Take a look at the 2015 Mazda 2, and it is pretty clear the company went into the development process knowing it was onto a good thing with its predecessor.
This revitalised city car is pretty much all new both under the skin and on the surface, but it is definitely cut from the same cloth conceptually as the old version that reigned as Australia’s top-selling light car throughout 2013 before giving way to the Hyundai i20 this year.
While some rivals such as the Toyota Yaris and especially the Honda Jazz favour a more utilitarian approach, the baby Mazda is all about — and we hate to sound like a marketing team here — putting out a fun and sporty image.
Along with the Renault Clio, it’s a car that places style at the forefront. Whereas a Volkswagen Polo is handsome but demure, the Mazda 2 is all about the curves. But you don’t need us to tell you how to suck eggs, styling is subjective after all.
The overriding feeling you get in this new 2 is that it’s more grown up. It’s certainly a little bigger: 160mm longer, 20mm higher and sitting on an 80mm longer wheelbase.
The SkyActiv architecture is just a shrunken version of that used on the Mazda 3 and Mazda 6. Torsional rigidity is up 22.0 per cent (though the body-in-white is 7.0 per cent lighter, though kerb weight grows 20kg to 1058kg thanks to more equipment), and Mazda claim road noise is reduced 15.0 per cent.
These steps, plus revised engine mounts, make this car feel less buzzy and raucous than before, while the stiffer body makes it feel more solid. The only caveat is that wind noise remains a factor, albeit not to the degree of the Clio.
The engine, a 1.5-litre ‘high-spec’ atmo unit, makes 81kW at 6000rpm and 141Nm at 4000rpm, up 5kW and 6Nm over the old car. It’s a sweet little engine that loves a good rev — having peak power delivery at 6000rpm and peak torque at 4000rpm will do that.
It’ll run out of puff on a steep climb, but the six-speed automatic on our test car is decisive in shifting down — much more so than the old four-speeder. The engine still lacks the low down reservoir of torque of, say, the turbo Polo, which you particularly notice punching out of corners.
But, and here’s the important bit, an eager engine of this nature with a notably linear power delivery is great at low speeds in urban environs. It’s very interesting that Mazda fits a Sport button to hold a lower gear, something it doesn’t usually offer on bigger cars. That said, having the car bubbling along at higher revs makes it even more ‘immediate’.
It’s still got super direct steering. Its revised electric-assisted setup (with a 1.3 per cent quicker ratio) is perfect for ducking in and out of tight traffic gaps, though it just slightly lacks the razor-sharp levels of feedback offered in the previous car.
The 2’s body control is generally taut and it remains an eager and polished partner in crime on a twisting road, though we did notice some kickback through the steering wheel over some nasty mid-corner pockmarks despite a new rigid steering mount being fitted.
The basic MacPherson front, torsion beam rear setup is the same as before, though Mazda has taken steps to improve ride comfort and vibration through the body from the road by mounting the torsion beam higher.
Mazda has struck a good balance with the car’s ride. In urban environs, you’ll pick out major potholes but generally corrugations are dispatched with less fuss than, say, a Honda Jazz. It’s firm but compliant enough at higher speeds to avoid being thrown off line by bumps mid corner.
From a ride and handling perspective the Mazda remains at the pointy end of the class, but this time around it is that much more comfortable too.
Another area where the smallest Mazda is clearly more grown up is the cabin. Our flagship Genki test car feels every bit a car 50 per cent more expensive than its $21,990 asking price (not including additional on-road costs).
For the price of a base Mazda 3 Neo, you get a fascia with Mazda’s cool floating 7.0-inch screen with toggle operating module and internet radio integration. This, plus the chunky silver-coloured ventilation dials and circular vents, feel a little bit like a cut-price Audi.
The MZD Connect infotainment system is simple to navigate, with modern satellite navigation maps, quick-to-pair Bluetooth streaming and a great-for-the-class user interface. Having the chunky toggle is nicer than a touchscreen too, because you can rest your hand somewhere stable.
Note, the 7.0-inch screen with sat-nav, internet radio integration and toggle (called a multi-function commander control) is only standard on the Genki variant, along with other lovely touches such as 16-inch wheels, a head-up display, a six-speaker audio setup (others get four), auto on/off headlights and rain-sensing wipers.
That head-up display is a positively luxurious touch that we applaud. All told, the Genki’s $3000 premium over the Maxx seems more than justified.
See Mazda 2 range-wide pricing and specs here.
With that in mind, we have a bone to pick with Mazda over some of its spec choices. We understand city cars have slim margins, but the lack of reverse sensors and reversing camera at even flagship level seems odd.
Buyers can option rear parking sensors ($399 fitted) and front parking sensors ($599 all told) on all models, while a reverse-view camera is $778 fitted for the Neo and Maxx models as it sits in the rearview mirror, and $420 on Genki (displays on MZD media screen).
Having sensors seems like a must, since rear visibility isn’t all that great and tight parking sports are what urbanites actually buying this car have to contend with.
Other safety options include the Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) automated low-speed braking system (operating between 4 and 30km/h), which costs $400. The availability of this unit is a big plus for Mazda, and we totally understand why this would be an optional extra.
Other nice touches are the chunky sports steering wheel, the soft leather inserts on places such as the dash panel ahead of the passenger and down next to the front occupants’ knees, and the horizontal silver bar running along the dash connecting the central and side vents.
The cheap roof headliner and lack of standard central console are less ideal. We also found the lovely-looking seats a little short and flat in the base, and lacking side bolstering.
Indeed, it’s in the area of practicality where the Mazda 2 remains a little off the boil. Its boot offers only 250L with the 60:40 split-fold seats in place, compared to the Polos 280L and the Jazz’s (the segment’s Mary Poppins bag) 350L. That said, the loading area is quite deep thanks to the use of a space-saver spare wheel.
Space in the rear is about average for the class, though there’s 15mm less rear headroom than before, 4mm less rear legroom and 30mm less rear shoulder room. An averaged size adult will find enough space for moderate trips, with head room and under-seat foot space the stronger points.
There’s only one map pocket and not much in the way of storage back there, and the rear window with that C-pillar and style line is quite small. The damped grab handles are a nice touch though, for the anoraks out there.
Mazda offers a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty and lifetime capped-price servicing with 12-month or 10,000km service intervals. Each dealer visit will cost between $260 and $301, with other maintenance items such as brake fluids, air filters spark plug and fuel filters costing extra.
All told, we found the Mazda 2 Genki a very pleasant companion, notably on a few commutes through the busy city at the wrong time of day. Look, if you want the most practical light car for the money go elsewhere, and the lack of sensors bugs us no end.
But it’s a great-looking car with an upmarket cabin, and its more grown-up feeling doesn't come at the expense of watered-down dynamics. Along with the Clio, the Mazda is full of chic and cheek, and will put a smile on your dial just like the old one, but now with fewer compromises.
See how the baby Mazda stacks up against four key rivals in our recent five-way city car comparison test here:
Photography by Easton Chang.