The success of the current-generation DE Mazda2 has been a key factor in Mazda Australia’s rising dominance in the private passenger car market.
The appealing 2 has, in particular, endeared itself to younger buyers since its local launch in 2007.
Now, as part of a mid-life update, Mazda’s baby gets revised exterior styling, an improved suspension package and stability control as standard.
At launch, Mazda Australia estimated that 60 percent of buyers would opt for the base-model Neo, with 65 percent of hatch buyers expected to tick the box for the optional automatic transmission.
So, natch, we spent a week behind the wheel in exactly that variant – a Mazda2 Neo automatic.
Mazda launched its mid-cycle update for the Mazda2 in May this year, bringing a new front-end design and some tweaks to the model line-up.
The three-door variant was dropped and a four-door sedan added; the first Mazda sedan in the light car segment since the popular 121 bubble car of the 1990s.
The addition of a sedan to the Mazda2 range was made possible by shifting production of Australia-bound cars from Japan to Thailand.
With Australia’s free-trade agreement with Thailand, Mazda has been able to capitalise on the savings in making the switch.
Minor changes have been made to the interior, brakes and suspension, while stability and traction control are now standard across the range.
Adjusted for specification, the 2010 Mazda2 range is roughly $1000 cheaper than the range it replaces.
What’s the appeal?
A healthy dose of aesthetic appeal, an enthusiastic motor and sharp dynamics rate highly on the Mazda2’s scoresheet. The entry price of the Mazda2 Neo we tested is also a big drawcard.
Retailing for $16,500 before on-roads, the Neo is very competitively priced against the other five-doors in its class, like the Toyota Yaris, Honda Jazz, Suzuki Swift and Toyota Yaris.
What features does it have?
We tested the Mazda2 Neo, the base model of the range.
The list of standard equipment isn’t exactly long, but includes power windows, air-conditioning, remote central locking and a four-speaker single CD stereo with 3.5mm auxillary audio input.
What’s under the bonnet?
The numbers aren’t huge, but neither is the Mazda2’s kerb weight. Tipping the scales at 1050kg, the 2’s light weight means the small engine isn’t overtasked.
A five-speed manual is the default gearbox, however a four-speed auto is available as a $1650 option.
Suspension consists of MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam axle at the rear.
The 2’s turning circle measures in at a tight 9.8 metres, and the steering is electrically assisted.
Ventilated discs are fitted to the front wheels, with drum brakes at the rear. The brake master-cylinder has been upgraded for the 2010 model year to reduce pedal play and improve brake feel.
How does it drive?
For the around-town driving that the vast majority of Mazda2s will be subjected to, the updated 2’s ride quality is more than comfortable enough.
The suspension changes brought in for the 2010 model year have improved the 2’s ability to handle rough roads, and the ride is less fidgety as a result. The damping is still on the firm side, but the ride is now more supple.
Undulations in the road and off-camber corners don’t challenge it either, and body roll is minimal.
Although it’s just a conventional four-speed automatic, the gearbox mapping is intelligent enough to select the right ratio for the job most of the time.
The 1.5 litre engine isn’t especially torque-laden, and swift acceleration necessitates high revs.
Moving off the line quickly has the transmission hanging on in first and second, but, once up to cruising speed, it is happy enough to settle quietly into top gear.
There is a sport mode for the automatic gearbox, but few will feel inclined to use it. It can however be handy on mountain roads, where the engine needs to be kept in the meat of its powerband to hustle things along.
Forward visibility is quite good, but the rear windscreen is a little on the small side. The wing mirrors are large though, and over-the-shoulder vision is decent.
What did our passengers think?
The sides of the centre-stack near the gearshift surround do tend to sit too close to the knees however.
In the back, the rear bench is firmly cushioned but offers a reasonable amount of space for two. Three children can sit across it, but don’t expect them to be comfortable for long.
