Mazda 2: 2 good 2 be true?
In the face of fresh competition, the Mazda 2 has been gently upgraded. It's still a class-leading small car, says William Scholes
IN the world of the small car, the Mazda 2 is a big deal, writes William Scholes.
It has always been a Drive favourite, not least because of the way in which it channels Mazda’s trademark sense of driving fun and engagement into a city car package.
The same DNA that makes the MX-5 sports car so tactile and responsive, or the big Mazda 6 saloon and estate such a fluent companion on Northern Ireland roads, also courses through the dinky little 2’s chassis and controls.
That it is stylish, practical and cheap to run merely adds to the appeal.
Since it arrived in 2015, some of the Mazda 2’s key rivals have been replaced by new models. This includes the Suzuki Swift, which prioritises driving fun in much the same way as Mazda, and the best-selling Ford Fiesta, which is as rounded a proposition as it is ubiquitous.
The 2 has been gently massaged over time as well, with upgrades including some typically thorough Mazda-esque tweaks to the suspension and steering, as well as new seat fabrics and improved sound insulation.
They also fitted its trick ‘G-Vectoring Control’ technology, which adjusts the torque being delivered to the front wheels according to throttle input, steering angle, speed and other factors; it is complicated stuff, but the net effect is to improve the car’s stability and cornering response.
The attention paid to driving pleasure is one area in which the Mazda stands out, but the company’s independent streak is perhaps best shown under the bonnet.
While every other rival is focusing on making downsized turbocharged petrol engines - 1.0-litre three-cylinders being a favoured format - Mazda resolved that it would instead focus on ‘right-sizing’ its engines.
A problem with the little turbo petrol engines is that they only deliver their best fuel economy when the turbocharger isn’t spinning.
This means that while they might record strong fuel consumption under test or specific conditions, in the cut and thrust of real world driving, in which the turbo is heavily relied upon to keep up with other traffic, they are often disappointingly thirsty.
Mazda’s approach is to build larger capacity, non-turbocharged engines which run more efficiently, more of the time. So while their laboratory or ‘official’ figures can be bested by the downsized turbo brigade, in the real world where you and I live, they are generally more frugal.
That is why the 2 is available only with a 1.5-litre petrol engine, offered in three different power outputs: 74bhp, 89bhp and 113bhp. The diesel version has been dropped, reflecting the general trend in the market for shunning the fuel; in any case, diesel engines make little sense in small cars.
Those are modest enough power outputs, but the Mazda philosophy of driving fun is not based on big horsepower; rather, it’s the overall feeling that the car offers, from the way it changes gear and the consistency of the pedal weights, to the vim with which it corners and responds to your inputs. It’s a holistic approach that no-one quite matches.
Even the dashboard layout gives the impression of being more driver-focused than is typical of the humdrum class norm.
The Mazda philosophy of driving fun is not based on big horsepower; rather, it’s the overall feeling that the car offers, from the way it changes gear and the consistency of the pedal weights, to the vim with which it corners and responds to your inputs. It’s a holistic approach
The interior is as roomy as you would expect from a small car - though the Suzuki Swift feels larger - and it is well finished in traditionally robust Japanese style.
Refinement on the car I tested was superior to the first 2s that I drove when the car was launched; the extra sound insulation has paid off. Mazda says it has added more sound-proofing under the bonnet and used noise-insulating glass, as well as sound-deadening in the tailgate.
The range starts with the 74bhp SE+, but the biggest sellers are the 89bhp-engined cars. It is offered in SE-L Nav+, as tested, Sport Nav+ and Sport Black+ trims.
The top-of-the-range GT Sport Nav+ comes only with the 113bhp engine. It also has six-speed manual gearbox, while the other engines are paired with a five-speed manual.
To complete the picture, a six-speed automatic gearbox can be ordered with the 89bhp engine.
It is a well equipped car, too. SE-L+ and SE-L Nav+ cars have LED front fog lamps, auto power-folding mirrors and passenger seat height adjustment, while Sport Nav+ models gain sporty body trim such as 16-inch alloy wheels and a shark fin antenna.
The GT Sport Nav+ is quite the looker, with LED headlights, LED daylight running lights, a contrasting black rear spoiler and 16-inch silver alloy wheels; inside are black leather seats, a colour head-up display and a reversing camera.
The 89bhp and 113bhp cars have automatic city braking and a lane departure warning system, 7-inch colour touchscreen display, sat-nav, DAB radio and cruise control. Sport Nav+ and GT Sport Nav+ cars have privacy glass, rear parking sensors, climate control air conditioning and keyless entry.
Prices start at £13,295 and rise to £17,095.
It amounts to a value-for-money proposition, and one which is particularly hard to look past if you want a small car that is genuinely good fun to drive.
Yes, the competition is strong - we admire the new Suzuki Swift, in particular - but the Mazda 2 is still a class act.
AT A GLANCE
Mazda 2 1.5 90PS SE-L Nav+
Price: £15,195. As tested £15,735, with mica paint £540
Engine and transmission: 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol, five-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 89bhp, 109lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 117mph, 0-62mph in 9.7 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 57.7mpg (combined); 49.7mpg (real world); 111g/km
Car tax: £165 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 23 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Four stars (86/78/84/64), 2015