August 20, 2014
What’s Hot: Premium look and classy cabin, advanced driver aids, efficient engines.
What’s Not: Reduced interior space. (Yep, that's all.)
X-FACTOR: A new level of refinement and technology for the segment will make the new 2 a hard one to ignore.
Vehicle Style: light five-door hatch
Price: $TBA (expect to start around $15-16k)
Engine/trans: 81kW/131Nm 1.5 4cyl petrol | 6spd auto
Fuel Economy: not revealed, but Mazda promises up to 25 percent improvement.
Here it is, Mazda’s new 2. The subject of more than a year’s speculation, rumours, spy photos and leaks… it's an important car for Mazda, and the new model has big shoes to fill.
The current model, despite being seven years old, has not long been overtaken as Australia's best-selling light car by the Hyundai i20, and it still sits at second in a very tight race.
But its time has come. Fresh winds of change have swept through Mazda’s wider range and, with the CX-5 SUV, midsized 6 and small 3 all replaced, it’s now the 2’s turn.
It’s a promising looking thing. There’s a new design, new platform, new engines and new transmissions.
Mazda says all of this makes the new hatch a more refined and compelling product. To prove it, the Japanese carmaker invited TMR to Mazda's homeland to taste the new 2 for ourselves.
- Full Australian specifications are still to be confirmed, but this week’s high-grade testers were equipped with Mazda’s new MZD Connect infotainment system that includes a full-colour seven-inch touchscreen display with sat-nav and a rotary dial controller in the centre console.
Refinement. That’s the key word here, because this new 2’s cabin is a far more refined space than the lunchbox plastics and basic trim of the model we’ll soon wave goodbye to.
On the design front, much from the Hazumi concept’s streamlined and premium-looking cabin has translated into production.
The neatly divided dash both emulates and evolves the design of the concept's cockpit. The screen display sits proud above a compact centre console and the space behind the steering wheel is dominated by the bold instrument cluster and jet fighter-inspired head-up display (seen also in the Mazda3).
The up-spec model we drove in Japan also featured a liberal splash of chrome highlights, and a nicely wrapped-and-stitched finish to key surfaces.
For styling and feel, this car feels a clear step above a pejorative ‘volume seller’ categorisation.
This new 2 is also noteably larger than its predecessor: overall length is up 160mm to 4060mm, and the wheelbase has been stretched to 2570mm - an 80mm increase.
And, while width remains unchanged at 1695mm, height has grown by 25mm to 1500mm.
Interestingly, this growth hasn’t translated as plainly to the cabin, where there’s 20mm and 15mm less headroom in the front and rear respectively.
Front and rear legroom has also shrunk by 5mm and 4mm, and while shoulder room in the front has grown by 11mm, it’s also down a significant 30mm in the rear.
Our brief impression is that these deductions appear to have had no obvious impact on interior comfort, thanks perhaps to an increase in ‘visual’ space.
There’s a larger windscreen, relocated door mirrors and thinner new A-pillars that sit 100mm further forward, all working to produce a more spacious feel.
Comfort is further improved by, at long last, the addition of reach adjustment for the steering wheel - 50mm in total, with a 50mm tilt range.
Of course, it will take a full review and a full load of passengers to draw a decent picture of its real-world interior comfort and cosiness.
One very significant debit is in rear cargo space, with the new model reduced to 220 litres (seats up and tonneau cover closed, measured to VDA standard) compared to 250 litres in the current model.
ON THE ROAD
Engine/trans: 81kW/131Nm 1.5 4cyl petrol | 6spd auto
Fuel Economy: not revealed, but Mazda promises up to 25 percent improvement. The current four-speed auto 1.5 litre Maxx Sport lists fuel use at 6.8 l/100km.
Our test in Japan saw us knock out a handful of laps around Japan’s Tokachi racing circuit, located on the northernmost island of Mazda’s homeland, Hokkaido.
While not a full, on-road, real-world test, this trip gave the media its best look yet at the new Mazda2 in a specification not far off what we’ll see in Australia.
Tuned to a ‘rest of the world’ steering and chassis setup, these pre-production hatches nonetheless offered a promising preview of what’s to come.
All of the Mazda2 cars available on the day were driven by the more powerful version of the two engines we’ll see in Australia, although also tuned to suit overseas markets.
