Click to enlarge picture2011 Mazda MAZDA2 (© Mazda Motor of America, Inc.)

One of the Mazda2's best attributes is its cabin. Its only faults are cargo space, deemed less important in a city car, and that pesky shifter.

Inner Space
Hands down, the Mazda2 has the quietest cabin in the B-segment, which is another term for the subcompact vehicle category. It also possesses one of the most intuitive and engaging interior layouts we've seen to date. The Mazda's classy cabin features materials we'd expect in a more upscale vehicle. Space is well-used, surfaces are nicely trimmed and the most important controls are close at hand.

From behind the wheel, the seats are great, with little difference between the Sport and Touring models, a testament to the support and coziness of the entry-level offerings. Driving position and visibility are notable as well.

Our only complaint is how the shifter console infringes on the legroom of the driver and front-seat passenger. The shifter is a rounded protrusion that extends from the dash, which contributes to the open feeling in the cabin, but it hits occupants uncomfortably above the knee. But overall, the interior is a big winner and a warning shot across the bow of the competition.

Video: 2011 Mazda2 Comes to North America

On the Road
Despite its diminutive size, the Mazda2 delivers a balanced, solid, compliant ride and has quick reflexes. Mazda is eyeing the fun-to-drive title in the B-segment, a class in which the "B" can stand for "boring" due to the appliancelike driving dynamics of many of its cars. Weight was the enemy, and Mazda engineers used the "gram strategy" program that was successful in lightening up the Miata. Items such as suspension arms, the shifter assembly and even the door speakers are forged, formed and pressed in the name of light weight. The result is a car that tips the scale at 2,306 pounds — 220 pounds less than its predecessor.

Bing: Mazda2

It's immediately apparent that all the work on the scales has paid dividends, as the Mazda2 proved nimble in the demanding downtown traffic in Montreal, where the car was introduced to the media. The Mazda2 felt right at home zipping into open spaces and absorbed the substantial bumps and potholes in the scarred streets without a misstep. While we didn't have the chance to push the limits from a performance standpoint, a quick course correction was telling. We almost missed a turn, but the Mazda2 was quick to brake, remaining in control as we tugged it into an abrupt right-hander. Body roll was minimal and confidence was high as the Mazda2 proved itself worthy on all fronts.

Read:  What the Heck Is the B-Segment?

Right for You?
With sales rocketing north of 1 million units, getting a foothold in the subcompact segment is a big deal for automakers, a deal that means buyers are getting some great cars to choose from in this "low rent" district.

The Mazda2 is an excellent commuter, college car or second car, especially if you have a pulse when it comes to the driving experience. The Mazda2 Sport 5-speed starts at $13,980, while the top-of-the-line Touring automatic checks in at $16,235. The value is apparent, and the Mazda2 will surpass expectations from the inside out with a meticulous, quiet interior, snappy handling, lots of standard equipment and excellent fuel efficiency. It's a must test drive for anyone shopping in the under-$15,000 price point.

Read:  10 Innovations That Could Make Us Greener Drivers

(As part of an automaker-sponsored press event, Mazda provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

Evan Griffey served as an editor of Turbo & High Tech Performance, a pioneering publication about sport-compact tuning. Today Griffey freelances for Import Tuner, Sport Compact Car, Car Audio and Siphon.