Blog: Long-Term Mazda2 Takes On Snowpocalypse 2011

By Seyth Miersma

February 02, 2011

Ann Arbor, Michigan (where I hang my hat) is smack dab in the middle of this substantial snowstorm that we¹ve all been hearing/reading/seeing so much about in the news media for the last few days. That “substantial” bit isn’t really meant to be the smug understatement of someone that’s lived in the Snow Belt for most of his life (though that is true), but rather a fair assessment of the situation here in Southeast Michigan today. We’ve gotten a lot of snow in the last 12 hours (about a foot of the stuff), but the conditions aren’t so bad that they¹re blowing the minds of many Michiganders.

Still, with all of the coverage of this weather system, and considering the hearty thumbs up already given to our long-term Mazda2 by John Beltz for its winter driving prowess, I thought I’d go out and take a little drive this morning. The Deuce is wearing a set of 195-section Bridgestone Blizzak snowshoes, so it was well prepared to plow through the many ancillary roads around town that haven’t yet been plowed themselves. The tires, obviously, make a huge difference in conditions like these. (To give you some idea, my
Fiancé’s 1999 Honda Civic, shod with normally acceptable all-season tires, and equally light and front-driven like the 2, had no end of trouble just getting in and out of our driveway this morning.) Still, even with the snow tires equipped, I was worried enough about the road conditions to throw a snow shovel into the hatch before I set out—better safe than sorry.

As it turned out, though, I needn¹t have bothered. Once I cleared the roads around my own drifted-in neighborhood and made it on to some bigger streets, it became obvious that the local DPW guys had been working hard through the night. Street surfaces were definitely covered with packed down snow and ice, but the mass of the snow had been plowed away. Still, it’s those kinds of low-traction situations that often get drivers into a lot of trouble, and where good, knobby rubber can really help out. On a few open stretches of road I experimented with aggressively stopping the Mazda from reasonably high speeds (nothing north of 40 mph in these conditions), and found the combination of tires and ABS to work exceptionally well at allowing for controlled deceleration. All- and four-wheel-drive vehicles still are at an advantage when it comes to moving forward in snowy conditions, but the 2’s light weight and good grip made for impressive stopping power that larger vehicles would struggle to duplicate.

Of course, in normal traffic, I wouldn’t even think about braking as hard as I had been testing—not with a five-speed manual at hand. My Snowpocalypse drive reinforced the fact that engine braking can be a massive asset when doing this sort of winter driving, and having Mazda’s slick stick shift to work with meant I was able to downshift with ease, and pleasure.

Last year, we did a piece on driving a snow-tire-equipped Camaro SS through some pretty bad weather, and found that the rear-drive muscle car worked just fine with the proper rubber. Of course, the downside was that the snowy conditions really robbed the Camaro of what it does best to entertain the driver—it was just no fun to drive in the snow. Another benefit for small cars, then, as the low-speed, snowy driving situation doesn¹t serve to dampen the fun nature of our Mazda much. Working the transmission, feeling the front tires bite, and even allowing for a little controlled sliding were all great fun today. Enthusiasts rejoice.

Downside? Negatives? Well, it did become clear that I wasn¹t going to be able to make it through much higher snow than I experienced when first leaving home. The 2 has got reasonable ground clearance, but it¹s no SUV, and if there were even a few more inches on the ground I probably would have gotten bogged down. Similarly, with very little torque available from the motor, I would have been really limited in what I might have been able to push out of, even while keeping the revs low with the five-speed. Hence the shovel in the back. But there are only a few new cars that offer the potential for substantially better snowy weather performance at a price approaching the Mazda2’s (Suzuki SX4, we’re looking your way).

I’m told that we’re due for another round of snowfall before it’s all said and done. I¹ll be sure to report back in if the Deuce offers any more substantial triumphs or failures in the white stuff.