The Mazda 2 is one of Australia’s most popular city cars, especially among younger buyers after an entry point to the Japanese brand’s range.
Over its past two generations, the smallest Mazda has carved out a reputation as one of the more focused light cars, eschewing the roominess of a Honda Jazz in favour of chic design and nimble driving characteristics, much like a European brand would produce.
Now it’s time for the current model’s mid-cycle refresh, which arrives as sales in this part of the market continue to struggle, despite fuel prices and ever-increasing urbanisation.
The MY17 model commendably brings Smart City Brake Support low-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB) to every member of the expanded four-variant range – still available in hatch and sedan body types – with no price increase.
The 2017 Mazda 2 range also picks up Mazda’s G-Vectoring system that adjusts torque delivery to the front wheels, transferring weight and enhancing turn-in.
Other updates include new wheel colours, a new Deep Crimson Mica exterior paint, a new steering wheel design, revised colour head-up display that’s more legible, and claimed suspension tweaks developed to improve ride comfort.
As before, the range kicks off at $14,990 plus on-road costs for the Neo, climbing to $17,690 for the Maxx and $20,690 for the Genki. Mazda has also added a new flagship called the GT, which adds leather seats and more, for $21,680.
These prices are inclusive of a six-speed manual gearbox, with a six-speed auto available for $2000 extra. These prices are also before on-road costs – add $2000 for the drive-away cost, which Mazda has standardised nationally.
As before, a Hyundai Accent is cheaper, but the 2 is aimed at private buyers who are willing to pay a premium. Indeed, the Genki and GT we have driven so far are as much rivals for a Mini One as they are for more mainstream players.
We will drive the Neo and Maxx soon – though we’d note the Neo still doesn’t offer a reversing camera, which combined with the big C-pillars is not ideal.
Read the full 2017 Mazda 2 pricing and specifications here.
Under the bonnet of the Mazda 2 Genki and GT is a carried-over 1.5-litre petrol engine making 81kW and 141Nm, which is plenty for a car that weighs 1076kg in its highest spec form. Fuel use is a claimed 4.9L/100km, but expect to hover in the 6s.
The naturally aspirated unit has plenty of zing and pep around town, and while it lacks the low-down torque of a small turbo such as the engine in the Volkswagen Polo, it’s strong through the mid-range and characterful even under medium throttle.
Our test car both sported the six-speed auto (a conventional unit with torque converter) that 80 per cent of buyers are expected to opt for, and it’s an excellent execution. Flick the Sport button and it even aggressively downshifts under braking.
Dynamically the little 2 remains up there for the segment, with particularly nimble dynamics afforded by its small wheelbase and well-sorted steering and suspension, despite the low-tech rear torsion beam.
The G-Vectoring system doesn’t make a massive difference on the surface, though you can expect moderately sharper turn-in. The springs and dampers still offer relatively good comfort over patchwork roads, without removing the nimble road feel and handling.
In typical Mazda form, intrusion of noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) into the interior is on the high side, with a little more tyre roar than we’d appreciate – partly down to the 16-inch wheels on lower-profile rubber as fitted to our high-end test cars.
The Mazda’s cabin remains impressive, though slick new rivals like the 2017 Kia Rio mean it’s no longer quite the outlier it once was.
All variants bar the Neo get a floating 7.0-inch tablet screen matched to Mazda’s BMW-copying MZD Connect rotary dial, plus DAB+ and USB/Bluetooth, while the Genki and GT we drove have integrated sat nav and a dinky flip-up head-up display.
Other high-end tech on our testers includes blind-spot monitoring, a rear cross-traffic alert supporting the rear-view camera, rain-sensing wipers and climate control. The Genki and GT cost about the same as a larger Mazda 3 Neo, so if specs outweigh space in your consideration set, this is a good option.
The Mazda 2 GT is particularly upmarket in feel, on account of the unique leather-and-cloth seats (white on the hatch, austere black on the sedan), and additional plush cabin trims. It’s neither cheap or nasty in there.
Where the smallest Mazda continues to fall down a little against class leaders is rear seat space, which is particularly restrictive. Many city car buyers drive one-up or two-up, but if you regularly cart passengers, the Jazz or Fabia are better bets.
Cargo space is a meagre 250 litres on the hatch, but the sedan offer a much more reasonable 440L, and even looks quite well-proportioned compared to the Honda City, to our eyes.
That said, the key areas of chic design, nimble dynamics, upmarket cabin feel remain as before, and we commend Mazda for adding AEB.
The Maxx feels like the sweet spot to us, though if you want a little luxury feel, the new GT is worth a look. Naturally we will bring you more detailed reviews of the lower-grade variants once we get them, and potentially a comparison test or two.
Mazda's mid-life update to its smallest car improves on what was already a fine option in the city car class. Not the cheapest, but there's a reason it lures more private buyers than any rival.
Of course with the new Kia Rio kicking many goals, and a next-generation Suzuki Swift due in a month or two, competition is only going to get hotter.
From an ownership perspective, the Mazda 2 comes with a three-year unlimited kilometre warranty, with roadside assist available for $68.10 per year.
Pic note: The Mazda 2 GT pictured is red, the Genki is white, the Maxx is blue and the Neo is grey.