What’s Hot: Snappy styling, peppy engine, attractive pricing.
What’s Not: Cramped rear seat, no cruise control for base model Neo.
X-FACTOR: One of Australia’s most loved light cars is back, and it’s got broader appeal to boot.
Vehicle Style: Five-door light hatchback
Price: $14,990 (plus on-roads) to $21,990.
Engine/trans: 79kW/139Nm & 81kW/141Nm 1.5 petrol 4cyl | 6sp manual/auto
Fuel Economy claimed: 4.9 l/100km (Genki auto) to 5.5 l/100km (Neo auto)
The third-generation Mazda2 is here at last, and it's got big shoes to fill.
Even in the latter stages of its life, the previous-gen Mazda2 enjoyed tremendous popularity. It has sold nearly 100,000 here since its launch in 2007.
Its replacement however is better most places it matters. From refinement, fuel efficiency and design, Mazda sees its new 2 as a significant step up from the old one.
But while the design - the fourth application of Mazda's Kodo design language - is undoubtedly sharp, what of the rest of the car? It's smaller inside, for one, and our first drive left us feeling that the old car was a more enjoyable steer.
On the other hand, there’s vastly improved equipment levels and better value for money - attributes that are far more important at this end of the market than performance or rear seat size.
- Neo: Power windows and mirrors, air conditioning, cloth upholstery, height-adjustable driver’s seat, Bluetooth phone and audio integration, USB audio input, trip computer, tilt/reach adjustable steering wheel, keyless ingnition.
- Maxx adds: Cruise control, High-gloss black interior triim, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
- Genki adds: MZD Connect infotainment system with 7-inch colour touch screen, sat-nav, internet connectivity, auto-on headlamps, rain-sensing wipers, front foglamps, two USB inputs.
- Boot space: 250 litres with 60/40 split rear seatbacks raised, 852 litres with seatbacks lowered and loaded to roof.
With a bold dash design that borrows much of its visual style from the bigger Mazda3 and Mazda6, the new 2 easily has one of the best-looking cabins in its segment.
The dash layout is intuitive and the instruments are clear and easily read.
Steering wheel controls for audio and cruise control are standard (except on the Neo, which doesn’t get cruise), and the range-topping Genki even gets a head-up display (a first for the light car segment).
Disappointingly, an integrated sat-nav system is not available in the mid-grade Maxx - even as an option - meaning you’ll need to spend $19,990 on the Genki if you want that feature.
All models however come with basics like power windows, mirrors, air-conditioning and Bluetooth audio/phone integration as standard.
Parking sensors and a reversing camera are available, but are cost options on every model. Likewise Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support, which can automatically stop the car to avoid low-speed fender benders.
Front seat comfort is good, but some may be miffed by the absence of a height-adjustable passenger seat.
Forward vision has been improved by moving the A-pillar further rearward, though, and the steering column finally has adjustment for both tilt and reach, rather than just tilt.
The back seat is cramped, and despite the Mazda2’s wheelbase being extended by 80mm this hasn’t translated into more room on the inside.
Quite the opposite, in fact, with 15mm less rear headroom, 30mm less rear shoulder room and 4mm less rear legroom.
There’s also no fold-down centre armrest, no rear door bins or seatback pockets, and the boot measures just 250 litres with the rear seats up - well below segment competitors like the Honda Jazz and its 350-litre boot.
ON THE ROAD
- Neo: 79kW/139Nm 1.5 litre naturally-aspirated petrol inline four
- Maxx and Genki: 81kW/141Nm 1.5 litre naturally-aspirated petrol inline four.
- 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
- MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear suspension
- Disc brakes front, drum brakes rear
Two engines power the new Mazda2 range, both displacing 1.5 litres but with slightly differing outputs and fuel economy figures.
In the base model Neo (which wasn’t available to drive at launch), the 1.5 produces 79kW and 139Nm, and consumes 5.4 l/100km in manual guise, or 5.5 l/100km with the optional six-speed automatic.
