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One glance and I was already fairly certain that the next week would be a miserable car experience driving the 2012 Mazda 2. The reason: the exterior lime green color was offensive to this set of eyes, which would only add to my snobbish opinion about driving subcompacts.

Mazda actually refers to the color as “spirited green metallic,” but it would be a spirit-breaker if I had to regularly drive a vehicle with such a blinding, look-at-me color. However, what advocates refer to as a “cheery color” could be exactly why Mazda decided to send this vehicle out to auto writers, because the color alone makes practically anyone give it a second look.

And trust me, this is a four-door, compact hatchback that deserves a second look. While I abhorred the color – note that it comes in more preferable blue, black, red, white and silver – I found the affordable Mazda 2 with its manual transmission to be a very fun, somewhat sporty vehicle that serves as a great commuter car.

Let’s quickly go to the bottom line – affordability. The price-conscious Mazda 2 comes in two trims and sells for either $14,180 or $15,635, which was the price of the touring model driven here. The gas mileage (29-35 mpg) isn’t top-of-the line for this segment, but the Mazda 2 won’t have anyone pulling into a gas station too often.

This is the second year that the Mazda 2 has been sold in the U.S. It debuted internationally to great reviews in 2007 as an entry-level hatchback. The 2012 model is unchanged from a year ago.

Knowledgeable car folks probably know that the Mazda 2 is closely aligned to the Ford Fiesta, another hatchback. The Fiesta and Mazda 2 share the same platform and some other features as well. But in researching the two, the consensus is the Mazda is the better vehicle.

Even though it’s a modest 1.5-liter, four-cylinder that produces 100 horsepower, the Mazda 2 is fairly zippy. It also provides a nimble ride and gives the driver a great feeling of control in this 66-inch wide vehicle that weighs a mere 2,300-pounds.

As with any subcompact, there are issues. Larger folks 6-foot or taller will feel cramped in the Mazda 2, especially in the back seat. Although the five-speed manual transmission is the recommended choice, too many people, especially young ones, don’t know how to shift gears and are reluctant to learn. That leaves car buyers with the outdated four-speed automatic transmission, which I’m guessing will be replaced a year from now.

Other negatives with the Mazda 2 include a small cargo space (13.3 cubic feet), limited standard features, hard plastic interior, and the annoying noise that arrives when driving at higher freeway speeds.

Note that these same problems can also be found in many of the class leaders like the Honda Fit, Nissan’s Cube and Versa hatchbacks, and both the Suzuki SX4 and Toyota Yaris. Despite its deficiencies, the Mazda 2 is among the list of enviable buys in this segment.

2012 Mazda 2

Performance: 1.5-liter, four-cylinder, 100 horsepower
Mileage estimate: 29-35 mpg
Price: $14,180 or $15,635

Standard features include: tilt steering wheel; six-speaker audio system, CD/MP3, auxiliary input jack; foglights; rear roof spoiler; leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls; a trip computer; stability and traction control

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