Lap-sash seatbelts are fitted to each seat and the rear centre position also gets its own headrest. Passengers there will have to fight over who gets to use the single cupholder in the centre console however.
Interior quality and feel
In the base-spec Neo, the 2’s interior isn’t what you’d term ‘luxurious’. The quality of the cabin plastics however is high, if a little hollow, and it all feels bolted together fairly securely.
But the plain-Jane black-on-silver colour scheme and ordinary dashboard design fail to excite.
The steering wheel is made from moulded urethane, but it feels nice to the touch. The cloth-trimmed front seats aren’t bad on long highway stints either, and the fabric feels durable
The seatbacks don’t fold flush with the boot floor, mind you, and wheel-arch intrusions means the luggage area is narrower than it could be.
Both front doors have door bins with integrated bottle recesses, and there are a number of small shelves that run along the dashboard’s midsection.
There are no lidded compartments in the centre console, but the clever glovebox lid features a magazine/map holder on the front as well as a conventional glovebox compartment.
How safe is it?
The base Neo misses out on the curtain and side-airbags that are enjoyed as standard by the Maxx and Genki models, but the extra safety equipment is available as a $400 option.
Standard on the Neo are dual front airbags, ABS, EBD, stability control, traction control and emergency brake assist. All seats have three-point seatbelts, and the outboard rear seats are equipped with ISOFIX child seat anchorage points.
Fuel consumption and green rating
Our results were pretty close to the mark, with our fuel consumption coming in at 7.0 l/100km over a fairly even mix of urban and highway driving.
According to the Green Vehicle Guide, the Mazda2 automatic is rated 7 out of 10 for greenhouse gas emissions, and 6.5 out of 10 for air pollution.
On average, the 2’s 1.5 litre engine emits 152 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.
How does it compare?
The light car segment is a very crowded one, but the Mazda2 is certainly a competitive offering.
The Fiesta is hampered by an undersized 1.4 litre engine and lacklustre gearbox, whereas the 2 has no such handicaps when fitted with an auto.
Similarly, the 1.3 litre engine of the Yaris YR can’t compete with the 2’s 1.5 litre.
The Honda’s 1.3 litre comes ever-so close to the Mazda’s power output, but at over $19k before on-roads its simply too expensive.
For quality feel, the 2 is also hard to beat.
A new competitor in the form of the recently-arrived Hyundai i20 will make things hotter for the 2. While more conservatively-styled, the i20 undercuts the 2 on retail price and is well-featured.
It is early days, but when side and curtain-airbags become standard equipment on the i20 in September, that value equation may tilt further in the Hyundai’s favour.
Mazda offers a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty on its passenger car line-up, including the Mazda2.
The Mazda2 hatch is available in eight colours – six metallics and two solid. They include Cool White, True Red, Aurora Blue Metallic, Black Mica, Highlight Silver Metallic, Metropolitan Grey Mica, Passion Orange Mica (as tested) and Spirited Green Metallic.
The Mazda2 Neo automatic retails for $18,150 before on-road costs. An optional safety package can be selected for an extra $400, but metallic paint is a no-cost option.
Mazda is currently offering drive-away pricing of $18,640 for the Mazda2 Neo automatic.
The Mazda2 has been one of Mazda’s most popular models in Australia, and it’s not hard to see why.
The interior is surprisingly roomy for a car of such small stature, and it delivers an engaging driving experience worthy of Mazda’s ‘Zoom Zoom’ spirit.
Whether that’s a good or bad thing is entirely subjective, but we feel that, aesthetically speaking, the new Mazda2 has broader appeal.
As an automatic, it certainly makes a better choice than the similarly-priced Ford Fiesta. The Fiesta still may have the edge in driving dynamics (so too, the more expensive VW Polo), but the 2 offers excellent handling and ride.
Hyundai’s new i20 may hold a value advantage and slightly more equipment, but the Mazda2 is a better all-rounder in terms of performance, quality, style and resale.