hatchbacks. The Mazda2 comes only as a four-door hatchback.

Although it's no speed demon, the car feels zippy in the city, giving the 2 an element of sportiness. It doesn't feel like a boring econobox. As others have already discovered, its compact size (3,950 mm overall length) and 9.8-metre curbto-curb turning circle make it a cinch to park.

While it shines in the city, the car loses some of its lustre on the highway. Once the engine speed reaches 3,000 r.p.m. (about 100 to 110 km/h), it gets noisier. While it's not really intrusive, you're immediately aware of the combination of engine, road and wind noise.

The 2 may be compact on the outside, but it feels spacious inside. With the 60/40 split rear seatbacks folded, there is 787 litres of cargo room. Unfortunately, when the seat backs are folded, the cargo floor isn't flat. A cargo cover is standard and, with the seats up, the trunk can hide 377 litres of cargo.

With the seat-backs up, Mazda says the 2 has 2,843 litres of interior volume.

Although the 2 is rated for five passengers, the centre position has no headrest. As with many cars of this size, the comfort of the third person in the back seat is inversely proportional to the size of the other two occupants. The rear doors are of a good size and ingress and egress are more than adequate.

The dash is relatively straightforward and clean - in stark contrast to the highly styled and busy dashes on the Ford Fiesta and others. Practically every surface is hard plastic, but that's the norm at this price segment.

The driver's seat has height adjustment, which is nice. The steering wheel tilts but has no telescoping function.

Our tester had the $895 convenience package, with up-market touches like steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise control. Surprisingly, even the base car comes with power windows (with onetouch up and down for the driver's window) and power locks.

As with almost all new cars these days, the Mazda2 comes with a complete suite of safety equipment, including front, side and side curtain air bags, traction control, stability control and anti-lock brakes.

Most reviews don't cover manufacturer incentives because they can be seasonal and withdrawn at any time.

But in this instance, not mentioning it would be to ignore the reality of today's automotive marketplace, which is very competitive - some would say cutthroat.

Be forewarned that the manufacturer's suggested retail price doesn't include a mandatory $1,495 freight and PDI (preparation and delivery inspection) charge.

Because it's the end of the year, the colours and/or equipment you want might not be available.

Mazda offers the $2,000 discount for cash buyers only. There are attractive finance rates as well, but the discount doesn't apply. Shop wisely.

Even without the price adjustment, the Mazda2 is a competitive car in the segment. With it, it's the one to beat - if you have cash on hand.

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Type: Subcompact five-door hatchback, front engine, front-wheel drive

Engine: 1.5-litre four-cylinder, 100 hp at 6,000 r.p.m., 98 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 r.p.m.

Transmission: Five-speed manual

Dimensions (mm): Length, 3,950; width, 1,694; height, 1,476; wheelbase, 2,489

Curb weight (kg): 1,043 (without A/C), 1,051 (with A/C)

Price (base/as tested): $14,095/$17,780 (includes $1,495 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)

Retail price does not reflect $2,000 discount for cash buyers only for limited time (see story)

Options: Air conditioning $1,195, convenience package $895 (includes keyless entry, cruise control, trip computer, steering wheel mounted controls, heated door mirrors, etc.)

Tires: 185/55 R15 on steel wheels

Fuel type: Regular

Fuel economy (L/100km): 6.8 city/ 5.6 highway

Warranty: Three years/80,000 km new car and roadside assistance, five years/100,000 km powertrain