The 2015 Mazda 2 is scheduled for an Australian release in October this year, but last month we flew to Japan to drive a prototype version of what is a strong chance to become yet again the best-selling light car in Australia - a title it won in 2013.
This third-generation model will arrive at a good time for the brand, given the ageing current model has this year succumbed to the Hyundai i20 as the sales leader. At the same time, updates to numerous other light-car models in the second half of 2014 should see the smallest Mazda's arrival met by very strong competition.
The city car is based on a new Mazda-derived platform (now with no links to Ford’s Fiesta) and takes onboard many of the Japanese brand’s SkyACTIV technologies.
In size, it measures 4060mm in length and it now sits 1500mm high and 1695mm wide. Being an entirely new car, Mazda has moved things around a bit with the A-pillar now 100mm further forward than before, which allows for better forward visibility.
Australian models will get two versions of a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine that range in output from 79kW of power and 139Nm of torque for the base model to an expected 82kW and 144Nm of torque in the top-spec.
Fuel economy is rated from 5.5L/100km for six-speed manual models with the six-speed automatic variants still likely to come below 6L/100km.
Pricing and specification details remain entirely sketchy at this stage, but based on our quick drive at Mazda’s proving grounds in Mine city, located in the Yamaguchi Prefecture, we can report the new Mazda 2 is sure to surprise not just in terms of driving dynamics, but also through the introduction of so many active safety technologies into the light car segment.
Our test car was the European spec 1.5-litre petrol coupled to a six-speed manual transmission providing just 55kW of power and 135Nm of torque. Despite its significant power disadvantage over Australian-bound models, it nevertheless proved an reasonably engaging package at the limit.
Around the test track the new Mazda 2 floated around more than we expected but still delivered a competent drive – but short of what we'd expect from today’s class-leading Mazdas.
The six-speed gearbox was smooth and effortless in its operation, while the electrically assisted steering system showed occasional signs of vagueness, though as with all criticism voiced here, we must emphasise the test vehicle's prototype status.
Perhaps the biggest change is the ride comfort, which (on our overseas test car at least) was much softer than before. For a city car this makes perfect sense, given it’s likely to inhabit plenty of poorly surfaced roads, but we would be lying if we didn’t admit we miss the sportier nature of the previous model.
Being a light and city focused vehicle, perhaps the highlight of the new Mazda 2 is its updated interior, which Mazda Japan has requested we don't show you for now.
With more rear legroom and plenty of headroom, the new Mazda 2 is sure to appeal to a wider audience, however its five-door hatch only status may detract those looking for a sportier three-door model.
Entertainment is taken care of by an iPad-like centre screen that is only second to the Peugeot 208’s in term of usefulness and clarity (in this segment) while the expected plethora of active safety features will see the city-car buyer expectations redefined.
Safety features that are still largely unavailable in plenty of small or medium sized vehicles will come standard with the top-spec Mazda2. This include active cruise control, low-speed autonomous braking with high-speed risk mitigation, lane-departure and forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring as well as auto high-beam and a cross-traffic alert systems.
Overall it’s hard to judge the new Mazda2 based on two laps of a proving ground, but from what we sampled we can report that it’ll be more city focused in its ride and handling, it will have a more spacious and refined interior with improved noise vibration and harshness while providing class-leading active safety and infotainment systems.