Australia’s light car segment is experiencing a downturn as buyers who aren’t squeezed by pricing pressures continue to investigate their SUV options. Freedom of choice is a wonderful thing, but it leaves some incredibly good vehicles sitting on the sideline.
Mazda already knows it’s onto a good thing with the Mazda2 - it sits second so far this year in its segment and only beaten by the cheap-as-chips Hyundai Accent and is being chased by the fleet-favourite Toyota Yaris - so rather than rock the boat the Mazda2 has only undergone a minor update for 2017.
Things you can’t see include Mazda’s exclusive G-Vectoring control - a system that’s designed to make for a more engaging drive - and the standard inclusion of autonomous emergency braking across the range (previously an option).
Pricing and specifications get a shuffle at the top end too, with the previous top-rung Genki dropping down a notch, opening up space for a new GT flagship at the top of the range.
Vehicle Style: Light hatch
Price: $22,690 plus on-road costs
Engine/trans: 81kW/141Nm 1.5-litre 4cyl petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 4.9 l/100km | Tested: 7.4 l/100km
There’s no stand-out styling changes to the 2017 Mazda2, the colour palette has been adjusted slightly and if you look very hard you might notice new exterior mirrors and a shark fin antenna, but that’s about it.
In the Genki model, which now slots in under the newly introduced flagship GT, the previously optional S Pack has been deleted (its leather-look trim is now standard on GT), a new MX-5-style steering wheel has been added, and the pop-up head-up display has been reconfigured to be easier to interpret.
At $22,690 before on-road costs, the automatic Genki tested here isn’t exactly a budget battler, but with an interior style and quality that puts some of its competitors to shame, not to mention a full safety list, the 2017 Mazda2 Genki can hold its head above a competitive set that values cut-throat pricing over passenger satisfaction.
- Standard Equipment: Cloth seat trim, single-zone climate control, leather steering wheel and gear knob, colour head-up display, cruise control, power-folding exterior mirrors, push-button start, auto lights and wipers, LED headlights and fog lights, 16-inch alloy wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen, console-mounted scroll-wheel, AM/FM/DAB+ radio, USB and Aux inputs, satellite navigation, Stitcher and Aha internet radio (via compatible smartphone), Bluetooth connectivity, six-speaker audio
- Cargo Volume: 205 litres minimum, expandable via 60:40 folding rear seat
Mazda does a good job of balancing compact size and premium finishes inside the Mazda2, meaning buyers won’t feel like they’re in a light car so much as they might in something like a Hyundai Accent or Toyota Yaris.
The asymmetrical dash design has passed the test of time well and still looks fresh and modern, with a small padded section adding a sense of plushness, and good integration of the infotainment screen at the top of the dash.
Gloss black and chrome interior trims with contrast stitching on the seats and doors should get a nod of approval from the fashion police without the risk of dating too quickly, though it’s all a little lacking for colour or flair, if that’s your thing.
Between its compact size and swoopy styling, the Mazda2 isn’t the most spacious car in its segment. Space in the front seats feels every bit as roomy as something like a Mazda3 (though a touch narrower) but the rear seats aren’t nearly as generous as others with Mazda claiming this vehicle is likely to appeal to first car buyers and downsizing empty nesters rather than families and chauffeur drivers.
Unfortunately the updated model still goes without Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which are fast becoming the industry standard in smartphone connectivity. Instead you can access internet services like Stitcher and Aha on the touchscreen display via your mobile (the previous Pandora compatibility has gone now that the service is retreating from Australia) and the system can display and reply to text messages, but the integration isn’t as slick as proper smartphone mirroring.
Interior storage space isn’t at the forefront of innovation either. Of the available storage in the interior all bar the glovebox are open for prying eyes to see, and the lack of a proper centre armrest really takes the premium shine of the Genki. Bottle holders in the doors are right-sized, but other options are limited if you’d like to stash your phone or wallet out of sight.
Boot space is also restricted at 205 litres, with a high load lip to lift over. The 60:40 folding seats free up extra space but the Mazda2 lacks the almost van-like spaciousness and flexibility of the Honda Jazz.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 1.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol, 81kW @6000rpm, 141Nm @4000rpm
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, front wheel drive
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, torsion beam rear
- Brakes: 258mm front discs, 208mm rear drums
- Steering: Electric power steering, 9.8m turning circle
- Towing Capacity: 900kg braked, 500kg unbraked, 50kg towball download
Vehicles that share the segment with the Mazda2 aren’t always synonymous with driving thrills, and while the 2 is certainly no scorcher it’s refreshing to see that Mazda has at least kept its smallest model entertaining.
