Mazda’s 2 has been doing the business in the light car segment for a long, long time. The previous car felt like it had been around for yonks, almost as long as Toyota’s seemingly-unchanging Yaris. The old car was quite good, but shared the failings of its bigger brothers, namely sub-par noise suppression and some dodgy interior materials.
Mazda has slowly been sorting that out across its entire passenger range, with big gains in the Mazda6, the Mazda3 and CX SUVs. The new ‘2 has to tread the line between affordability and respectability in a fiercely fought part of the market.
At $16,990, the base model Neo automatic is $2000 more than the manual, comfortably under-cutting most of its French and German rivals, while also crowding the more expensive versions of cars like the Mitsubishi Mirage. It’s about right when compared with its compatriots.
Your money buys you a four-speaker stereo with Bluetooth and USB, air-conditioning, cloth seats, keyless entry and start, power windows all round and a basic black interior.
The wheels are steel but have reasonably attractive covers that make you look twice to check they aren’t actually alloys. When new, anyway.
There are just two options – the very pretty Soul Red metallic for an uncommonly reasonable $200 and Smart City Brake Support for $400.
Kodo design is a terrific look on almost everything Mazda makes. There’s some lovely creasing and surfacing on the ‘2 that, if the designers had got carried away, could look busy. But in typical Mazda style, it’s restrained, resulting in a fine-looking little car.
The chrome grille surround and body-coloured bits and pieces ensure that you don’t look like a cheapskate.
Inside is well-constructed, with a hardy cloth trim that polarised opinion. Some liked it, some found it a bit coarse but all agreed the front seats were especially comfortable, with good adjustment options.
Front seat occupants will also find things less cramped than the old ‘2 – the front wheels have been shifted forward 80 mm, giving a less 70’s-era Alfa Romeo driving position.
The rear seat is obviously tight for legroom but has good headroom and a comfortable bench, but almost no storage.
Mazda sadly decided to put the same instrument pack as its bigger cars. The ‘2 shares the silly, too-small central dial with a pair of ‘wings’ that cram too much info into not enough space.
There’s two drinkholders up front, a few cubbies for odds and ends and somewhere to put your phone, too. The okay-sized boot (250 litres), also has a cargo cover.
Crucially, though, very few of the materials feel cheap and only the chopped screen gives you the impression you’re in the base model.
Six airbags, ABS, brake assist, stability and traction controls, hill holder, load-limited and pre-tensioned front seat belts.
The Mazda2 was awarded four EuroNCAP stars.
The four speaker stereo is perfectly adequate and features USB and Bluetooth. The cut-down screen is perched on the dash in that now-familiar “I look like I’m detachable” style car makers have inexplicably chosen.
The LCD screen is easy to read but isn’t exactly super high tech. Having said that, it does the job well.
ENGINE / TRANSMISSION
Mazda’s engines are impressive and this new one, while buzzing like a demented bee under load (they all do), it produces a handy 79 kW of power and 139 Nm of torque. These numbers look better when viewed against a highly-commendable kerb weight of just 1045 kg.
Mazda claims a combined fuel consumption figure of just 5.5 litres per 100 kilometres. Given our numbers of 6.7 L/100km in an enthusiastically driven week, that looks more than achievable around town.
The automatic has six gears to choose from.
Mazda seems to have stolen a bit of Lotus founder Colin Chapman’s advice with their range – ”adding lightness,wherever it can be found”. The result is a fantastic car. The low mass results in a good power to weight ratio and a well-matched transmission.
It begs to be thrown around – the electric steering’s weighting is city-light but not vague like the Mazda6’s. The ‘2 loves changing direction, hopping over roundabouts and darting into gaps. Sport mode is a bit pointless as it just makes the engine rev too high and make a racket.
There are lots of good small cars out there now, but the Mazda2 has lifted its game to now lead the pack, beating even Renault’s Clio for on-road fun.
Where the Mazda really impresses is in overall refinement. The old car had an excellent ride for its size but even small bumps sent a “clonk” through the cabin, an irritating feature of all of Mazda’s hatches and sedans. While the Mazda3 and ‘6 are better than their forebears, the ‘2 has finally banished that failing to history – it’s so quiet in normal driving, you could be fooled into thinking they’ve dropped the shell on to a Peugeot 208’s rolling gear.
Piling in the people doesn’t really agree with the engine, but the ride maintains composure and if you forfeit the traffic light drag race, nobody will be any the wiser.
SUMMING UP 4.0/5
Good looking, up-to-date tech (the old model was well behind the eight-ball for tech toys) and great to drive, the Mazda2 is an excellent little car. It’s main competitor in the race for number one, the dowdy, ageing Hyundai i20 shouldn’t stand a chance against it. With a massive improvement in every area, the seven year wait for this new Mazda2 has been worth it.
LIKES: Great chassis, refinement, funky looks
DISLIKES: Noisy engine under load, fabrics not to everyone’s taste, suspect instrument design