The 2016 Mazda 2 Maxx four-door proves that compact sedans needn't be boring
Is there a less sexy Mazda than the 2 sedan? Perhaps not. Yet the plump little four-door, which joined the then-hatchback-only compact range six months ago, is not without an abundance of appeal beyond aesthetics.
Responsive performance, great transmissions, sharp steering and excellent infotainment were deemed highlights of the range during our launch review, and the base Neo versions’ handy pricing - $14,990 in manual and $16,990 in auto before on-roads – is a very compelling lure. As a four-variant range, we've rated the Mazda 2 a commendable 7.5 out of ten. While it's not the prettiest flower from Hiroshima, it's eminently stylish and charming by city-sized sedan standards.
Six months on from the launch, the Maxx sedan arrives in the CarAdvice garage as tree-topping four-door version, though it's not all the Mazda 2 you can buy - a superior Genki level trim can be had in hatch form. Our automatic Maxx test car here, at $19,690 before on-roads and options, is not only a fair hike up the fiscal ladder from the Neo, but also the $20K mark opens up a broad range of viable alternatives for buyers.
First up, the key benefits over Neo include a higher performance 1.5-litre four, alloy (rather than steel) wheels, nicer seating and trim, Mazda’s much-lauded MZD Connect-ivity and, essentially, more bells and whistles. Omitted from its list of goodies is Smart City Brake support, which otherwise adds $400 to the price of the heap-topping Mazda 2. Our test car gets signature Soul Red paint ($250) and carpeted mats ($134), lifting the list price to $20,074 plus on-roads.
For a full rundown of Mazda 2 range pricing and specifications, see our report here.
The level of equipment is about right for its asking price. Maxx trim lacks the auto on/off LED headlights, auto wipers, 16-inch wheels, proper climate control and the head-up display you’ll find in a Genki five-door auto that wants for an extra $3000, but that's a fair premium at this price point and one some buyers won't bear.
The Maxx sedan has its work cut out luring you away from those $20K alternatives, even when cross-shopping in-house. In Mazda-land, $19,990 list gets you into a same-size CX-3 powered by a gutsier 2.0-litre four, if in rudimentary Neo spec as the trade off. Ditto the more powerful and larger Mazda 3 Neo, starting from $20,490 plus on-roads.
The point being raised here? The Mazda 2 Maxx auto isn’t the most powerful, roomiest or well equipped – or the best looking - of its own breed for roughly similar money. So to shine, even in the company of family, it’d want to offer much across a great many areas.
The interior treatment faithfully sprouts from the mould what one in ten new car buyers in 2015 – such was Mazda’s recent sales hit rate - would no doubt be familiar with. It pulls cleverly and liberally from the presentation trick bag: deft colour and texture choices, unapologetic sportiness, and stylishness while avoiding the gauche. With its deep-set instrumentation, glossy blacks and satin silvers, just the right amount of sheen on broader plastic surfaces, it looks quite upmarket for its price, though can feel a little cheap and not terribly tactile to touch.
Such tricks can be repetitive and there's little about the Maxx sedan's cabin space that's surprising or inspired. It has its shortcomings. The front seat positioning and driver ergonomics are both excellent, but the seats themselves aren’t as supportive as they appear and the trim is more utilitarian than comfortable.
At the mercy of tight cabin packaging, the MZD Command rotary controller is set too far rearward for convenient access, and you’ll jam your elbow into bottles perched in the cupholders while doing so. Also, the tray adjacent to the USB sockets won’t fit an iPhone 6 (let alone the iPhone's larger Plus handsets), leaving the only logical stowage location in the glovebox.
Yes, the MZD Command system is among the best non-premium systems about, but it’s riddled with frustrations: to zoom on the nav map or to select between radio stations demands menu jumping; nav searching is laborious via the rotary controller while the faster-acting touchscreen method is blocked when on the move; the ‘fish-eyed’ reverse-view camera is no pillar of clarity; and, really, why no digital speedo?
These are small gripes in an otherwise impressive package for the money, though surely amendments and improvements wouldn’t warrant much extra investment.