Under the bonnet is a 1.5 litre four-cylinder engine, not turbocharged or boosted in any way like some competitors, but good for 81kW and 141Nm in the Genki and matched to a sensible six-speed automatic that’s a perfect match for city drivers.
That results in an engine that’s up to the task of zipping around with enthusiasm, but one that needs a decent rev to really get up and go, rather than being able to fall back on the extra torque of something like a Renault Clio or Volkswagen Polo
Mazda has also made a range of changes to noise insulation to reduce some of the more obtrusive road and engine noise that affected earlier versions of the 2. The difference isn’t extreme, and the Mazda2 can still throw up a din on some road surfaces - particularly at freeway speeds.
Over the kinds of mixed-bag city and suburban roads that most Mazda2’s will call home the ride is just right, erasing rough surfaces as it goes, but with the kind of control and composure of a larger car.
Keen drivers that like to escape the urban grind on weekends will also find a willing accomplice in the Mazda2. Although the engine could do with a little more oomph on rural roads, when shown a set of corners the Mazda2 really finds its groove.
Between a handling package that keeps its composure on winding roads, and the addition of Mazda’s G-Vectoring control, which helps shift weight onto the front wheels for more responsive and controlled steering the 2 is a perky and agile handler where some cars in the class fall more on the side of basic transport.
ANCAP Rating: 5 Stars - the Mazda2 scored 36.35 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2015.
Safety Features: All Mazda2 models come standard with six airbags (dual front, front seat side, and full-length curtain), electronic stability and traction control, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist, rear park sensors and rearview camera, and autonomous emergency braking (called Smart City Brake Support).
Genki and GT grades also add blind spot monitoring and rear cross traffic alert.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Three years, unlimited kilometres
Servicing: Service intervals occur every 12 months/10,000km (whichever comes first) and Mazda’s capped price servicing alternates between $286 for odd-numbered intervals and $314 for even numbered intervals up to five years/50,000km. Mazda’s service schedule also includes separate replacement intervals and costs for items like cabin filters and brake fluid. Consult your Mazda dealer for full terms and pricing.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
As a fellow premium benchmark, the smooth and swift Volkswagen Polo still impresses, even as it prepares to enter runout mode. A well finished interior, excellent infotainment and robust turbocharged engines help the Polo stand out from the pack.
Adventurous design and a sense of whimsy might be the most obvious Renault Clio traits, but dig a little deeper and the Clio blends a zippy turbo engine and sweetly balanced handling to go with its Euro-chic interior.
If you carry people or cargo (or both in varying amounts) then the interior flexibility of the Honda Jazz is just what you need. The Jazz doesn’t deliver the same premium touches as the Mazda2, but all can be forgiven with the Magic Seats configured to take anything you throw at it.
As the segment’s best seller, the Hyundai Accent impresses with a strong engine, but advancing age means the interior is starting to feel a little dated. That said it's roomy, comfy, and fine to drive, plus attractive pricing makes it hard to ignore at the moment.
- Volkswagen Polo
- Renault Clio
- Honda Jazz
- Hyundai Accent
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Mazda doesn’t make a sporty version of the 2, nor is there a high-powered hot hatch variant. Instead the Mazda2 is positioned to be entertaining no matter which variant you choose. With so many cars in the segment fading into the background it's nice to see one that isn’t just focussed on being cheap and inoffensive.
Unfortunately for some, rear seat space is less than ideal. Young drivers who might only carry one or two mates at a time probably won’t mind too much, but if interior flexibility is paramount it might be better to look elsewhere.
Same goes for refinement. Even though few in the segment offer whisper quiet cruising the Mazda is hardly at the top of its game either.
That said, as a plush and zippy city car, the compact Mazda2 passes the test with flying colours. If only Mazda could get their smartphone connectivity up to scratch the Mazda2 would be a segment leader - not on price of course but perhaps as a reward for hard work, something better than basic for discerning buyers.