Hmm, a new Mazda 2. The old car was pretty dull, wasn’t it?
Yes, but the new 2 is different. Out goes the frumpy, MPV-like styling of the previous model to be replaced by something altogether more attractive. Even in Kermit-the-Frog green. The old 2 wasn’t just boring to look at. It was hardly a pulse-quickening experience behind the wheel, either. The new car raises the fun factor by a notch or three as we found out when we drove the 1.5-litre back in June. We’ve now had a chance to try the cheapest 1.3-litre and the diesel, too. Whichever engine is under the bonnet, the 2 faces tough competition. The new generation of tiddlers like the Renault Clio and Vauxhall Corsa has shown that superminis can make great all-rounders, just as comfortable in the outside lane as nipping down to Tesco. Can the 2 cut the mustard in this improving class?
What does the 2 offer that a Clio doesn’t?
In a word, weight – or rather, a lack of it. Supermini buyers like their creature comforts, sound deadening and airbags, all of which pile on the pounds. But Mazda has put the 2 on a diet. Entry-level models are claimed to weigh just 1030kg, around 100kg less than the old 2. That's quite a refreshing change. Lighter door speakers, a thinner bonnet, and the use of high-tensile steel are among the measures used to trim the fat. Even so, Mazda promises safety hasn’t been compromised, and confidently predicts a five-star rating from Euro NCAP.
How does all that weight-saving affect the drive?
For the better. While the old car was staid but competent, the new 2 is far more agile and engaging. That’s not just down to the 2’s gym-trim kerbweight. Well judged suspension plays its part, too, delivering firm control over rollercoaster road surfaces. The steering is surprisingly communicative for an electrically assisted rack, which is often a sure-fire way to kill off steering feel. It’s light enough around town, but precise with it. It’s not all good news, though. The ride is rather firm and there’s too much road noise. A few more kilos of sound-deadening might not have been a bad idea after all.
And in a straight line?
For now, there are three engines to choose from. There’s a choice of two 1.3-litre petrols, one with 74bhp and one with 85bhp. We’ve tried the more powerful of the two, which is happy enough around town, but sounds strained at high revs. The 102bhp 1.5-litre suits the 2’s up-beat character. It pulls strongly all the way to the redline and is a better match for the keen and responsive chassis than the 1.3. A 67bhp 1.4-litre turbodiesel will be on sale by the end of the year, but there’s no need to wait until Christmas if you want a 2 with good economy – the 1.3 petrols both manage 52.3mpg on the combined cycle. Besides, the diesel doesn’t have much extra mid-range punch compared with the 1.3, and you’ll have to cover a lot of miles to earn back the expected £1000 price premium.
A smaller car means a smaller cabin, right?
Smaller, yes, but not small. Driver and front seat passenger have plenty of room. It’s a shame the steering wheel adjusts for height only (another few grammes saved, presumably) but the driving position is fundamentally sound. In the back, passengers are forced to sit rather upright and headroom is a little tight, but legroom is reasonable. The boot is a fairly modest 250 litres. One area in which the Mazda isn’t on the pace is the feel of the cabin. It’s all very well screwed together and will doubtless last for years, but it doesn’t have the soft-to-the-touch, upmarket finish of the Clio’s interior.
What about value for money?
Prices start from a competitive £8499. That’s enough to buy the lower-powered 1.3 in TS trim. A CD player is standard, but there are just two airbags and no air-conditioning. The more powerful 1.3 TS2 is another £1500. That’s a big price jump, but then the spec is less stingy, with manual air-conditioning, alloy wheels, side and curtain airbags and split-fold rear seats. A further £1800 pays for the 1.5 Sport. Apart from the liveliest engine, your money also buys full climate control, bigger alloys, stability control and other goodies.
The 2 has undergone quite a transformation. Take it out of the ‘worthy but dull’ file and pop it in the folder marked ‘fun but flawed’. Why flawed? Because Mazda’s slim-fast ’mini is too noisy and too firm-riding compared with the big-car refinement of a Corsa or Clio. But if you prefer a small car to feel small, to make a virtue of its lightweight and shrink-wrapped dimensions, you’ll love the 2. It’s probably the most fun supermini on sale today. Given that the next Ford Fiesta will share much with Mazda’s’mini, that’s good news indeed.