A bit too noughtie

The small­est Mazda is strictly one for the nos­tal­gists

Herald Sun - Motoring - - Road Test - PAUL POTTINGER CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR paul.pottinger@cars­guide.com.au

MY DJ friends, of whom I have none, as­sure me noughtiesstal­gia is the next “thing”.

The thing pre­ced­ing was, ap­par­ently, “nineties-stal­gia”, a cocked eye­brow cel­e­bra­tion of what­ever oc­curred dur­ing the 90s that is now deemed wor­thy of com­mem­o­ra­tion by the peo­ple who de­cide these things.

When comes the time of the decade pre­vi­ous to go into high (or yet higher) ro­ta­tion on the many ex­cel­lent au­dio and vis­ual cul­tural chan­nels avail­able to sub­scribers, might I make so bold as to sug­gest an au­to­mo­tive mo­tif?

This one. The Mazda2. It is both best­seller of its type and the surest sign that last decade is best left where it is.

VALUE

An as­pect of that is the sticker. Though this is a drive-away deal on a car in run-out (the new one lobs be­fore year’s end), it serves to demon­strate that times have changed in more ways than one.

When this jelly­bean 2 ar­rived in 2007 (a rad­i­cal re­shape of the pre­vi­ous boxy de­vice), Korean cars were shed­ding their drive­away/chuck­away rep­u­ta­tion.

Now Hyundai and Korea make bet­ter Ja­panese cars than the Ja­panese and tend to charge a bit more for them, some­thing jus­ti­fied still by in­her­ent value, but also by tech­ni­cal and qual­i­ta­tive su­pe­ri­or­ity.

Alone among its com­pa­tri­ots Mazda can hold its head up — the emerg­ing gen­er­a­tion Maz­das are world class — but the 2 is an old car, one that ar­rived when the com­pany was re­cov­er­ing from near ex­tinc­tion.

While the de­sign was and re­mains bold (vi­su­als are surely the great­est fac­tor in Mazda’s sin­gu­lar Aus­tralian suc­cess), this car rolls with a tired en­gine, old trans­mis­sions and achieves fuel con­sump­tion eas­ily bet­tered by far big­ger cars.

The “noughti­est” as­pect of Mazda’s value story though is in what it doesn’t of­fer — nei­ther an­nual nor capped ser­vic­ing and only three years war­ranty. Honda try this on too, but they haven’t be­come used to be­ing ir­rel­e­vant. Mazda do it be­cause they can get away with it.

Next to its di­rect com­peti­tors from Hyundai, Kia, Ford or even Volk­swa­gen, it’s a bad joke on buy­ers.

TECH­NOL­OGY

Not quite a case of noth­ing to see here, but you have seen it all some time ago. As smaller en­gines achieve higher per­for­mance at a smaller cost in fuel, this 1.5 is blus­tery and thirsty. Its this as­pect in which the new 2 will make its big­gest stride, much as the in­com­ing 3 ren­ders the out­go­ing model pre­his­toric.

The 2 rides alertly with a re­spon­sive MacPher­son front end and bog ba­sic back. Mazda’s dy­namic sharp­ness al­most al­ways shines and pen­sion­able or not, the 2 is no ex­cep­tion with steer­ing tastily di­rect at 2.6 turns lock-to-lock. Sta­bil­ity con­trol cal­i­bra­tion is an­other Mazda trump card. The Hiroshima based bods are among the few who can achieve a set­ting that con­cedes not all driver’s are nump­ties while catch­ing the ma­jor­ity.

DE­SIGN

While the lines of the out­go­ing Mazda3 and pre­vi­ous model 6 de­fine in­stant ob­so­les­cence (if they look a bit much now, how crook will they look in a year or three?), the 2’s vis­ual state­ment tran­scends the years. In es­chew­ing the hy­per prac­ti­cal for pretty to the eye and prac­ti­cal enough, the Mazda2 con­tin­ues to ex­er­cise its in­flu­ence.

Then you open the door. A reader wrote last week that

qual­ity fit and fin­ish equates with dura­bil­ity, not soft touch ma­te­rial. What a noughtie fel­low. To­day, of course, it means both and the 2 re­alises only the for­mer. The lack of Blue­tooth is al­most con­fronting in 2014 and the skinny plas­tic wheel is un­pleas­ant to hold in any decade. The Clio craps on it.

Er­gonomics are sound, though, es­pe­cially the high mounted gear leaver that’s within my hand span of the wheel. In­stantly leg­i­ble in­stru­ments con­trib­ute to an ef­fi­cient and pleas­ant work sta­tion.

SAFETY

Four stars and 30.8 points out of 37 suf­ficed for a small car crash test in 2008. Not now.

DRIV­ING

Although sales of new man­ual cars de­cline as pre­cip­i­tously as the govern­ment in Newspoll, a four speed auto with so in­dif­fer­ent an en­gine is best avoided.

It’s man­ual in the 2 or for­get about it, an­other re­spect in which the old love’s get­ting on for the six-speed twin clutch au­tos of the Fi­esta and Clio leave both its trans­mis­sions for dead.

And yet ... When stirred along, the base Neo Sport is a good bit of old world fun, though it’s driverly dy­nam­ics are fore­most on the sort of back­roads to which it’ll be sel­dom taken.

The short shift­ing stick and pro­gres­sive clutch pedal (wonder how many more times we’ll write that about a new car?) mean that it’s far from a chore to ma­noeu­vre in the city.

VER­DICT

Old style Korean value from Ja­pan. You can do bet­ter.

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