Your first car is always an exciting proposition and often, when a new car is within reach, contenders in the light car class are the first port of call for youngens and parents alike. Well, one of the latest to roll into showrooms is the all-new Mazda 2.
With a six-model line-up ranging from $14,990 to $21,990, the new Mazda 2 you see here is the six-speed automatic version of the 79kW/139Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder entry-level Neo.
Starting at $16,990, our Aluminium Metallic 2 comes standard with a push-button engine start, cloth seats, halogen headlights, 15-inch steel wheels, and a four-speaker stereo with USB/AUX inputs and Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming.
Six airbags (front, side and curtain), stability control and hill-start assist are also included as standard. Crucially though, the cruise control and reversing camera seen in the slightly cheaper Toyota Yaris Ascent and identically-priced Honda Jazz VTi are amiss.
As with all models across the Mazda 2 range, parking sensors are optional ($599.17 for front, $416.50 for rear), with a reversing camera available on the Neo for $778.38.
Mazda’s Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) – which autonomously applies the brakes at speeds between 4-30km/h to prevent or reduce the severity of collisions – can also be optioned for $400.
Technically the fourth generation of Mazda’s light car – known as the Demio in its home market of Japan – the latest version is the third iteration of the 2, which first went on sale locally in late 2002.
Weighing 13kg more than the old four-speed automatic-equipped Neo, the new six-speed third-generation 2 is also 160mm longer than its predecessor and rides on an 80mm longer wheelbase. Width is unchanged at 1695mm.
Despite its growth, the new 2 is more than 19.0 per cent more efficient than its forebear, claiming fuel use of 5.5 litres per 100km on the combined cycle.
Still attached to the poorest efficiency figures of any Mazda 2 in the current range – the auto Neo’s manual equivalent claiming 5.4L/100km – over our week with the base 2 we saw an urban-heavy average of 7.7L/100km, with numbers dipping into the low 4.0L/100km-range on the odd highway run.
Crack the light driver’s door – Mazda claims the front pair is now 1.5kg lighter than on the second-gen car, with the rear doors dropping 0.65kg – and you’re greeted by a clever, sharply presented and high quality interior.
Feeling legitimately premium for its size and price, the Neo cabin is sans the seven-inch touchscreen and MZD Connect infotainment system found sticking up out of the dash of higher specced models.
Instead the entry-point car gets a basic half-size dash top-mounted audio unit, which, along with being easy enough to use and familiarise yourself with, is arguably less distracting for drivers than the full-tilt MZD system. That said, we did find syncing a phone via the voice commands a clunky and tedious process.
Adding to the higher-end ambience are gloss black air vent surrounds, faux carbonfibre inserts, bright silver trim accents and the very comfortable and supportive coth seats. Reminiscent of the inside of a wetsuit to the touch, the black and blue pews are subtly bucketed and feature quality bolstering.
With the rake and reach adjustable multi-function steering wheel in front of you, you can appreciate the nicely rubberised material used for key touch points such as the gear selector and handbrake, and door-mounted armrests and hand grips.
There’s also driver and front passenger seat belt height adjusters, a driver’s footrest and a decent glove box. Helpfully too, the steering wheel-mounted audio, phone and vehicle information buttons all light up at night, as does the driver’s power window switch – unfortunately the other power window switches do not, nor do the power mirror controls.
Though space up front is ample, with plenty of head and shoulder room, the same can’t be said of the second row.
With ingress and egress slightly hindered by the 2’s tapered roof and roof line, rear seat head and legroom is sufficient but not class leading – the Mazda 2 trailing the likes of the Honda Jazz and Volkswagen Polo as was highlighted in CarAdvice's five-way light car comparison test.
Even Mazda acknowledges that rear headroom is actually down 15mm compared to the previous generation car, with rear shoulder and legroom down 30mm and 4mm respectively.
Comfortable but flat and quite stubby in the base with little under-thigh support, the rear seats do split and fold 60:40 and are joined by two ISOFIX anchor points and a top tether anchor.
One map pocket is all there is to keep rear passengers happy though, with no rear door pockets, no rear cup holders, no fold-down centre armrest and no rear air vents.
Popping the light tailgate via the 2’s classy soft-touch rubber boot release reveals a small but workable 250-litre boot.
Deep-ish and easily accessible thanks to a parcel tray that sits up nice and high out of the way, boot space, like rear seat space, is again not class leading – the Mazda losing out to the Honda Jazz (350L), Renault Clio (300L), Toyota Yaris (286L) and Volkswagen Polo (280L).
Drop the rear seats and, while coming close to flat, there remains a significant step between the back of the seats and the boot floor – less than ideal when trying to slide larger, heavier objects as far back into the boot as possible.
Like most modern Mazdas, driving behaviour and on-road manners are the 2’s biggest drawcards.
Helped by a model-first Sport mode – which increases full-throttle torque output and triggers more aggressive gear selections – the 1.5-litre four-cylinder is punchy and gutsy and genuinely impressive for a unit its size.
Down 2kW and 2Nm compared with the identically sized engine in the higher specced Maxx and Genki 2s, the Neo’s humble powerplant delivers more power and torque than its capacity-matching predecessor.
It picks up well from 2000rpm and by 3000-4000rpm, you can enjoy a healthy little mid-range poke with solid response.
Content spinning along with 2400rpm displayed on its digital tacho and 100km/h shown on its central speedo, you rarely need to hustle beyond 4500-5000rpm, even when overtaking.
Although Mazda claims improvements in road noise over the old 2, it’s still very much present in the new car, with additional cabin decibels coming from the engine when revved harder.
Brake feel is very nice, natural and progressive while the new 1.3 per cent quicker steering manages to be light yet responsive and accurate.
Teamed with enough feedback to make the car engaging to drive, the steering works together well with the Neo’s excellent 9.4-metre turning circle to make parking a relative breeze – despite the car’s mediocre vision and mirrors and lack of a standard reversing camera or parking sensors.
Rolling on 65-profile Dunlop rubber – chubbier than the 60-profile Bridgestone tyres fitted to the top-spec Genki’s 16-inch alloy wheels – the ride on the Neo is largely excellent.
Comfortable and compliant around town, the combination of high profile tyres on base-model steel wheels still proved capable and enjoyable during a blast through Victoria’s Mount Dandenong tourist road, with high levels of lateral grip also a pleasant surprise.
Things can get a little bouncy over larger undulations, crests and dips, however, body roll is reasonably limited with good body control inspiring further confidence.
The new Mazda 2 really is a very good little thing and a vast improvement over its highly successful predecessor. It’s more affordable, more efficient, more powerful and arguably more stylish than the car it replaces and should, seemingly, be an easy pick for new or young buyers and their parents.
That said, it doesn’t offer the same levels of overall practicality and flexibility as some of its key rivals, and falls short on both equipment and price against some of its peers. It’s comfortable, nice and entertaining to punt around and live with though, and driving it – even for a week – made us want to be first-car age once again. It’s just a shame its vision, spec and packaging aren’t all a touch sharper…
Click on the Photos tab for more 2015 Mazda 2 Neo images by Tom Fraser.