In Australia, that engine, the 1.5 litre four-cylinder ‘F-P5’, will offer 81kW and 141Nm of torque, tuned for regular unleaded. In this week’s tested form, tuned for 95RON fuel, the small engine turned out a few extra kilowatts and Newtons.
Fuel use for the new engine - or for its slightly less-powerful and advanced ‘V-P5’ sibling - is still to be revealed, although Mazda says that depending on the specification, it has achieved overall fuel consumption improvements “of up to 25 percent”.
Also contributing to the improved fuel consumption is the new and more compact SkyActiv-Drive six-speed auto - the only transmission available for this review. Mazda claims fuel savings of up to six percent from this high efficincy unit.
Strapping in and powering out of the pits, it’s immediately evident that this new 2 is a good thing.
It’s no racer, and nor should it be, but just like its predecessor it is a surprisingly nimble and sure-footed player.
This writer is not the lightest unit in the game, but the new 2’s small 1.5 litre engine and six-speed auto was plainly unperturbed.
Thrumming away under the bonnet, the small four-cylinder proved willing and responsive, with a smooth power delivery right through the rev-range.
Torque is where the new engine impresses most. Although turning out just a few more Newtons than we’ll see in Australian models, it is clear that the increased torque - up from 135Nm - has made a small but noteable difference to the 2’s get-up-and-go.
Likewise, the new six-speed auto, which replaces the four-speed in the outgoing generation, is a slick unit.
Programmed to get the best out of the engine's torque and power, the new auto is responsive and smooth-shifting. Small autos have improved out of sight in recent years, and this is one of the better ones. It's alert, free of hunting and seemed to always put the right gear underfoot.
It’s also programmed for light fuel-use and a life of economical commuting (but hard to accurately test on a racing circuit).
Flicking the new 2 to sports mode, however, gives the little hatch surprising verve, with torque response and gear shifts sharpened noticeably - particularly with the up-spec paddle shifters in play.
It’s not as slick as a dual-clutch, but can still deliver quick changes and will happily change down at higher revs if you're giving things a serious push.
Like its larger 3 stablemate, the new 2 is built on Mazda’s SkyActiv architecture, and the improvements to vehicle dynamics are clear.
Hokkaido turned on the water works for our short test, but the light hatch was mostly untroubled on its Singapore-spec Toyo tyres. (Australian rubber is still to be confirmed, but Mazda tells us it will be a similar experience.)
Like most in the segment, the new 2 gets MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam set-up at the rear.
Mazda appears to have ‘sacrificed’ some of the previous 2’s suspension tautness in favour of comfort - in fact, its engineers have admitted to as much - with the new model showing more body-roll through turns.
Steering - electrically-assisted rack and pinion - feels light but solid, with a consistent on-centre feel and a linear increase in 'weight' as you turn the wheel.
Mazda tells us that Australia will get a tune more in line with the European range, which means slightly stiffer suspension and steering.
But, on the basis of this test, this car feels right. It’s a good compromise between comfortable commuting and spirited sportiness, and that’s as it should be for a light hatch.
Importantly, the new 2 also appears to be quieter on road and with less intrusion of road noise than the new 3 (but it will take a proper drive on open Australian roads to prove that).
The new 2’s full feature set is still to be confirmed, but its advanced safety tech includes blindspot monitoring, lane departure warning, radar cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic high-beam lights.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
In many ways, the all-new Mazda2 looks to be an easy sell.
For styling, both inside and out, we reckon this is simply the most handsome offering in the light-car segment. Nothing else comes close.
Build quality is near perfect and the interior fit-out aligns with Mazda’s mission to “defy convention”, as do the safety and convenience technologies not normally found in this space.
There’s less passenger and storage space than before - and that will prove a genuine debit for some - but the new 2 is a comfortable, if cosy, place.
To drive, is this new 2015 Mazda2 the great leap forward that all of its new technologies would appear to promise?
A few laps of a smooth - and wet - Japanese racing circuit is not enough to form a conclusive verdict of its driving qualities.
But, in a number of subtle but significant ways, the new six-speed auto and smart interior among them, this is an improved car on the current model 2 .
What’s clear is that Mazda has honed even further the 2’s appeal as a daily driver, without losing too much - if any - of its sporty, fun character.
To be sure, we’ll just have to wait until the new 2’s Australian launch in October.
Mike Stevens travelled to Japan as a guest of, and at the expense of, Mazda Australia.