It's been a month now since we took delivery of our 2017 Mazda 2 Neo hatch long termer, and for this update we're going to focus on one of the most important jobs a city-sized car will ever do – the #DailyGrind.
While that term can mean many things to different people, the daily commute for the average person is the trip to and from work, which the little 'Soul Red' Mazda 2 has been tasked with just about every day since it arrived.
The 2's compact dimensions and sharp handling make it a cinch to throw around city streets, while the punchy 79kW/139Nm 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine offers plenty of oomph during city driving.
Additionally, the six-speed automatic transmission fitted to our test car is generally very smooth and intuitive, selecting the right gear when you need it – though at times the change from first to second gear can be a little jerky when cold.
Over road imperfections like tram tracks and potholes, the Mazda's ride remains comfortable and compliant, though the firmer tuning can mean you may bounce a little over successive bumps.
Inside the cabin, occupants are pretty well-insulated from the outside world, with little engine and tyre noise entering the cabin.
We did notice, though, over dirt and other road debris the wheel arches can let a bit of noise in – though never to the point where it's a major issue.
Buyers of the Neo also miss out on the glossy plastics used in the Maxx, along with the faux-leather dash trim of the Genki and GT models. While the hard plastics on the dash and upper doors aren't squishy and as upmarket-feeling as they could, everything feels very solid and well-screwed together.
The 2's steering is light yet direct, giving the little hatch a sharp turn-in and sporty feel, while also being light enough to make navigating car parks and tight city streets a pretty easy task.
However, the absence of a rear-view camera is a huge omission, particularly in this day and age, and before anyone says "if you can't reverse a Mazda 2 you shouldn't have your license", the small rear window and thick C-pillars mean that outward vision through the back of the 2 isn't actually as flash as you might think.
It's pretty annoying that Mazda – a company that prides itself on safety – continues to neglect a rear-view camera as standard on its more affordable models, such as the 2, 3 and CX-3 Neos.
The company does offer it as an option/accessory for just over $800 with the display built-in to the rear-view mirror. We don't understand why the company doesn't just add it as standard, though.
Mazda's side mirrors also tend to be quite magnified, so at times you have double take to make sure you haven't misjudged the gap between you and the car in the lane next to you, or whatever obstacles are behind you when reverse parking.
Our other main gripe with the car thus far is the lack of a proper infotainment screen, which only comes standard in the higher grade Maxx and above. The half-baked monochrome system in the Neo can be a little fiddly to use, and also negates the fitment of any form of satellite navigation or smartphone mirroring software – though no Mazda model currently offers Apple CarPlay or Android Auto.
Pairing your phone can be a chore, with a combination of button pushes required to find the right menu to begin with, and when using the car after someone else you need to manually change the primary phone otherwise it won't connect straight away.
Once you've figured it out it's a fairly simple system to use, though sometimes using Siri to make a phone call results in the phone being disconnected from the Bluetooth system meaning you have to awkwardly hang up and try calling again to use the car's audio system.
It's these little niggles that stop the entry-level Mazda from being the complete package. Then again it's probably the company's way of getting customers looking at more expensive variants like the Maxx and Genki.
Fuel consumption around town isn't too bad though, we've been averaging an indicated 7.4L/100km driving mainly around town, and that's without the idle stop/start available on higher models.
Overall, the Mazda 2 Neo offers a pretty comfortable and refined driving experience for such a small and affordable little car, which drives home just why we pass so many of them on the road every day.
Mike Stevens – Producer and News Editor
This is a great little thing, there's no denying. It's about as zoom-zoom as a passenger car can get, and that's a big part of what Mazda has been building its reputation on.
It's firm enough to feel sporting, but still comfortable and easy to live with. When your car doesn't have hot-hatch adjustable suspension and steering to tinker with, this full-time balance Mazda's tuned in is just great. If that's what you want from your little hatch, anyway. It's definitely my kinda vibe. Even better, it has a sport mode! Although it's not the type that will please Dave...
As the entry-level Neo, there's not a great deal to love about the interior finishes, but at the same time, it's really quite nice. Gloss-black vent rings, a nice faux-leather boot on the gear shifter, hard-wearing but nonetheless nice seat fabrics.
It also gets push-button start, which is pretty sweet (even if a lot of people still prefer the old-school key for safety reasons), but there's one immensely irritating downside: that bloody infotainment unit.
Nothing says "price-leader" like a dumpy feature that fails to match the segment average. It's when you know the car's main purpose is to get people into the showroom, where they can be disappointed with the neolithic infotainment and compelled to spend another few grand for the next model up.
It does all the basics – Bluetooth media and phone pairing, voice controls, the usual – but when rivals in the segment actually have a screen, it's just poor form. And, of course, Mazda remains one of the last holdouts for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is surely becoming a 'must have' for the young first-car buyers shopping in this segment.
Still, it is overall a great little package. I dig it.
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