The 1.5 used by the Maxx and Genki is hardly any gruntier with its peak outputs of 81kW and 141Nm, but efficiency refinements see fuel consumption drop to 5.2 l/100km in the manual, and 4.9 l/100km in the auto.
As for how the new powertrain drives, it’s great.
It might not have the low-down torque of rival Volkswagen’s Polo 81TSI, but the Mazda2’s 'high' output 81kW 1.5 is smooth, linear in its power delivery and happy to rev to redline.
And like its predecessor, the standard manual is also a delight to use.
Light throw, a clearly defined shift gate and a clutch that’s easily modulated make the six-speed manual easy to get a handle on, and the close-stacked ratios suit the engine’s power delivery well.
The six-speed automatic that’s expected to be the most popular choice among buyers is even better, and compared to the antiquated four-speed of the outgoing Mazda2 is a great leap forward.
Boasting both a sports automatic mode and a manual shift-mode, it’s versatile enough for most situations. Aim it at a hill, and it pre-empts demands for more power by selecting a lower ratio as the incline gets steeper.
As far as light-segment automatics go, it’s one of the best.
Unfortunately we didn’t get to experience the lower-output 1.5 litre engine of the Neo (a review will come soon), but with the Neo weighing slightly less than the Maxx and Genki, we’d bet the performance difference would be barely noticeable.
The way the Mazda2 steers has taken a backward step, but it’s only likely to bother motoring journalists.
The old car was renowned for its feelsome steering and fantastic chassis balance, and while the new Mazda2 handles just as nicely, the steering is dull around dead-centre.
Wind on some lock and there’s more feedback through the wheel, but we do still prefer the more animated feel of the old car’s steering.
But while that’s hardly a deal-breaker, the new Mazda2’s road noise is a bigger issue.
Even on the smaller 15-inch alloys of the Mazda2 Maxx (the Genki gets 16-inchers) there was abundant tyre roar on coarse chip surfaces, to the extent that voices needed to be raised at 100km/h.
ANCAP rating: The Mazda2 has yet to be assessed by ANCAP
Safety features: Stability control, traction control, ABS, EBD, brake assist and six airbags (front, front side, full-length curtain) are standard across the Mazda2 range.
Smart City Brake Support is available as a $400 option, and reversing cameras and parking sensors are also available as dealer-fitted extras - though none are standard on any Mazda2 model.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The new Mazda2’s keen starting price and across-the-range driveaway pricing makes it a solid choice on price alone, and base model Neo even undercuts less appealing three-door rivals like the Hyundai i20.
- Honda Jazz (all-new)
- Ford Fiesta (recently updated)
- Toyota Yaris (update coming soon)
- Hyundai i20 (ageing, but still the segment leader)
- Kia Rio (light facelift, shown below, on the way)
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The Mazda2 has aged well, and is now a more broadly-appealing product than ever. It’s even gained a hint of premium-feel to its styling and on-road manners, and, next to many segment rivals, it looks and feels upmarket.
But while we can forgive it for being a slightly less-engaging drive than before, it’s harder to overlook its shrunken interior proportions, small boot and the absence of cruise control on the base model.
The design, price and performance are where they need to be, but the packaging and spec isn’t quite there.
Then again, the Mazda2 sits in a segment where owners are almost always the sole occupant of the vehicle, with little luggage to lug around.
Will more time behind the wheel change our mind about Mazda’s littlest offering? We’ll find out soon.
PRICING (excludes on-road costs)
- Mazda2 Neo - 1.5 petrol 6MT - $14,990 ($16,990 drive-away)
- Mazda2 Neo - 1.5L petrol 6AT - $16,990 ($18,990)
- Mazda2 Maxx - 1.5L petrol 6MT - $16,990 ($18,990)
- Mazda2 Maxx - 1.5L petrol 6AT - $18,990 ($20,990)
- Mazda2 Genki - 1.5L petrol 6MT - $19,990 ($21,990)
- Mazda2 Genki - 1.5L petrol 6AT - $21,990 ($23,990)