Dan DeGasperi finds Australia's most popular light hatchback is still a worthy contender despite its age.
Mazda has among the smartest strategies for running out old models, and this Mazda 2 Maxx Sport is the latest example of its tactics.
With the new-generation light hatchback expected here before year’s end, the current seven-year-old Mazda 2 has had equipment increased substantially and prices reduced.
As of late last year the Mazda 2 range was simplified to just two grades – $15,790 Neo Sport and $16,930 Maxx Sport, both with a five-speed manual or for an extra $1650 a four-speed automatic as fitted to our test car.
The sort of equipment found in the 2 Maxx Sport was not too long ago the reserve of the 2 Genki that sold for $22,000. There’s 15-inch alloy wheels, fog lights, red piping trim inserts, single-zone automatic climate control and a multi-function trip computer with buttons mounted beside the cruise and audio controls on the leather-wrapped steering wheel.
That’s in addition to a safety suite that includes six airbags, anti-lock brakes and an electronic traction and stability control (ESC) system.
Mazda claims the 2 Maxx Sport has gained $1200 of extra equipment while reducing its list price by $760.
No light hatchback for under $20,000 packs more equipment, although the Mazda 2 shows its age by offering Bluetooth phone connectivity (but no audio connectivity) only as an aftermarket accessory, while satellite navigation (standard on the $17,790 Renault Clio Expression, for example) is not available.
However, if the next Mazda 2 follows its new Mazda 3 and Mazda 6 stablemates in more than just design (see spy photos of the new Mazda 2 here) then the new model will take a step back on equipment while increasing prices, making this current Mazda 2 more attractive for those who want features for less.
The interior of the Mazda 2 is basic but functional. Where many new cars are loaded with new technology that often means some functions are difficult to find, the 2 is refreshingly simple: there’s a key that goes into its slot and turns the car on, a regular handbrake, and a simple P-R-N-D-S-L transmission lever with an old-school overdrive-off button that can disable fourth gear.
The dash plastics are hard, as is typical at this price point, though the dimpled textures are consistently matched and the perception of quality is lifted by the addition of piano-black and some silver trim. Even the blinker and wiper stalks flick on and off with a quality feel.
Mazda’s Japanese-built light hatchback appears well made, and up front storage options include a split glovebox and a large centre tray between front seats that are reasonably supportive but a bit too firm. There is, however, only a tilt adjustable steering wheel and just one cup-holder.
The rear seat is mounted close to the floor, forcing a knees-up position for rear passengers, and there’s limited foot-room under the front seats. There are also no roof grab handles, map lights or storage options in the rear – no door pockets, cup-holders, centre armrest, map pockets or even a curry hook that is provided by its Suzuki Swift competitor, for example.
A 250-litre boot is about average for the light car class, and with the rear seats folded it extends to 469L or about the volume of a medium SUV without the rear folded. The boot itself is deep but lacks length, so taller items will fit more easily than longer ones. The rear seat doesn’t slide, though, and the seat doesn’t follow the Honda Jazz and fold flat into the floor to increase space.
In addition to the firm seats, Mazda 2 owners may also find ride quality on the hard side. The suspension works better on country roads than it does in the city – which is curious for a city car – by deftly absorbing larger bumps and keeping the body calm, but feeling a bit jittery over smaller imperfections. The Mazda 2 allows its driver to hit speed humps at decent speed without issue, however.
The Mazda 2 feels its age in terms of refinement. There’s plenty of wind and road noise, but it’s the sounds coming from the engine bay that is most intrusive. Its 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine doesn’t make a pleasant noise, but plenty of it filters into the cabin.
Although the auto is saddled with just four gears (the Ford Fiesta and Renault Clio offer six) the engine rarely struggles, though. Where some competitors that offer four-speed autos (such as the Kia Rio S and Suzuki Swift) feel flat and deliver sluggish overtaking response, the 2 automatic responds quickly to light increases in throttle pressure, moving the 1032kg Japanese hatchback with ease. The auto is quick to kickdown, though the engine requires plenty of revs so is heard often and can become tiring even during commuting.
The Mazda 2’s 6.8L/100km consumption claim isn’t one of the lowest in the light hatchback class, though, and the trip computer read 8.3L/100km after a combination of city and country driving.
Part of the appeal of light hatchbacks is their parking prowess, and here the Mazda 2 still scores. There is no reverse-view camera or parking sensors, but the combination of a petite 3.9-metre body, good visibility and slick, light steering makes all-around manoeuvres a breeze.
The steering is reactive on the freeway, with absolutely no ‘snooze patch’ on the centre position meaning delicate inputs are needed otherwise constant corrections will be required. It does, however, complement the darty handling that remains a Mazda 2 strong suit – it remains one of the most fun cars in the class, yet also secure and planted if a swerve and recovery manoeuvre is required. Mazda stability control is also among the best in the business.
Although the Mazda 2 starts as one of the cheapest light hatchbacks to buy, it is one of the costliest to maintain.
Some competitors offer a better warranty than the Mazda three-year, unlimited kilometre cover (such as the five-year, unlimited kilometre limit Kia, Hyundai and Renault offer) and most require only annual or 15,000km servicing compared with the 2’s six-month or 10,000km intervals. Over three years the Mazda 2 costs $1762 to service – the Ford Fiesta, Renault Clio and Kia Rio all total less than $900 over the same time period.
The Mazda 2 remains a light hatchback for those keen on a sporty drive and high equipment levels, rather than high levels of technology and refinement. It remains a worthy option, even with the new model only months away.