Zoom, Zoom is well and truly alive and well in the Mazda2
Update: The Mazda2 is the popular Japanese brand's city car offering and is now in its second generation guise that was released in 2007.
In August 2012 the baby Mazda was upgraded with USB connectivity across its tri-level trim range, giving owners the much-needed ability to connect their iPods, iPhones or USB sticks.
Music information is shown on the 2's multi-information display. The minor update also brought a colour change to the centre of the alloy wheels of the Maxx and Genki models, with a blue and burgundy red added as new exterior colour options.
From the moment you nudge the short-throw shifter from second to third gear and open it up, you’ll have no doubt whatsoever about the sporting nature of the Mazda2.
There’s a nice growl to the engine note under load too and performance feels decidedly strong from the naturally aspirated 1.5-litre powerplant. Zoom, Zoom is well and truly alive and well in the Mazda2.
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Mazda has done incredibly well with Mazda2 in Australia, especially with this second-generation model. First released in 2007, more than 50,000 have been sold here to date, with last month (June 2011) breaking all previous sales records. This year alone, more than 8700 Mazda2s have moved off showroom floors in Australia.
It’s fascinating when you look back to where the light car segment was some 50 or 60 years ago with cars like the Austin A30 and the Morris Minor 1000. We sure have come a long, long way.
Take the Austin A30, this little gem of a car was powered by an 803cc straight four and developed a heart-stopping 21kW and 54Nm of torque. Top speed was a commendable 100km/h but 0-80km/h took a coma-inducing twenty-nine seconds. The Morris Minor’s performance was almost identical to the A30, although it was slightly heavier at 775kg. It’s main claim to fame (if you can call it that) was that it was designed under the direction of innovative Mini designer, Sir Alec Issigonis, which meant it had reasonably good handling characteristics for its day.
In comparison, the 1.5-litre engine in the Mazda2 is considerably more powerful than those diminutive cars of bygone eras. At the same time, modern vehicles have also gained considerable weight from the fitment of numerous creature comforts and the extensive safety systems on board most cars these days.
That said, with a kerb weight of just 1038 kilograms, the Mazda2 is one of the lightest cars in its class, which includes the likes of the Hyundai i20 and the Toyota Yaris. It certainly feels that way on the road too with plenty of punch and a sharp response from the throttle. Mazda engineers shaved 22kg off the weight of the Mazda2 body shell alone, but at the same time made the car is 20 per cent stiffer. Even the weight of the wiring harness was reduced by 2.9kg in the interest of performance and of course, emissions reduction.
Mazda have always been strong practitioners of 'lightweight equals Zoom, Zoom'. It’s been part of the engineering ethos for years, but nothing like its proprietary ‘SkyActive Technology’ (read: lightweight everything) which will amount to a paradigm shift in weight-reduction technology, the advent of which we’ll eventually see across all Mazda models over the next few years.
The second-generation Mazda2 was always going to be a good thing, especially when you realise the car was designed by none other than second-generation Mazda designer, Ikuo Maeda.
His father, Matasaburo Maeda, was the man behind the design of the original Mazda RX-7 sports car, while Ikuo was responsible for the uniquely styled four-door sports car, the Mazda RX-8.
Ikuo likes nothing more than being on a race track behind the wheel of his Mazda MX-5, so it’s fair to say he likes the way sports cars look and drive.
There’s no surprise then that the Mazda2 drives exceptionally well with more than its fair share of sports car DNA built in to this car. Right from the moment you climb aboard and move the short-throw shifter up and down the five forward gear ratios, you’ll know that this isn’t your average city runabout. The shifter itself is mounted half way up the console like the classic Series 2 Alfa Spider. Even the three-spoke sports leather-stitched steering wheel is identical to the current MX-5.
Mazda engineers must have worked hard on getting the engine note just right on the Mazda2, as the sporty growl that comes on song when the tacho needle nudges 3000rpm will be music to your ears. The only problem with this car is that you’ll want to drive it like a sports car way too often.
It’s not any one thing Mazda has done with this car that makes it such an enjoyable drive. Rather, it’s a complete package that is far more sports-oriented than you would expect from a vehicle in the light car segment.
