We loved the much-improved second generation Mazda2. The third generation car looks a big step on again. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
The Mazda2 returns smarter and sharper than ever. It packs in some big car features into a pertly-styled body, features some classy 1.5-litre petrol and diesel engines that make great real-world economy and the interior's built better than you'd believe. It's a real contender to the likes of the Fiesta, Corsa, 208 and Clio.
The Mazda2 is going places. The first Mazda2 sold 410,000 units between 2003 and 2007. The second generation model had a seven year run at the market but had already eclipsed its predecessor's total midway through 2010. Both cars owed a lot to Ford's strategic partnership with Mazda, effectively being rebodied Fiestas which, as anyone who's ever driven a modern Fiesta will happily admit, is no bad thing. This time round, Mazda is going it alone with the latest '2 riding on its own SKYACTIV chassis technology. That would appear to be quite a gamble but Mazda has its tail up at the moment after the success of the latest '3, '6 and MX-5 models, so why shouldn't it showcase what it can do to the '2?
Buyers get to choose between either a 1.5-litre petrol engine or a 1.5-litre diesel in a variety of different guises. The petrol motor is offered in 75, 90 or 115ps outputs, while the diesel cranks out a healthy 105ps and, more pertinently, 220Nm of torque at just 1,400rpm. It's easily the pick of the bunch. Power is transferred to the front wheels via five- and six-speed manual transmissions as well as a six-speed automatic. All are newly developed compact, lightweight versions of the acclaimed gearboxes offered on other new-generation Mazdas. The suspension has been set up to be Volkswagen-firm which you'll feel on poor surfaces but the flipside of this is that the Mazda2 offers reassuring body control in corners. The steering is an electrically-assisted system, so don't expect bucketloads of feedback, but you can count on clean response and perfect accuracy. With a sporty feel and easy manoeuvrability, the Mazda2 is more than just a city scoot. It's got a welcome element of long distance versatility too.
Design and Build
All around the world there are languages dying out but Mazda's designers seem to have one all of their own when they start describing the Mazda2. To most people the 'KODO - Soul of Motion' design doesn't really mean a lot. Suffice to say it looks quite a bit like the existing CX5, Mazda 3 and Mazda6, which means a flowing blend of curves, lots of shape in the flanks and a gaping front grille. It looks better than it sounds, especially when specified with a decent set of alloys. The interior's probably the biggest surprise. We expected the cabin to be boldly-styled but built out of some shiny plastics and with ergonomics that were a bit hit and miss. It's anything but. In fact, the design is relatively clean and conservative, but the colour combinations that Mazda offers are a knockout and the materials quality is genuinely surprising. It's spacious too. By stretching the wheelbase by 80mm, Mazda has delivered a decently-sized passenger cell for a five-supermini. There's a big glove box and door pockets that can hold large bottles. The boot's deep and boasts 280-litres of room with the seats in place or 960-litres when they're folded, which is just a few litres off that of the latest Fiesta.
Market and Model
Prices range in the £12,000 to £17,500 bracket common to superminis in this segment. There's a five-level grade structure - SE, SE-L, SE-L Nav, Sport and Sport Nav. Here are three 1.5-litre petrol units with 75, 90 or 115ps on tap, plus a 105ps 1.5-litre diesel. Mazda claims that the range sets new standards for infotainment, in-car connectivity and equipment levels in the segment with the 90ps SE-L Nav models featuring a 7-inch colour touch-screen, a rotary Multimedia Commander infotainment control, MZD Connect, DAB radio, and a satellite navigation system as standard, whilst Sport Nav models also benefit from the addition of 16-inch alloy wheels, smart keyless entry and climate control air-conditioning. The Mazda2 features the ingenious Active Driving Display - the first head-up display in this class - and certainly isn't short of the sort of safety features normally found only in bigger cars. These include an auto braking function, blind spot detection, a lane departure warning system and high beam control that automatically dips the lights so as not to blind oncoming vehicles. The front, side and curtain airbags have all been redesigned to offer better occupant protection while the front end crash structure has been improved markedly. Due to all of this, Mazda is confidently predicting a five-star EuroNCAP rating.
Cost of Ownership
The petrol-engined versions of the Mazda2 are interesting in their own regard. Most of Mazda's rivals have opted for downsized turbocharged petrol units that, in effect, cheat the NEDC economy test and tend to result in fairly ordinary fuel economy in real world driving conditions. Mazda's 1.5-litre normally-aspirated SKYACTIV-G petrol engines get between 57.6 and 62.7mpg, which certainly isn't bad, but we'd be willing to wager that in typical real world conditions, they'll fare better than Ford's 1.0-litre Ecoboost unit, the one that's found in a Fiesta. Emissions translate to between 110 and 115g/km. The diesel looks to have made all the right moves. Mazda claims 83.1mpg and 89g/km for the SKYACTIV-D engine, which is bound to be popular with UK buyers. The lightweight SKYACTIV chassis helps keep weight down, with the entry-level petrol models tipping the scales at just 970kg.
Good things often come in little packages. Here's one of them. It's a small car that's been developed with an extraordinarily large amount of care and as a result, is a class act. No other rival offers a better all-round blend of performance and efficiency, plus this third generation Mazda2 delivers smart looks, reasonable pricing and an interestingly-styled cabin offering premium segment features and some lovely quality touches. The bottom line is that if you thought all superminis were the same, it's well worth trying one of these. Life, you might find, is full of surprises.