Small car, big value
A cut above regular shopping trolleys, Mazda’s sedan adds quality, fun and safety for its premium
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?
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.
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.
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.