Mazda proves there’s life in the man­ual

Kapiti Observer - - CLASSIFIED - ROB MAETZIG

We’ve just been driv­ing a car with man­ual trans­mis­sion.

Yep – man­ual trans­mis­sion! Six on the Floor. For the unini­ti­ated (and that in­cludes all those young peo­ple with re­stricted driv­ers li­cences that do not al­low them to drive cars with man­ual trans­mis­sions any­way), that means the trans­mis­sion is a six-speeder, and you have to use a clutch and a floor-mounted gear­stick to change gear.

At least the gear­stick is on the floor. Older mo­torists will re­mem­ber when gear­sticks were mounted on the steer­ing col­umn – that’s when they were given neat de­scrip­tions such as Three on the Tree – and the re­ally vet­eran driv­ers will re­mem­ber gears with no syn­chro­mesh which meant dou­ble de-clutch­ing had to be em­ployed to move from one gear to an­other, es­pe­cially when chang­ing down.

That’s when you had to use the clutch once to move the trans­mis­sion into neu­tral, then use the clutch again, and give the en­gine some revs, so the de­sired gear could mesh into place. All while the driver was also steer­ing the ve­hi­cle.

Mod­ern-day man­ual trans­mis­sions are so much eas­ier to use. All you need to do is push in the clutch and change gear to suit, and the gear­stick is springloaded to help en­sure the cor­rect gear is se­lected.

So why would any­one want to own a car with man­ual?

There are a few good rea­sons. Cost is one – man­ual cars usu­ally cost less to buy than au­to­mat­ics. A driver can also feel some­what more in­volved with a ve­hi­cle when gears have to be shifted man­u­ally, and ve­hi­cle per­for­mance can also be su­pe­rior be­cause gear­ing can be shorter than with au­to­matic trans­mis­sions. And of­ten – but not al­ways – fuel econ­omy can be bet­ter be­cause of the dif­fer­ent gear­ing and lower power losses.

Maybe it is the in­volve­ment as­pect of us­ing a man­ual that is the pri­mary rea­son why cars with man­ual trans­mis­sions are still very pop­u­lar in Europe. But the sit­u­a­tion is quite the op­po­site in the likes of Ja­pan and Korea, which is where most of our ve­hi­cles come from, and as a con­se­quence au­tos dom­i­nate the mo­tor­ing scene in New Zealand.

But the man­u­fac­tur­ers do of­fer a small num­ber of pas­sen­ger ve­hi­cles with man­ual trans­mis­sions – pri­mar­ily sports cars and lit­tle hatch­backs. Mazda is a clas­sic ex­am­ple of this; it of­fers just three mod­els with man­u­als. One is the MX-5 con­vert­ible and coupe, an­other is the sporty SP25 ver­sion of the Mazda3 hatch, and the third is the diminu­tive Mazda2 hatch­back.

Ac­tu­ally there are two Mazda2 man­u­als. One is the en­try GLX ver­sion that we’ve just been driv­ing, and the other is a bet­ter spec­i­fied GSX model. In both cases the man­ual ver­sions are $1750 less ex­pen­sive than their au­to­matic coun­ter­parts.

What all this means is that the GLX man­ual al­lows a cus­tomer to get into the very good Mazda2 range for a com­pet­i­tive $21,945 – which, by the way, is $7750 less than the top Lim­ited ver­sion of the car which is pow­ered by the same 1.5-litre en­gine.

And it’s not as if the GLX is bare-bones ei­ther. Quite the op­po­site in fact. Its stan­dard spec­i­fi­ca­tion in­cludes such things as power fold­ing ex­te­rior mir­rors, air con­di­tion­ing, Blue­tooth phone con­nec­tiv­ity, hill launch as­sist, and Mazda’s ad­vanced smart city brake sup­port which helps lessen or pre­vent low-speed col­li­sions by au­to­mat­i­cally ap­ply­ing the brakes. It’s also got a re­vers­ing cam­era, with the view il­lus­trated on the rear-view mir­ror.

Let’s go back to the fact this car is a man­ual. The trans­mis­sion aboard the Mazda2 is called SkyActiv-MT, and it is part of a suite of SkyActiv tech­nolo­gies Mazda has de­vel­oped in the in­ter­ests of im­proved per­for­mance, safety and econ­omy.

The trans­mis­sion is a lit­tle beauty. More com­pact and a lot lighter than ear­lier man­ual trans­mis­sions and with a lot less in­ter­nal fric­tion so fuel econ­omy can be im­proved, the gear­box is pre­cise and very easy to use. It’s also a six-speeder, and when in sixth gear at 100kmh the 1.5-litre en­gine ticks over at about 2200rpm, which Maz­das says helps achieve an av­er­age fuel con­sump­tion of 5.2 L/100km.

The en­gine, which is one of Mazda’s SkyActiv-G units, of­fers 81kW of power and 141Nm of torque which makes it among the most pow­er­ful of the su­per­mi­nis avail­able in New Zealand. It’s also got i-Stop which helps save fuel by switch­ing off the en­gine when the car comes to a stand­still, it is put out of gear and the clutch dis­en­gaged. It starts again when the clutch is de­pressed.

This has all helped the ve­hi­cle re­main up there as one of the classi­est lit­tle hatch­backs on the mar­ket. That’s even at the en­try level end, and even with the man­ual trans­mis­sion. Down there it’s a fun car – with ex­tra driver in­volve­ment on of­fer via be­ing able to choose the gears your­self.

The facelifted Mazda2 GLX, which is avail­able with a choice of six-speed man­ual and six-speed au­to­matic.

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