Second-row accommodation is adequate rather than generous, with the big markdowns being the lack of rear air vents or door pockets. That said, the Mazda 2 sedan passes that hump from being a car that would only transport four adults in emergencies only, to being a car that provides bona-fide comfort for four over long distances. For typical city car users – young buyers, empty nesters, those who need a cheap runabout 'other' car – there's ample space.
The 440-litre bootspace is hardly a light car benchmark, but despite the huge rear lip and tight access aperture, there's a good balance of depth and width to the boot, providing a practical luggage space capable of swallowing large suitcases. The rear 60:40-splitfold rear seat backs fold to a horizontal position – via handy release latches under the parcel shelf - though doesn’t create a flat loadspace through to the second row. That said, its a practicality boon for hauling bulky objects.
While we praised the “zippy” and “responsive” ‘high-spec’ 1.5-litre four and “clever” and “intuitive” six-speed automatic at launch, it's less praise-worthy after extended real-world urban use (and not simply because I’d just climbed out of our punchier 2.0-litre CX-3 long-termer as a point of reference).
At 81kW and 141Nm – an academic two kilowatts and newton metres up on Neo’s base engine - the ‘high-spec’ four is willing when you bury the throttle, but is far less eager using a tempered right foot around town. Thus driven, the auto can be recalcitrant to self-shift and abrupt in low-speed stop-start traffic. Be it a lack of low-rpm engine torque – its 141Nm arrives way up at 4000rpm – or the chosen powertrain calibration, it’s a lazy marriage producing a lethargic character during driving conditions that demand more response.
You end up wringing the 1.5L's neck more often than you should, so achieving anything close to its 4.9L/100km claim is an exercise of frustration beyond me (call it closer to 6.5L combined in test). Activating Sport drive mode does heighten powertrain response, though the result is a little too highly strung to befit proper urban usability. It lacks the smoother, more-cohesive synergy of Mazda's 2.0-litre/automatic power trains that, against our long-term CX-3 at least, produces little in the way of benefit at the filling station.
With its torsion beam rear axle fitted with drum brakes, the Mazda 2 sedan is not terribly sophisticated underneath, though engineers have still managed to tune a commendable ride and handling result. The Maxx sedan errs on the firmer side, but the upshot is a confident and reasonably engaging chassis that’s far from brittle or punishing over big hits or bumpy surfaces. Yet the Mazda still provides good isolation and fundamental passenger comfort. It feels light on its rubber feet, as you'd expect at just 1047kg of kerb weight – it weighs less than a last-generation MX-5, and barely more than the current one!
The narrow, high-profile 185/65 15-inch tyres no doubt play a key part in providing pliancy to the ride quality and contribute to the lightly weighted (electrically assisted) feel of the steering, which is both clear and direct. While not the grippiest chassis on the road, this rubber does enhance the sedan’s friendly, cooperative, easy-to-live-with persona, though tyre noise can become annoying over coarse surfaces. The disc/drum braking combination, too, lacks nothing in the way of feel, power or consistency.
The Mazda 2 sedan, like the hatchback, comes with dual front, dual front-side and full-length curtain airbags for a five-star ANCAP rating. It's covered by a three-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is pretty standard fare but still short on some rivals’ five-year surety. Lifetime capped-priced servicing is offered at 12-month or 10,000km intervals, each visit priced between $280 and $307, with maintenance items – filter/fluid/spark plug servicing – costing extra.
Like Mazda’s pint-sized hatchback, the sedan version comes in a choice of eight body colours (one colour, Titanium Flash Mica, being a four-door exclusive) but only one cabin style: black cloth. If you’re a little more fashion savvy, the hatchback is worth consideration, as the five-door offers three cloth interiors in Maxx trim (black, black/blue and bold red) and a further cost leather option in the Genki.
The Maxx sedan injects welcome doses of style, driving engagement and top-shelf presentation while covering all the key bases in a fairly inspiration-free light sedan segment. That said, it generally meets the brief (albeit with added spice) rather than offering leaps forward for the urban runabout breed. Don't part cash without at least sampling what else similarly good money offers, or considering how much similar goodness can be had in the markedly more affordable if less trinket-laden Neo version.
Click the Photos tab to see more images by Christian Barbeitos.