2015 Mazda 2 Review: first Australian drive

$14,990 $21,990 Mrlp

The all-new Mazda 2 is a more grown up offering than the car it replaces, but has it retained its charm? Matt Campbell finds out.

It could be that the 2015 Mazda 2 will reclaim its position on top of the light car sales charts in Australia – indeed, the company has stated that it expects to be “at or near the top” of the light car sales charts by the end of next year.

The all-new Mazda 2 competes in the busy city car segment against the likes of the newly refreshed Toyota Yaris, Honda Jazz and Volkswagen Polo, and also goes up against impressive vehicles such as the Renault Clio and Ford Fiesta. In short, this is a class with plenty of quality offerings.

So, does the new Mazda 2 stack up well? Yes and no. Read on to find out why.

The new engine range is vastly improved. The base model Neo gets an all-new 1.5-litre Skyactiv unit with 79kW of power and 139Nm of torque, and fuel use is down by 15 per cent for the six-speed manual (to 5.4 litres per 100 kilometres) and 19 per cent for the six-speed auto (now 5.5L/100km).

The higher-spec engine – in the mid-range Maxx and top-end Genki models we drove at the launch of the new Mazda 2 on the Gold Coast this week – are even further improved. The “high-spec” engine has stop-start, electronic valve timing and a higher compression ratio (13.0:1, as opposed to 12.0:1 in the Neo), which helps cut fuel consumption even further – down to a claimed 5.2L/100km for the manual and 4.9L/100km for the auto.

That engine is a lovely little thing on the highway, particularly when paired with the intuitive six-speed automatic transmission, which will casually but purposefully grab a lower gear as soon as you start to climb a hill or brake into a corner.

The gearbox helps make up for a lack of low-end torque. The 2’s 1.5-litre unit doesn’t reach its peak torque until a high 4000rpm, while maximum power occurs at 6000rpm – hardly where most people will want to be spending a lot of time.

Indeed, the engine prefers to rev hard – and it is a lovely, refined, quiet powerplant in doing so – but during our first stint in the automatic we saw a consumption readout of 7.1L/100km. That’s 44 per cent higher than the claim, despite the majority of the first leg involving some gentle urban and highway cruising.

Around town we noted the throttle pedal could be doughy on initial application, making the engine feel less powerful than it actually is. This is something of a trait for low-output Skyactiv engines, as we’ve noted it in the smaller-engined CX-5, too.

The manual model we drove felt genuinely low on power – hill climbs required rowing from sixth back to third, with revs needing to be kept high to ensure momentum wasn’t lost.

The previous-generation Mazda 2 was one of the best driving city cars on the market, and the new model – which has only gained a few kilograms (it weighs between 1027kg and 1058kg, whereas the previous generation started at just 1010kg and topped out at 1037kg) – remains a stellar performer in terms of vehicle dynamics and driving enjoyment.

It is a more mature drive than the previous car, and its electric steering system is slightly slower to react at lower speeds than the previous darty electro-hydraulic unit, but the steering stability and feedback is otherwise impressive.

Around town it requires little effort, while on the open road the steering is well weighted and makes it feel as though you’re driving a much larger car.

Mazda’s ‘Zoom, Zoom’ philosophy has led to a firmer-than-average suspension setup being retained for the new model. The ride verges on hard over sharper-edged bumps, and it can jiggle on seemingly smooth roads where other cars – such as a VW Polo – would coast without fuss.

The payoff is its nimble handling. It corners decisively and feels planted and grippy at speed, and while it isn’t perhaps as involving or connected as the previous model, it is at the pointy end of the segment in terms of its, er, pointiness.

What hasn’t improved to the extent we perhaps hoped is the noise insulation. There is still noticeable tyre roar, particularly in the Genki on its 16-inch wheels and lower profile tyres, while wind noise can be heard at speeds from just 60km/h.

Inside, the new Mazda 2 has stepped up in terms of its presentation and finishes, with a neat new dashboard finish that is particularly well-accentuated by the Colour Pack finish that is available in the Maxx trim grade. Some will love the red cloth seat trim, others definitely won’t.

Storage options are decent for front-seat occupants, with large cup holders between the seats, a smaller square storage cubby and large door pockets with bottle holsters. However, buyers need to option a covered centre storage pod – which is handy for loose items or to keep valuables out of sight – for $480, even on the top-spec Genki. Read full pricing and specifications for the 2015 Mazda 2 here.

Rear seat storage is almost non-existent – there are no door pockets, no fold-down centre armrest and only one map pocket on the passenger-side seat back. The boot, too, is well below class standards, at 250 litres – by comparison, the Jazz has 350L (and a flexible seating layout with clever folding rear row, while the Mazda 2 has 60:40 split-fold).

Back seat space is also well down on cars such as the Jazz and Yaris, with this 183-centimetre-tall tester finding the back pew cramped with the driver’s seat adjusted to my position. Knee-room is tight, toe-room is acceptable and head-room is adequate for six-foot or shorter.

Mazda’s intuitive and clever MZD Connect media system with standard satellite navigation is reserved only for the Genki, with the 7.0-inch touchscreen unit paired to a rotary dial selector between the seats. It offers simple Bluetooth streaming connectivity with internet app capability and music playback over Pandora, Aha or Stitcher. Lower spec versions get the same basic audio unit seen in the Mazda 3 Neo.

There is a single USB input for Neo and Maxx models, and twin USB jacks for the Genki. But while rivals such as the Kia Rio and Hyundai Accent offer a hidey hole for your device if it's plugged in, the 2 has only a small deck for it to sit on while plugged in – and it’s too small for a smartphone such as an Apple iPhone 5 to fit sitting flat while plugged in, leading to the cord being coiled clumsily in front of the gearshifter. We dread to think what an iPhone 6 Plus or Samsung Galaxy S4 owner will do.

The dashtop display is clear and the menu system easy to peruse, but despite offering a decent resolution display for a reverse-view camera, buyers are asked to pay extra ($420 for the Genki, $778 for the Neo and Maxx models) for the potentially life-saving safety equipment, which is also handy at helping you see how far back you have to go when parking, as the swoopy roofline of the car does limit rearward vision somewhat.

No parking sensors are standard on any spec, either (they’re optional on all specs: $299 for rear sensors and $599 for fronts). The lack of any form of parking aid for a city-focused car is, frankly, befuddling.

The new 2 is backed by Mazda’s three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and will also be covered by the brand’s recently introduced lifestyle capped price servicing regime. It requires services every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first, with a maximum cost of $298, excluding some consumables.

The Mazda 2, then, remains a fun thing to drive, and there’s no denying it has quite a bit of character where other more pragmatic options may seem dull in comparison. Indeed, the Genki is the standout offering in the line-up, pushing Mazda to a new level in the light car class – though even it falls short of equipment expectations for a flagship model in this tough-fought segment.

So the 2015 Mazda 2 impresses in many ways, but buyers after more space and standard equipment should bear in mind there are plenty of other options out there worth considering.