Small car, big value

A cut above reg­u­lar shop­ping trol­leys, Mazda’s sedan adds qual­ity, fun and safety for its pre­mium

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - Road Test - BILL McKIN­NON

If you’re in­ter­ested in a small car be­cause it’s easy and en­joy­able to zip around town in, with great ma­noeu­vra­bil­ity, fuel ef­fi­ciency and low run­ning costs, you can now have one with big car bonuses as well, such as the lat­est safety and in­fo­tain­ment tech, a com­fort­able, quiet cabin, con­fi­dent han­dling and rea­son­able per­for­mance.

But you have to spend a lot more than $14,990 drive-away, which cur­rently puts you in the cheap­est seat in the class, Hyundai’s Ac­cent.

One of the best small cars, the Mazda2, has just been given a midlife over­haul, with low speed (from 4-30km/h) au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing now stan­dard across the range. Its only ri­val with stan­dard AEB is the Skoda Fabia.

A new works­burger vari­ant, Mazda2 GT, adds blind spot mon­i­tor­ing and rear cross traf­fic alert, with AEB op­er­at­ing in re­verse as well, giv­ing it the best safety spec­i­fi­ca­tion in this class.

It will cost you $23,680 plus on roads for the sedan, which we’re in to­day, or the five-door hatch, both with a 1.5-litre four­cylin­der en­gine and six-speed au­to­matic trans­mis­sion. That’s big money for a small car. Is it worth that much?

DE­SIGN

Climb into the GT and it seems a fair price. The cabin fea­tures ex­cel­lent fit and fin­ish qual­ity, clean, min­i­mal­ist styling and a so­phis­ti­cated, hi-tech feel.

The test sedan has leather seat bol­sters and fake suede fac­ings, soft touch in­te­rior trim in dark brown with grey stitch­ing, gloss black plas­tic and fake al­loy high­lights. At­ten­tion to de­tail be­fits a more ex­pen­sive car, from the pre­cise, tac­tile con­trols to clear, con­cise in­stru­ments, a sporty, leather­wrapped steer­ing wheel and retro-look cir­cu­lar air vents.

You sit high on a com­fort­able, sup­port­ive cush­ion with ef­fec­tive back­rest bol­ster­ing but only ba­sic man­ual ad­just­ments. That said, the driv­ing po­si­tion can be tai­lored to suit just about any­one and tall peo­ple won’t feel cramped in the 2.

Most Ja­panese and Korean brands use touch­screen-only in­fo­tain­ment. Mazda adds the much safer, more ef­fi­cient ro­tary con­troller/cur­sor in­ter­face favoured by Ger­man mak­ers.

Mov­ing around menus is in­tu­itive, com­ple­mented by call­ing/email/mes­sage Blue­tooth func­tions, voice con­trol that works with phone, au­dio and nav­i­ga­tion, and a head-up dis­play that shows speed, speed lim­its (with 100 per cent ac­cu­racy on test) and nav­i­ga­tion prompts.

Rear seat space is pre­dictably tight for tall pas­sen­gers but four av­er­age sized adults will fit com­fort­ably. A huge boot in the sedan — 440L, com­pared with the hatch’s 250L — can be ex­tended with the 60-40 split-fold rear seat back. The re­mote boot re­lease, as of­ten seems to be the case, didn’t work on the test car.

AROUND TOWN

In town, the 1.5-litre/six-speed com­bi­na­tion de­liv­ers best-in-

class fuel ef­fi­ciency. Our car av­er­aged 6-7L/100km on reg­u­lar un­leaded, abet­ted by an un­usual au­to­matic stop/start set-up that re­quires an ad­di­tional firm press on the brake, af­ter you come to a stop, to kill the en­gine.

You then need to give the ac­cel­er­a­tor a sim­i­larly de­ci­sive poke to get the plot rolling again, be­cause — as in other nat­u­rally as­pi­rated petrol fours — torque is in short sup­ply at low revs.

Re­spon­sive gear shift­ing then en­sures that the 2 moves eas­ily through the traf­fic, where the trans­mis­sion’s ex­tra two ra­tios, com­pared with the four­speed­ers in the Kia Rio and Toy­ota Yaris, give the Mazda a telling ad­van­tage in per­for­mance and re­fine­ment.

Sport mode, ac­ti­vated via a tog­gle switch on the cen­tre con­sole, gives you im­me­di­ate kick­down to the lower gears for zippy per­for­mance when you need it.

Very firm sus­pen­sion can make the ride pretty rugged on bumpy city streets and the test car’s brakes were rather grabby and dif­fi­cult to mod­u­late at low speeds in heavy traf­fic.

ON THE ROAD

One of the qui­etest small cars I’ve driven, the 2 cruises ef­fort­lessly on the high­way with the 1.5 tick­ing over at 2250rpm in sixth gear, re­turn­ing a su­per fru­gal 4-5L/100km.

It makes easy work of hills, again due to re­spon­sive, so­phis­ti­cated soft­ware that picks the right gear at the right time and pre­vents hunt­ing.

When you get to a few tight cor­ners, you can have a bit of fun in the 2, too.

Sport mode down­shifts like a hot-hatch trans­mis­sion, with a blip un­der brakes and a keen­ness for the lower gears, where the 1.5 (a de­tuned ver­sion of that in the base MX-5) pulls will­ingly and quite strongly be­tween 4000rpm-6500rpm.

Open road dy­nam­ics are sporty in flavour, with ac­cu­rate, rea­son­ably com­mu­nica­tive steer­ing, dis­ci­plined body con­trol, great front end grip and se­cure road­hold­ing on rough sur­faces, where the ride also be­comes more com­pli­ant be­cause the sus­pen­sion works through more of its travel.

The brakes also gain pedal feel at speed and have am­ple power. The steer­ing lacks on­cen­tre feel, so in free­way cruis­ing ng you’re con­stant­lyntly mak­ing frac­tional ad­just­ments at the wheel.

VER­DICT

Sure, the Mazda2 GT is pricey for a small car but it’s also good value be­cause you get much more than just a cheap shop­ping trol­ley.

It’s a pre­mium qual­ity, welle­quipped, pre­ci­sion-en­gi­neered lit­tle ma­chine with best-in-class safety and a fun-to-drive fac­tor that lifts it above the pack.

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