It may be a small car, but the new Mazda 2 has big shoes to fill. The outgoing 2 is an impish, likeable little car, with chuckable handling and an amiably unpretentious image. At seven years old, though, it’s beginning to run short of breath as it passes the baton to its all-new replacement.
We’ve been behind the wheel of the new Mazda 2 in pre-production form for a short but promisingly sweet preview drive.
2015 Mazda 2: the highlights
Along with the rest of Mazda’s rebooted Skyactiv-era stable, the new 2 gets choppy design cues and a deep, shield-shaped grille. Chief designer Ryo Yanagisawa told us he tried to get away from the typical ‘one-box’ shape of most Japanese superminis by making the windscreen more upright and visually pulling the cabin area back to help make the car appear longer and lower.
In fact it is slightly longer, the front wheel sitting 80mm further forward than before to free up some extra leg room. The old 2 was relatively light for its class and that’s still the case with the new car. A lighter-still bodyshell means the new car’s kerbweight has changed very little despite being packed with the kind of increased safety kit and connectivity tech you’d expect of a 2015 car.
Blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and low-speed automatic emergency braking all make an appearance, and the same smartphone-compatible multimedia display as the Mazda 3 sits mid-dash.
Exact UK specs and prices will be confirmed closer to the car’s launch date in spring 2015.
What engines come with the new Mazda 2?
Mazda has always done its own thing. As downsized turbocharged engines with low cylinder counts become the norm, Mazda chooses to pursue larger naturally aspirated petrol engines with high compression ratios in search of more linear power delivery and drivability. Long may the contrariness continue, we say.
As such, the 2 gets a brace of 1.5-litre units, one petrol and one diesel. The petrol Skyactiv-G (for gasoline) is familiar from the Mazda 3 while the turbocharged Skyactiv-D diesel is all-new.
The latter, which will also find its way into the new CX-3 crossover, has ultra-low CO2 emissions of 89g/km and a power output of 103bhp. Opting for the petrol gives you a choice of three power outputs (74bhp, 89bhp or 113bhp)
We had a (very) brief drive in both the diesel and the 89bhp petrol.
What’s the 2015 Mazda 2 like to drive, then? As good as the old one?
Well, here’s the thing. Our drive was very much on the brief side, over 13km of traffic-packed central Barcelona, so you’ll forgive me if this story doesn’t contain any concrete handling observations.
What I can tell you is that the control weights are light and the gearchange short-throw and snappy. Up to third, anyway – we didn’t make it into fourth.
Vehicle development manager Kengo Fukushima told us a deliberate delay has been designed into the power steering just past the straight ahead to make the car feel more stable and linear in its response. A bit of mid-roundabout experimentation happily suggests that this hasn’t made the steering feel leaden or unresponsive. He also spoke enthusiastically about how involving the 2 is to drive, but we’ll have to take his word for it. Nonetheless, you do get the sense that making the car fun to drive was higher up the scale of importance for Mazda during development than, say, it was for the Polo at VW.
As for the engines, the diesel is a bit on the noisy side but pulls strongly, with a lovely linear power delivery. Less lovely was the start-stop system, which left us stranded on a roundabout briefly.
The 89bhp petrol engine was as quiet and smooth as you’d hope, with a similarly drivable nature.
What’s the new Mazda 2 interior like?
A lot of it’s similar to the Mazda 3. There’s the same instrument cluster with a motorcycle-style central rev counter, head-up display (likely not to be standard on lower trim variants) and click-‘n’-turn wheel interface for the dash-mounted media screen (which will be standard across the range).
That multimedia interface can talk to your smartphone if you download the appropriate app. Mazda says you can even have Facebook posts read to you through the speakers and post your own via the voice command system, which sounds like an amusing recipe for disaster.
Quality, however, even accounting for some pre-production clunkiness, isn’t brilliant. Dubious artificial carbonfibre-patterned plastic coats most of the trim panels and fit and finish isn’t up to the likes of the Skoda Fabia – although at least it looks a bit more interesting.
It’s hard to make a definitive judgement after the briefest of traffic-jam drives in pre-production cars. But tentative impressions are that the Mazda 2 is a good little car – a plucky outsider that could well be up there with the class best. Pricing could be a fly in the ointment, however. We’re told the 2’s likely to kick off from around £12k (the base Fiesta undercuts £10k) and the range could top out as high as £18k. Quite a lot of cash for quite a small car.