A Clever Compact Drivers Will Enjoy
Attention all automotive interior designers: to see how you can combine good looks and comprehensive information in a small instrument cluster, look no further than the latest Mazda2.
That clever and purposeful dashboard is just one of a myriad of excellent details which combine to make the Mazda2 one of the front runners in the ‘Best Compact Hatchback’ race. And while Mazda says most ‘2s’ are purchased by female buyers aged between 20 and 34 years, this baby’s excellent driving dynamics will deliver appeal to even hard-driving, motoring enthusiast husbands/boyfriends.
What You Get
Car Showroom has just put the Mazda2 Neo five-door hatchback through our one-week test procedure.
Neo is the entry grade ($16,500 for the five-speed manual or $18,150 for the four-speed automatic as tested). So direct competitors (five door automatic hatchbacks) would include the Ford Fiesta CL $18,490, Honda Jazz GLi ($19,290) and Toyota Yaris YR ($18,490).
Facelifted this year with interior enhancements, re-tuned suspension and significant new standard features – Dynamic Stability Control and Traction Control – the Mazda2 challenges any of those rivals or the pricier Europeans. Even the old hackneyed ‘European Quality’ doesn’t stand-up in this tough market segment as Mazda’s production quality, dependability and resale values are up there with the best of the best.
To that, add another few more not insignificant points: the Mazda2 was World Car of The Year in 2008, boasts the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating and, of the eight body colours available in Australia, six are high-quality mica or metallic paints…and Mazda does not charge for that (some rivals sting you up to $395 extra for mica/metallic paint). So if you’re shopping for a compact and the Mazda2 isn’t on your list…well get it on your list – fast!!
Under The Hood
By coincidence, we jumped straight out of two rival compact hatches into the Mazda2 and straight away we were impressed with the strong performance and hearty exhaust note of Mazda’s 1.5-litre, four-cylinder DOHC engine. Maximum power is 76kW at 6,000 rpm and peak torque of 135Nm arrives at 4,000 rpm.
As part of the changes included in this year’s upgrade, Mazda engineers fettled the ‘2’ engine with a wider torque spread for extra drivability. Again, this was noticeable right off the bat – the Mazda feels and sounds more like a 1.8-litre engine.
Our four-speed automatic model is rated for fuel economy at 6.8l/100kms, while the manual version is a tad better at 6.4l/100kms.
In addition to the previously mentioned excellent dashboard, front seat comfort really stands out in the Mazda2 (again highlighted as we climbed straight out of a couple of direct rivals into the Mazda). The drivers’ seat height, rake and slide adjustment combine well with the rake-only adjustment for the steering wheel to provide an excellent driving position.
The front passenger seat is also commendably generous in proportions for this segment but – like segment rivals – the rear seat is best left to very young children. However it must be said we did manage to load five full-size adults on-board our Mazda2 for a 45-minute journey across town – it was ‘do-able’ with compromises front and rear.
On the audio front, Neo models come with a single disc, MP3 system with four speakers.
The rear seat split folds 60/40 and when completely folded, the Mazda2 hatchback delivers a very handy 469 litres of cargo space. With the seat in place, the 250-litre capacity is still generous for this segment.
On the safety front, Neo models miss-out on the front side airbags and front and rear curtain airbags standard in higher grade Maxx and Genki models (Neo scores dual fronts only). But the extra ‘bags can be ordered a $400 option pack.
Exterior & Styling
Some minor changes (such as a new grille) were included as part of the 2010 upgrade for the ‘2’. However, the hallmark curves and swoops - which have made Mazda’s compact the standout design in its segment - remain unaltered.
The deep sculptures around the bonnet/front fenders, the funky headlights and wide cool air openings combine with the radically curved rear three-quarters to deliver a thoroughly modern design.
Entry-level Neo models can be identified by their 15-inch steel wheels, black door handles and the absence of front fog lights.
On The Road
We did enjoy our week behind the wheel of the Mazda2 hatchback. Most critics (us included) reckon the Ford Fiesta has the ‘sportiest’ driving dynamics in the compact segment, but we’re happy to nominate the ‘2’ and the Honda Jazz as the best of the rest.
Engine response is fantastic and even on its 15-inch steel wheels, the Neo was a handy ally over our high-speed mountain roads loop. Naturally at the limit, front-wheel-drive understeer was apparent but even so, chassis balance and roll control was up there with the Honda.
Naturally the ‘2’ was in its element around town – nicely weighted power steering, miniscule 9.8-metre turning circle and good visibility making for easy maneuvering/parking. And the clever ratios in the four-speed automatic combined with the lively 1.5-litre engine for sharp overtaking on the freeway.
Mazda and its Japanese rivals Honda, Nissan and Toyota are missing out because their compacts don’t have a diesel option like the superb Ford Fiesta ECOnetic.
The Mazda2 was lauded when it first appeared and after being reacquainted with Mazda’s baby in this weeklong test, we remain huge fans. The Mazda2 is both stylish and clever, practical and cute…and very handily priced.
Ford’s German-built Fiesta has raised the bar in the compact segment with its fantastic diesel engine, but we understand diesel is not everyone’s cup of tea and perhaps the Ford’s styling is a tad too adventurous for some.
The Honda Jazz probably rivals the Mazda2 for a surprisingly spacious interior, good looks and nice driving dynamics.
And you can’t overlook Toyota Yaris – probably coming to the end of the current model cycle but very sharply priced. Nissan’s all-new Micra has already debuted internationally.
Looks great inside and out; great drive; handy pricing
A bit more rear seat legroom would be nice