The smallest global representative of the Japanese automaker is also the newest – at least until the new CX-3 subcompact crossover touches down – and could be seen as the model that completes the circle of the KODO: Soul of Motion design circle.
Don’t mistake the “completion” part with any type of closure – because we still haven’t heard all it has to say, with the new CX-3 crossover and refreshed Mazda6 and CX-5 models heading our way. Not to mention the pinnacle of this stylistic expression – the fourth generation of the iconic MX-5 Miata roadster. In earnest, what the little Japanese automaker (it’s probably the fifteenth world manufacturer) has managed to do all on its own is nothing short of spectacular and could serve as a lesson to all major carmakers.
They were essentially abandoned by their US partners – Ford – back in the days of the financial crisis, survived it without tying up with any other powerhouse and are now thriving. Don’t believe the latter part? Their current lineup has the following models as new generations or refreshed mid-life offerings: Mazda2, Mazda3, Mazda6, CX-3 and CX-5 crossovers and MX-5 Miata roadster. The product cycle for such a small producer – even one that plays globally – is tremendous and should be highly regarded. Also, the Japanese have played two cards that I believe could turn out to be the winners for them: design and technology. The Kodo language has entitled them to claim a place that could make any carmaker jealous: this could very well be one of the most attractive auto brands on the planet. Second, the Skyactiv range of technologies has allowed them to find their own road even without the billions of a larger parent company.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
On to the Mazda2 now. I could easily be badged as a Mazda fan after the first few paragraphs, but the reality is staring you back in the face immediately if you go for a test drive in any of the newer models of the brand, which have all the goodies packed together (essentially the models I talked about earlier). The Mazda2 could be a great place to start. First off, Mazda has rekindled its fondness for sporty, hip designs with the Kodo language – the previously rounded and rather girlish Mazda2 generation based on the Fiesta is but a distant memory now. Thankfully. The new generation is more unisex, but somehow provides ties to both the masculine and feminine side – the front is aggressive and sporty, while the sides and back will calm down any mother worried the other traffic participants would mistake her as a hot hatch fan. Sitting now firmly on the Skyactiv architecture – which first underpinned the CX-5 crossovers and goes all the way up to the massive Mazda6 midsize – means the Mazda2 has grown in size, being longer and more importantly having wider front and back tracks. This improves both the model’s overall appearance and also greatly impact road stability.
Inside, the changes do show you the alternate side of the medal the interior room has been decreased somewhat, especially in the back and in the legroom area. The result is a more personal car wrap-around feeling, and unless you constantly haul across town with all seats occupied you won’t easily notice this particular aspect. Owing to its particular and now traditional sporty stance, the new Mazda2 also has a very attractive and dynamic driver position and center console. It’s less of a classic then what we would come across in the Mazda3, 6 or CX-5 models and essentially identical (with minor differences) to the cabin of the new CX-3 subcompact crossover. The design is clutter-free, giving up the myriad of dials and buttons of rival makes in favor of simplicity and efficiency – you have the instrument cluster, steering wheel with centralized controls, the climate block and the human- machine interface zone. The latter is accessible either through the touch inputs of the 7-inch color screen or via the command center sitting behind the gearbox lever in a very BMW iDrive-esque manner. Since many of us have already become familiar with such command centers, I found myself usually using the central knob and surrounding buttons (they’re not in your line of sight, but you get used to their functions quickly enough), rather than touch inputting because the screen sits in an elevated position.
The seats were comfortable, with the rear back seat usable for very short hauls by three adults. In the back, the leg and headroom was only average for its class, so the Mazda2 is not a great option if you have a larger family. Additionally, while the front seats were comfy and large enough to accommodate tall persons, the overall exterior and interior dynamic appearance left me wanting more side support when tackling the bends. The backrest was foldable to allow a cargo space of up to 950 liters, while the trunk only held 280 liters – and the small tailgate and massive bumper further impeded access.
