STILL STYLISH, STILL FUN and still a decent drive – that’s the new 2010 Mazda2. Like its predecessor, it’s brim-full of personality and charm.
Also like its predecessor, it will continue to win lots of young hearts.
And now, to broaden its appeal, it gets a boot. Stylewise, it could have been a disaster for the hip hatch, and it wouldn’t have been the first such disaster (remember Toyota’s tippy-toe Echo?).
In sedan form it looks bigger and a little more conservative, but despite the high beltline and tail, the lines of the ‘booted’ 2 work pretty well. The overall form is strengthened by the pronounced rear wheel-arches and swooping roofline.
Neither, it would appear, has the extra weight sitting over the rear wheels compromised the handling. Heavy rain and flooded roads on our first drive meant limited opportunities to stretch it out, but, on first impressions, the sedan feels as sharp at the wheel as the hatch.
If anything, that extra weight over the rear assists the overall balance by settling the tail.
The arrival of the sedan has had another impact, it has dislodged the three-door from the 2 range.
“We didn’t want to have three body styles… we don’t believe it (dropping the three-door) will make any difference overall (to sales),” Mazda National Marketing Manager Alastair Doak said.
So, for 2010, the Mazda2 – World Car Of The Year 2008 - gets a new sedan and the three-door gets the chop, but what else is new?
Most immediately noticeable are the design changes to the front of the car. The 2 now gets Mazda’s family face, sharing the signature ‘cheerful’ lower grille, deeper fog-lamp bezels, widened front bumper and enlarged logo in the upper grille.
Both sedan and five-door hatch share the same steeply sloping shoulder line and prominent front fenders. Things change though from the A-pillars back. While access to the rear of the sedan is a little compromised by the slope of the roof, its rising belt-line and high tail is responsible for a large 450 litre boot (nearly doubling the hatch’s 250 litre cargo area).
Its useable space is also assisted by link-type hinges that don’t intrude into the boot-space when the lid is closed (unlike, say, Holden’s Cruze).
Importantly, the 2 also comes in for some safety upgrades. Stability and traction control are now standard across the range and side and curtain airbags have been added as standard to Maxx models (also standard on the Genki and a $400 option for Neo models).
All in the range benefit from a strengthened but lightened body shell with high-tensile steel and Mazda’s Advanced Impact Distribution and Adoption System.
The drive-train is familiar: the eager 1.5 litre DOHC MZR engine is carried over from the previous model, as is the five-speed manual and optional four-speed auto.
It is a beaut engine. Whether zipping around town or over a winding road, it is a willing little performer that thrives on revs and makes the right noises when hard at work (rising to an appealing Alfa-esque brattish rasp when stretched).
Its 76kW (at 6000rpm) and 135Nm (at 4000rpm) is not at the top of the class, but it gives the agile 2 real zest when plying the nicely-weighted shift.
Like the previous 2, it happily sips a diet of standard unleaded, averaging a claimed 6.4 l/100km for the manual and 6.8 l/100km for the auto.
Braking feel is good – we had more than enough opportunity to suss that out over roads that were awash. Up front are 14-inch ventilated discs, and eight-inch drums at the rear. (And forget the arguments; rear drums work perfectly well on a car this size and weight.) Anti-lock brakes with electronic brake assistance are standard fitment.
There are also some key changes to the suspension that are quite apparent at the wheel. While MacPherson struts up front and the torsion-bar rear carry over into the new range, the monotube rear dampers of the outgoing model have been replaced with twin-tube dampers (now a feature of front and rear suspensions).
The front-end has also come in for some suspension tuning to improve the ride. (Neo and Maxx being set up more for comfort than the sportier Genki.)
In practical terms, the Maxx 2 sedan we had under test feels better on the road. It is a little more refined, less-inclined to jar over harsh breaks in the tarmac and better composed all round than the model it replaces.
A longer test will be in order, but first impressions suggest the new model is considerably improved in this area (although the last model wasn’t at all bad).
It is also quieter: NVH is down, and road-roar is significantly improved in the sedan. (And also, Mazda claims, in the new hatch.)
Inside, little has changed. We found the coal-grey plastics of our Maxx a little sombre (some more metal highlights might be in order here) but the quality is typical Mazda. As my colleague on the drive observed, Mazda does tactile surfaces better than most.
The dash and centre console, designed around circular motifs, works well. The seat fabric in our Maxx-spec sedan looked good, and even the basic plastics in the instrument binnacle and doors look ok.
First Drive Verdict
So, with the Mazda2 you get the best of two worlds: it’s not only easy on the pocket but it makes you feel good at the wheel.
With this update to the 2 range, Mazda has made a good car better. It is not the cheapest in the sector, but as a value for money buy, it is hard to fault.
The Mazda2 Neo manual can be driven off the showroom floor for $16,990, drive-away. The Maxx is now $1085 less than the model it replaces, the Genki $1030 less.
The addition of a sedan to the range, can only add to its appeal. In our view, there is now little between Mazda’s 2 and Ford’s brilliant Fiesta. We would still perhaps lean to the Fiesta, but maybe the charm-filled 2 is a little more ‘hip’.
Certainly, if you choose the 2, you will be very satisfied with your purchase. It is very easy to connect with and enjoy.
Sharply priced and a tidy drive, the ‘booted-up’ Mazda2 is good buying.