It’s the same story in the handling department. Turn in with some spirit and the Mazda2 is entirely well behaved and settled through a corner. There’s little if any body roll and it all feels well planted and predictable. This is where you can feel the reduction in unsprung weight working in your favour, as well as the additional torsional rigidity that the car benefits from.
Mazda has got the steering response and weight just right on the Mazda2 as well, with good feel right from dead centre through to full lock. It’s unusual to get this degree of feel with an all-electric power assist unit, but it also gives you a high level of confidence when travelling at 110km/h on the freeway.
Ride quality and suspension tuning is where Mazda has truly excelled with the Mazda2 Genki. It won’t matter how many potholes the RTA or local council have failed to repair or re-repair, the Mazda2 Genki’s specially tuned twin-tube dampers iron out these depressions and provide a level of pliancy that is simply top shelf in this segment.
It’s disappointing to see that Mazda has stuck with drum brakes on the rear wheels of the Mazda2 rather than go with discs all round (as does the equivalently priced Volkswagen Polo). In all honesty, however, there’s a good progressive feel to the centre pedal and it doesn’t affect the stopping performance whatsoever, given the car’s extra lightweight advantage. Along with ABS brakes, drivers also have the added safety of Emergency Brake Assist (EBA) and Electronic Brakeforce Distribution (EBD) if emergency situations arise.
With a list price tag of $20,490, the Mazda2 Genki is the most expensive Mazda2 variant in the model line-up, but it's also $445 less than the previous model.
There are some unexpected features in this Mazda2 such as automatic lights and rain sensing wipers, which to my knowledge are unique in this segment. The disappointing omission is integrated Bluetooth phone and music streaming, but that’s on a global basis. You can either make do with an auxiliary port, or for few hundred dollars more, you can get the dealership to install a genuine Mazda accessory that will do the job, but should you have to?
Other mentionable kit includes climate control, chrome exhaust tip and a trip computer that provides current and average fuel consumption, distance to empty, average vehicle speed and outside temperature. Again, this level of information is not generally available in the light car segment and is certainly a handy feature in the Mazda2 Genki.
Inside, it’s a clever design with far more useable space than would seem possible when judging the Mazda2’s exterior proportions alone.
There’s a tonne of rear seat legroom, and that’s allowing for an equally generous amount up front. The seats themselves are well bolstered (that’s front and rear) and nicely upholstered in a comfortable, patterned cloth fabric. The problem is (like most cars in this segment) a total absence of soft touch material on the dashboard and surrounding area. It’s a bit of a shame really, as everything else about the Mazda2 has a premium feel to it.
There’s also plenty of storage compartments and a well thought out glove box design whereby you can simply drop stuff into an open gap at the top without needing to open it. Load space is reasonable in the boot area - that’s twenty of those horrid Woollies plastic grocery bags (sorry, I forgot my environmentally friendly bags) - for the weekly grocery shop, and the 60/40 split rear seats fold almost flat for the likes of surfboards and skis.
You won’t need to read the owner’s manual as far as which switches and knobs do what; it’s all very clearly laid-out and intuitive.
From a safety perspective the Mazda2 is as good as it gets, earning a five-star ANCAP crash test rating and coming standard with a full suite of active and passive safety systems.
The Mazda2 is a fun car to drive and if you’re any kind of closet enthusiast, don’t expect to drive in a conservative manner much of the time. This was certainly the case during our week-long road test. Nonetheless the worst fuel consumption figure we recorded was 7.2L/100km against the published combined number of 6.4L/100km.
There's no full size spare, but rather, a space saver wheel and tyre that is good for a limited distance at a maximum speed of 80km/h. The positive aspect is that it sure beats a can of tyre goo.
For those folks who have bought, or are looking to buy a Mazda2, consider yourselves both wise and fortunate. This is an exceptionally well put together car and perhaps the segment leader when it comes to performance and handling. From the throttle response, short-throw shifter, steering weight and accuracy and that distinctly sporty engine note, there’s enough MX-5 DNA in this diminutive little city car to leave a smile on your face every time you get behind the wheel. It’s also comfortable and entirely practical as a five-door hatch.