One of the major assets that Mazda is riding on to attract new clients – just like any Japanese maker, brand fidelity is usually as high as it gets, so repeat customers are a given – is the level of on-board technology. The Skyactiv features, advanced as they may be, are usually concealed and impact stuff like ride quality, powertrains and comfort. But the Mazda2 hooks you – naturally, if you choose a high-end trim level – with its incredible amount of gadgetry. You get the usual touchscreen infotainment system with all the associated goodies (navigation, Bluetooth, USB connection, etc.) and then you have two USB connections (how many times did you want to listen to your favorite music from a thumb drive but had to charge your smartphone?!); or an entire range of settings to see how green you drive; or safety assistance systems such as lane departure warning and emergency brake assist; or an automatic high beam or even a head up display. The Mazda2 is packed with technology features that were just half a decade ago the panache of premium models in the midsize segment. The Japanese do have some tinkering to do before they earn a perfect score though: for example the media screen doesn’t have a split screen feature, to see your track’s name and the various fuel economy and green features at the same time.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
Mazda has talked so much about the Skyactiv technology that we feel we already know it just as well as Volkswagen’s MQB modular architecture, for example. Essentially, in real life we could see (if given the change to drive or own them all) that across the range the Mazda models tend to have the same basic ride (with differentiations by class and purpose) and comfort, though I really believe the biggest gains from the concerted approach has to do with efficiency. The Mazda2 we reviewed had the top of the line Skyactiv-G petrol engine variant, mated to the six-speed Skyactiv-MT manual transmission. Associated goodies included the now standard faring start/stop feature and the “i-ELOOP” brake energy regeneration system that exchanges the alternator in favor of a capacitor recharged during braking that provides power to all vehicle electronics.
The 1.5 four-cylinder engine has eschewed the current downsizing trend, with Mazda generally saying it would achieve more fuel economies by constantly upgrading its trial and tested internal combustion engines. So, there’s no turbo under the hood, just a high-revving engine that reaches maximum power (115 hp) at 6,000 rpm and maximum torque (148 Nm) at 4,000 rpm. It doesn’t come with the low range torque that we see now in small displacement turbo engines, but also saves us from the ugly noise associated with the former – usually using a three-cylinder configuration. Driving the Mazda2 is a traditional scenario: you can cruise around town at low revs and achieve good fuel economy – the gearbox change assistant even pushes you for the sixth gear at around 60 km/h. Or you can push it for all it has by staying in the max torque – max power zone.
The Mazda2 has been essentially developed with an urban destination in mind – but if you have the willing to spend the extra bucks on the top of the line petrol engine it can also become a feisty companion on a mountain drive. That’s because the ride and handling is exemplary – I can’t even remember when a car in this class and price bracket (we’re ruling out RS and GTIs) offered such dynamic stance without compromises. In town the car is comfortable even when driving on rougher patches, though the suspension noise is a tad higher than one would like to suffer. If you take it out on the highway the added oomph from the 115 hp will always make the difference and the six-speed gearbox will ensure economic and silent cruises at highway speeds. And then you can indulge in some sporty passes on twisted mountain bends, dreaming you’re in the open-top and rear-wheel drive MX-5. The steering input is straight and precise, the ride never lets you feel out of control and the body reactions are predictable – you’ll know when the front wheels start to lose traction and can easily counter the reactions (you also have the ESP assistance). So it’s a great way to spend your time revving up the feisty engine because even less experienced drivers will see their mistakes ahead of time – the chassis only has to handle 115 hp. One final comment, just like Mazda used us, the gearbox lever has one of the sportiest setups – with precise and very short shifts.
Among all the dynamic feelings I almost forgot we’re talking about a subcompact city car here, one that will usually make its kilometers running errands, hauling the kids and speeding to the supermarket. So, let’s refocus a bit and also comment on the fuel efficiency. It’s good, though hardly spectacular. There are limits to what a traditional, naturally-aspirated engine can do – and Mazda are very close today. The combined average fuel consumption is 4,9 liters per 100 km – we were around two litters off in a mix of town, highway and some bendy roads, so don’t expect any miracles, especially if you load the car to its maximum capacity. The start-stop system will make the difference though if you mostly use the car inside the city, where’s its more than useful to keep the gas bills at bay.
Pro: interior and exterior styling, ride and handling, high-tech options such as head-up display and overall sporty driving feel.
Against: larger than its predecessor, hasn’t improved much on cargo or interior space, especially in the back. All that on-board technology has its price, driving you near hot hatch territory.
Starting price – Mazda2 G75 – 10,990 EUR / Mazda2 G115 Revolution Top – 18,890 EUR
Tested Car –Mazda2 G115 Revolution Top w. installed options – 19,370 EUR
Engine: 1.5L four cylinder, gasoline, direct injection, start/stop system (1,496 cc)
Power: 115 HP (85 kW) at 6,000 rpm
Torque: 148 Nm at 4,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Dimensions: length – 4,060 mm, width – 1,695 mm, height – 1,495 mm, wheelbase – 2,570 mm
Weight: 980 kg / maximum capacity: 1,510 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 44L
Trunk Capacity: 280L / 950L
0 – 100 km/h: 8,7s
Top Speed: 200 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 6,4L/100 km, highway – 4,1L/100 km, average – 4,9L/100 km
Rating: 3.4 / 5