2012 MAZDA2 NEO REVIEW
Vehicle Style: Five-door light hatchback
Price: $17,440 (plus on-roads)
Fuel Economy claimed: 6.4l/100km | tested: 8.0l/100km
Mazda's baby 2 light car is everywhere. It's hard to argue with Japanese quality, funky looks and a competitive starting price.
In fact, so few argue with these three attributes that the Mazda2 is closing in on the Toyota Yaris as the light-car king.
And despite its advancing age (it has been around since 2007), more people are buying Mazda2s this year than last.
In September, the Mazda2 outsold the Yaris by nearly 500 units and the Swift by over 700 units - if that gap is maintained over the final three months of the year, the Mazda2 could win the battle of the segment.
We took a Mazda2 Neo automatic for a week to see how it’s holding up.
Quality: Mazda knows how to do interiors. There are hard plastics in areas that you rarely touch, but the things you do touch have a good tactile feel.
While the interior of the bottom-of-the-range Neo is plasticky and a bit bland, it's otherwise perfectly functional.
The seat fabrics seem hardy and, in this Neo, a basic grey-black mix should see it looking good for years. The dash design certainly dates the car, but it’s visually clean and easy to use.
Comfort: The front seats are narrow and small and look like torture tubes, but are actually very comfortable. Adjustment is forward and back, and the driver’s seat gets height adjustment. The steering wheel’s adjustment is limited to tilt.
It's a bit tight in the back with limited knee and headroom for anyone over five feet tall, but, as more of an urban runabout than highway cruiser, you'd not expect to be back there for long.
Equipment: Air conditioning, cruise control, four-speaker CD stereo with auxiliary jack and USB for iPod, power windows and mirrors are all standard. Steering wheel controls for the stereo, previously an option, are now standard.
The Neo rolls on 15-inch steel wheels with a space-saver spare.
An omission is standard Bluetooth. It is available as an option, but it looks like an aftermarket unit stuck on the inside of the windscreen and costs $500, so why would you?
Storage: The 250-litre boot will swallow a week's shopping, but its cheeks will be full. Dropping the rear seatbacks flat yields another 219 litres.
The console sports two shallow rectangular boxes for things to slide around in (there’s no rubber base for grip, nor is there a cover) and a single cupholder.
The glovebox has a strange ‘letterbox’ slot above it that turned out to be a handy street directory holder.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: With a four-speed automatic and a 76kW/135Nm 1.5 litre engine to haul just over a tonne, the Mazda2 is snappy enough, but does need to be revved.
The automatic is a lot less fun than the manual we tested last year, as it takes a while to wind up and is often in the wrong gear, its ratios spread a little too thin.
Fuel economy shows the Mazda2’s age - we could only get 8.0 l/100km in mixed driving, well off the claimed 6.4 l/100km.
Refinement: The engine is vocal and buzzy under load. Wind and tyre noise abound at speed and bumps send a lot of noise into the cabin from both ends.
Suspension: The 2 is never going to be the benchmark in handling and body control, but it is quite a bit of fun punt around. The ride is good but the trade-off is a bit of body roll.
If you can ignore the car leaning over, it's reasonably sharp when being thrown around a winding road. Understeer is well-controlled and the handling is quite safe and predictable once you get to know it.
The electric steering isn't as numb as some other systems, quick-ish at 2.7 turns lock-to-lock, which is handy in tight spots.
Braking: At first glance, old-school drums at the rear seem a bit unnerving, but with its featherweight body and ABS package, the brakes are more than up to the task, with good pedal feel and a progressive action.
ANCAP rating: 5 Stars
Safety features: Dual front airbags and now side and curtain airbags are standard, as are three-point belts on all five seats. Stability control, ABS, EBD and brake assist are all standard.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years/unlimited kilometres
Service costs: Mazda doesn't do fixed-price servicing but does give price guides via the Mazda website, as well as a rundown of what you can expect in any given scheduled service.
Labour rates are capped and the website will give you an estimate based on your home state.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Toyota Yaris YR 5 Door Automatic ($21,390) - The Yaris is the most powerful and most expensive of the 2's closest competitors. The Toyota is also the most refined but is the victim of some penny-pinching, sitting on ridiculous-looking 14-inch steel wheels.
For the extra money, you don’t get cruise control. Fixed-price servicing is a welcome bonus. (see Yaris reviews)
Hyundai i20 5 Door Automatic ($16,590): The Indian-sourced Hyundai is the cheapest and also the best-equipped, with standard features even including Bluetooth connectivity.
The 1.4 litre engine is outgunned though, but while it has the most weight to carry, it's thriftier than the Mazda.
Hyundai caps the first three services at $189 each, or $567 for the three, and has a five-year warranty. (see i20 reviews)
Suzuki Swift GA Automatic ($17,690): The Swift might be down on power and gear, but it has the edge on the road (and knee airbags).
The Swift also boasts 5.5 l/100km fuel economy but no capped or fixed-price servicing, and, again, no standard Bluetooth. (see Swift reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Mazda2 is getting on in age but it is only just starting to show - the styling still looks great, but it’s missing features and is a tad thirsty.
The youthful fun-feel of the 2 hits its target market square between the eyes.
Even in a lurid shade of green or orange, the 2 is a perfectly respectable little car that won't leave you feeling shortchanged.
Its position at the top of the sales charts is no coincidence - it's a solid buy in a marketplace crowded with quality cars.