SMILE FOR THE CAM­ERA

Geelong Advertiser - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - PAUL GOVER CHIEF RE­PORTER

SOME­THING is still miss­ing from the Mazda2.

De­spite an up­date for 2017 with prom­ise of more safety and re­fine­ment, which Mazda Aus­tralia claims makes its con­tender “undis­puted cham­pion the light car seg­ment”, start­ing-price Mazda2 Neo does not come with a re­vers­ing cam­era.

That’s be­com­ing big­ger and big­ger deal for lot of peo­ple. And the day is far away when cam­era will be­come le­gal safety re­quire­ment in Aus­tralia, same as anti-lock brakes and sta­bil­ity con­trol.

Mazda says (hon­estly) that it can’t add a cam­era without ex­ceed­ing its $14,990 value price point be­cause it in­cludes a big­ger and costlier in­fo­tain­ment dis­play. There is one avail­able as dealer-fit­ted op­tion for less than $800.

But is that good enough for Aus­tralia’s sec­ond favourite in the light-car class so far this year, af­ter Hyundai Ac­cent? Smaller tid­dlers — in­clud­ing even new Kia Pi­canto, a $13,990 drive-away deal have re­vers­ing pro­tec­tion.

When you’re push­ing the safety mes­sage, you need to tick all the boxes.

As it is, 2017 Mazda2 is trum­peted with auto city brak­ing across range. There are blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing and rear cross-traf­fic alert, which claimed as a first for the class, al­though those are stan­dard only on high-spec­i­fi­ca­tion Genki and GT.

The up­date to Mazda2 since it ar­rived in 2014 as the starter model the im­pres­sive Mazda range also brings G-Vec­tor­ing Con­trol, which elec­tron­i­cally shifts load be­tween front and rear wheels to im­prove corner­ing feel. There are sus­pen­sion im­prove­ments more sound in­su­la­tion in the boot.

In cabin, there a classier steer­ing wheel and clearer in­stru­ments. Mazda says in­te­rior trim of ev­ery model (there are nine in­di­vid­ual choices in the hatch and sedan) has been up­graded.

It’s a sim­i­lar deal to other re­cent up­dates Mazda fam­ily, most no­tably Mazda3 Mazda6, and comes without any price in­crease.

So it’s all about evo­lu­tion, af­ter the rev­o­lu­tion­ary changes across Mazda fam­ily that en­abled Ja­panese brand to re­bound im­pres­sively from the aus­ter­ity of global fi­nan­cial cri­sis and be­come a gen­uine qual­ity ri­val to Euro­pean pace­set­ters in­clud­ing Volk­swa­gen.

ON THE ROAD

The new 2 drives with im­pres­sive quiet­ness and re­fine­ment at all speeds. It feels a little smoother in the ride

touch sharper han­dling, though it doesn’t feel as sporty as the Volk­swa­gen Polo. It’s also qui­eter than I re­mem­ber thanks to un­seen changes that in­clude an “acous­tic” wind­screen, ex­tra sound in­su­la­tion and re­tun­ing of the “noise paths” that brought road noise into the cabin. I never had same com­plaints about Mazda2 as big­ger Mazda3, which

a real prob­lem be­fore its midlife up­date.

Does that mat­ter for peo­ple shop­ping the ba­sic Mazda2? Or are they just buy­ing on price, look­ing at $14,990 as their new­car start­ing point?

Yes, it mat­ters be­cause the opposition con­tin­ues to get bet­ter — es­pe­cially Kia and Hyundai with their tuned-forAus­tralia sus­pen­sion Mazda says most of the Mazda2 buy­ers skip straight past base car to some­thing closer $20,000 on the road.

That’s why I’m driv­ing Maxx auto hatch, which starts from $17,690 and brings a lot more stan­dard equip­ment, in­clud­ing re­vers­ing cam­era. It’s a tidy, ef­fec­tive en­joy­able little car, quiet calm.

I ad­mit I can’t feel any ben­e­fit from the G-Vec­tor­ing Con­trol, even if in Mazda3 it helps with sharper, more re­spon­sive corner­ing, but this is hardly a hot hatch. The Maxx gets the (very slightly) sharper en­gine tune in Mazda2 range, but it’s still only 81kW and Mazda has not in­stalled the pad­dle-shifters that sig­nify cars for driv­ers.

Own­ers are more likely to be smil­ing about 4.2L/100km claimed econ­omy than marginally higher out­puts in the 1.5-litre en­gine.

I like big­ger in­fo­tain­ment dis­play in Maxx and the head-up in­stru­ment dis­play that makes it much eas­ier to keep an eye on my speed. The feel of wheel is good in­stru­ments seem clearer.

VER­DICT

The up­date to the Mazda2 brings more com­fort and re­fine­ment, plus slightly more pleas­ant re­laxed driv­ing.

Mazda knows that is ex­actly what its buy­ers want what has made it such a stand­out in Aus­tralian show­rooms, as well as lead­ing light on sales for the whole world. It’s lovely little car.

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