► Full UK road test of new Mazda 2
► We review the 1.5 petrol supermini
► It's a bit of a cracker!
Mazda is quietly building quite a reputation for itself as a purveyor of cleverly engineered, alternative cars to the mainstream obvious choices. Since its disassociation with Ford, the Japanese minnow has struck out solo - and we’ve been rarely anything other than impressed with the results. The 6 is an elegant Mondeo rival, the 3 actually beat the Golf et al in CAR magazine’s group test at launch and the latest MX-5 is a triumph of minimalist fun, with weight, prices and sheer drama all back to early 1990s Mk1 levels.
So far, so good. But the challenge of repeating these successes on a smaller car such as the Mazda 2 where budgets are tighter is manifest. Can they really make a car to match the dynamic sharpness of a Fiesta? With the glitzy polish of a Polo? And the all-round competence of a Fabia? We’re about to find out.
UK road test: Mazda 2 1.5 90ps SE-L Nav
We’re testing the mid-power 89bhp 1.5-litre petrol model, coming in generously equipped SE-L Nav trim. Total cost is £14,395, the only option to our test car being the sober optional metropolitan grey mica paint (a £530 extra). It’s a classy look, but we’d personally spend £650 on the vibrant Soul Red Metallic in our pictures for a bit of restrained sparkle.
The five-door-only 2 comes pretty loaded for a supermini, with 15-inch alloys wheels, electrically folding heated door mirrors, electric windows all round, cruise control and DAB digital radio. The ‘Nav’ bit of the spec naturally brings satellite-navigation, elegantly integrated into the 7in touchscreen and there’s some clever-clogs safety kit in the form of lane departure warning and emergency braking around town.
All in all, that’s a lot of kit for a small car. And that price looks competitive; the top-selling Fiesta with a similarly powered 99bhp Ecoboost engine but less kit starts at £14,095. Prices start at £11,995.
First impressions inside the Mazda 2
To these eyes this is a slick-looking car. From many angles it apes the outgoing 2 heavily, but the new snout lends an attractive air to proceedings. Inside things are shaken up more. It’s a minimalist interior with pleasingly few buttons on an echoingly empty centre console.
Just straightforward, clearly labelled heating and ventilation controls are visible; all the stereo, trip computer and navigational duties being accessed via the seven-inch touchscreen and its very iDrive-inspired rotary wheel. It’s worth dwelling on the genius of Mazda’s new MZD Connect infotainment system, for its logic, elegant layout and ease of use is unrivalled in this sector.
If we have one criticism, it’s the quality of materials in here: we’d suggest looking at multiple demonstrators to find the right surface, as you can pick from piano blacks and carbonfibre-effect plastics aplenty. You’ll know if any alarm you.
Is it practical?
You bet. The 2 is comfy in the front as you’d expect and you’ll even accommodate four six-footers without any complaints; those rear doors allow easy access to the second row. It’s not the roomiest supermini on sale, but it is practical.
The boot is a decent 280 litres, rising to 950 with the rear seats folded away. There’s a pronounced load lip to lug bags over, but this is usual in the supermini sector.
The acid test: is the Mazda 2 a good drive?
We drove a pre-production version of this car in Barcelona a few months ago (click here for this earlier Mazda 2 review) and were impressed, but now we’ve had time to test a full UK-spec car on British roads we can confirm: this is a tremendous supermini.
Mazda’s alternative engineering strategy pays dividends here, the focus on low weight (this car weighs 1050kg despite being rammed with kit) benefiting ride, handling, performance, braking... you get the idea. It’s worth pointing out that many 2s will nip under a tonne. Performance is remarkably zesty for a non-sporting supermini and it’ll broach the ten-second barrier in the 0-62mph sprint with ease.
It’s a revvy, well mannered four-cylinder 1.5 Skyactiv-G petrol engine, essentially the same unit you’ll find in the MX-5 albeit in a different tune, which may explain its pleasing acoustics. And the gearchange feels very nearly roadster-sharp, snicking up and down ratios with a deft touch. You sense somebody at Mazda really knows how to connect with drivers.
You will have to stir this engine if you’re hurrying along your favourite back roads, though; there are occasions when you wish Mazda had followed the downsizing/turbocharging herd and a welcome dollop of forced-induction torque wouldn’t go amiss, particularly on motorway inclines. We’ll be driving the diesel and higher-powered 113bhp petrol 2 soon to find out if those models answer this criticism.
But really, the new Mazda 2 is extraordinarily well judged. It’s a refreshing change to see tall, balloony 185/65 R15 Dunlop eco tyres fitted to a supermini; this car has a well judged plump to its ride, yet still retains control. It feels like a comfier, less hyperactive Fiesta and that’s a good thing.
The 2 smothers urban ruts and potholes, yet you’ll still enjoy spearing it along cross-country. This would make a good basis for an MPS model should Mazda ever take the plunge and reawaken its dormant performance brand for a proper hot hatch…
There are some annoying reflections in bright sunshine from the harder plastics in use on the dashboard (victory: VW Group), which can annoy but otherwise the 2 goes about its business with the minimum of fuss. It’s well connected, too: double USB sockets and SD card readers by the gearlever come in handy to stream all your music and appiness to those on board.
This is one impressive supermini - one you can love with your head and your heart and we’d place it near the very top of our favourite superminis. We applaud Mazda’s keep-it-simple-stupid mentality and focus on making cars that keen drivers can connect to. It feels like a product for our times: you can plug into the old-school fun of driving, yet the 2’s modernity rings true to its core. Top work, Mazda.