Mazda makes another winner
Can Mazda's new 2 supermini continue the company's impressive winning streak? William Scholes finds out
DAZZLED by vehicles which don't start to rust after six weeks, need greased every weekend and routinely break down, most people tend to think that there is no longer any such thing as a 'bad car'.
'Most people' obviously haven't driven a Vauxhall Mokka or Mercedes-Benz A-Class, but they are generally correct in the sense that the unreliable, rusty 'bad car' of old has more or less been banished from the 21st century showroom forecourt.
That 'every car is a good car' is undoubtedly wonderful news for punters but for manufacturers it means it is becoming harder than ever to make their cars stand out from the competition.
When the average is of a high standard, why go to the time and expense of engineering an above average car? The law of diminishing returns might suggest it's probably not worth the effort.
Which is why Mazda's approach is worth highlighting. The Japanese marque's current range of cars is fantastic - good looking, wonderful to drive, value for money and a cut above the competition in whatever class its models compete.
Compared to titans like the Volkswagen Group or Ford, Mazda is a relatively small player but it punches well above its weight thanks to some clever lateral thinking.
Mazda's current models all employ an engineering philosophy it brands as 'Skyactiv' which includes, among other things, a ruthless focus on cutting weight - a virtuous circle which not only improves efficiency but also driving dynamics.
One need only look to the way it goes about its engines for an obvious example of how Mazda does its own thing.
The rest of the industry has rushed towards smaller, turbocharged engines which promise amazing on-paper fuel economy but in the real world flatter to deceive, with Ford and Fiat being perhaps the worst offenders.
Mazda, meanwhile, has taken a step back and designed a range of larger capacity engines which don't rely on turbocharging and which, while the laboratory figures may not be as headline grabbing as those of the downsized turbo units, prove to be more economical in everyday driving.
Mazda dealers are now fortunate enough to have showrooms filled with all-new cars, among them the Mazda 2 supermini.
Before you even sit in it, the 2 is off to a great start - it looks really sharp, successfully shrinking to a smaller palette the design language which talks so fluently on the company's larger models.
Open the door and you find an interior blessed with the same sense of style. The uncluttered dashboard is the polar opposite of a Ford Fiesta's over-buttoned mess, and the control wheel and touchscreen set-up of the SE-L Nav spec test car is among the best to be found on any car, never mind superminis. The air vents, for example, could have come from an Audi - and praise for a car interior doesn't come higher than that.
The driving position is spot-on, hands falling easily to a lovely sporty steering wheel, feet to carefully positioned pedals - these are subtle details, but they reflect the attention Mazda has devoted to getting everything just so.
Up front, there is a healthy sense of light and space, and even with the driver seat set for my lanky 6ft-plus frame, there is still good leg- and headroom in the back seat. The boot is an ample 280 litres and the Mazda 2 is now five-door-only.
So far, so good, but where the little Mazda really sets itself apart is on the move.
It's a genuinely athletic, sporty drive, and really good fun.
Whether you opt for petrol or diesel, you'll get an engine of 1.5-litre capacity. - uncommonly large by contemporary standards, particularly when most petrol rivals sport much smaller turbo units.
The diesel serves up 104bhp and while it promises strong economy, I find it hard to justify the extra purchase cost in small cars.
As with other superminis, unless your annual milege is very high, it's best to go for petrol; Mazda serves up the 2 in three states of tune - 74bhp, 89bhp and 113bhp.
The test car had the 89bhp unit, which is paired with a five-speed manual gearbox. It's a cracker, with great throttle response and it even makes a nice noise as the revs head towards the red line - something the car's effervescent character encourages.
A superb gearchange, pedals weighted with expert consistency, light and accurate steering further elevate the Mazda 2, and helped explain why I took the long way home - and into work - every day it was in my custody... Heavy threads of the MX-5 sports car's DNA run through the little hatchback.
The Mazda's main competition in the fun-to-drive stakes is the Ford Fiesta, Northern Ireland's most popular new car. But while it offers a wider range of engines and trim levels, it doesn't feel as upmarket as the Mazda, plus its interior is, by comparison, a mess.
Even if a car's fun factor or the slickness of its controls isn't of great importance to you, the Mazda 2's breadth of talent means should definitely be on your check list if you are in the market for a supermini. It's one of the best cars I have driven this year and it's where my money would go.