There’s a lot of talk these days about car brands aspiring to offer buyers a 'premium experience', and it even stretches to the smallest segment of the market with cars like this, the 2017 Mazda 2 GT hatch.
The newly added flagship model in the Mazda 2 range is available as a sedan or five-door hatchback as you see here, and apparently it was included in the range to appeal to a different group of buyers – those who may also be considering a European light car.
It doesn’t cost Euro money, well, at least not Audi A1 money. This GT auto hatch is a $23,680 plus on-road costs, and Mazda reckons drive-away deals will be done for an extra $2000. Bear in mind, it’s not that big a stretch from here to a performance-oriented hatch like a Volkswagen Polo GTI, or a style-focused Skoda Fabia Monte Carlo…
Still, if you stepped into the Mazda 2 GT and hadn’t sat in a brand-new city car for a while, you’d likely be blown away by initial impressions. It feels special, with the light leather trim on the seats and the light plastic on the dash certainly bringing some luxury flair to this little Mazda.
But when you look a little closer, and think about what luxury could mean to you, there are some shortcomings. In fact, there are quite a few.
This model, despite being a top-spec version, lacks quite a number of equipment items we reckon are either desirable or required at this price point in the light car segment.
You don’t get climate control air conditioning (knobs and dials only), there is no electric seat adjustment (manual only, including for driver), there are no paddle-shifters (there’s a sport mode for the transmission, and you can shift up/down if needed), you don’t get any covered centre storage to speak of, and there’s no auto-dimming rear-view mirror (a Polo has that across the range!).
Further, if you look at the stuffing in the seats, there are unsightly lumps and bumps: this is why there’s the saying about black being slimming – it smooths out the bad bits.
What you do get that most other city cars miss out on is autonomous emergency braking (AEB) which can stop the car if it thinks you won’t, at low speeds. It’s available across the range, though.
GT model-specific elements include the leather seat trim (in black if you want a sedan) and extended soft-touch plastic on the dash, and that’s it over the Genki.
The GT (and Maxx and Genki below) have the brand’s very easy-to-use rotary-dial driven MZD Connect media system with a 7.0-inch touchscreen and rear-view camera fitted, while the Genki and GT are the models you need to choose to get satellite navigation as standard.
There is Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and as we’ve found previously in Mazda’s products the system is simple to use, but can glitch and twitch during audio playback. Annoying.
The cabin is one of the tightest in the light car class, and falls well short of expectations for space and storage.
It lacks useful storage: as mentioned, there is no covered centre console section, which isn’t ideal if you want to hide away your valuables. There are big door pockets with bottle holders up front, and the glovebox is a usable size, but in the back there’s bugger-all storage for odds and ends, just one map pocket in the back of the passenger seat – no door pockets, no cupholders, and not even a flip-down centre armrest.
Additionally, the rear seat space is poor by class standards. Yes, this is a small car, but there are plenty of other cars in the class that feel a lot bigger in the back. With the driver’s seat in my (six-foot-tall) position, and me sitting behind that position, my knees were hard up against the back of the front chair, and headroom is tight, with taller occupants likely to brush their hair/head on the head-lining. Toe-room is fine: yay for those with big hooves.
That may all sound a bit, well, poo, but it does feel quite nice inside, and if you’re a single buyer, or don’t plan to use the back seat much, it may be right up your alley. If you've got little kids, there are three top-tether child-seat attachment points, and two ISOFIX anchors.
The boot space is tight, even for this class. With 220 litres of cargo capacity, there’s not a huge amount of luggage capability back there, but a couple of weekender suitcases will fit without hassle, and there’s a space-saver spare under the boot floor.
The Mazda range is known for driving enjoyment, and the smallest model in the line-up doesn’t disappoint in that regard.
It is an extremely involving and fun car to drive on a twisty road. The steering offers great feedback and feel to the driver’s hands, and reacts brilliantly to mid-corner adjustments; could have something to do with the new G-Vectoring system the brand has added, but it was always a bit of a hoot to drive.
The suspension is firm, and as such it holds a nice flat line through bends, and if you’re really enthusiastic it can be a lot of fun, with beautiful balance. The Dunlop EnaSave EC300+ 185/60/16 spec rubber is grippy for eco-focused tyres.
That’s all well and good, but in most people’s lives, there won’t be a ribbon of twisty tarmac on the way to work. And that’s a bit of a problem, because while the steering is great at pace and when you’re working it, it can be a bit twitchy on the highway, with an on-centre feel that takes time to get used to.
The ride, too, is firm because it’s set up more for the occasional quick cornering session than the everyday commute. It can clunk and jostle over pockmarked road surfaces, feeling very firmly sprung, and the amount of road roar on coarse chip surfaces is bad. Like, ‘turn up the volume’ or ‘could you please repeat that?’ bad.
And the engine – a 1.5-litre four-cylinder with 81kW of power and 141Nm of torque – is only really good when you’re up it for the rent, too. The nature of the drivetrain is that in normal driving, the six-speed automatic will aim for the highest gear possible, which can make it feel doughy.
Indeed, when the car is cold (there’s a little blue light on the dash to warn you) the engine can be downright slow to react, and it’s noisy at pretty much all times, too. If you’re on cruise control and approach a steep hill, it’ll shuffle through the cogs to maintain pace, but the cacophony that comes from under the bonnet is a little startling.
Even on a cruise up a sustained hill without cruise control, the transmission will hunt to try and keep pace under light- to mid-throttle. It's a bit annoying, to be honest.
If you decide to push it a bit harder and continue to put a bit of pressure on the throttle, the transmission will learn that you want more out of it, and that’s when it performs at its best. There’s a sport mode for the transmission which holds gears nicely, and will even blip the throttle on downshifts. We’d probably tend to leave the car in that mode all the time, possibly to the detriment of fuel use.
On that topic, Mazda claims 4.9 litres per 100 kilometres, but we saw 7.2L/100km during our time with the car across urban, highway and country driving.
As for other ownership costs, Mazda requires servicing every 12 months or 10,000km, whichever occurs first. Over 50,000km, the average cost per visit levels out at about $297, before consumables. The 2 is covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and there’s no included roadside assist cover – unlike some other brands, you need to pay extra for it.
Whether you buy a Mazda 2 in this spec or any other, you’ll be getting a car that will drive really well in corners, and offer excellent safety kit for the cash, including the standard-fit AEB system, as well as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and LED headlights... but you get all that in a Genki, if that matters to you.
We wouldn’t recommend this as the best Mazda 2 in the range. Nice as it may be, our money would more happily be spent on a lower-spec Maxx model, which still has all of the issues this car has in terms of space and practicality, and while it lacks the fancy pants interior, it comes in at a handy $4000 cheaper.
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