There’s no doubt the 2017 Mazda 2 is a better city car than the one it replaces. But, the Japanese brand’s innovation rate is starting to slow its pace, while competitors continue to make more significant strides to provide a real challenge for Mazda.
From the outside the updated Mazda 2 looks all but the same; the addition of autonomous emergency braking (smart city brake) adds some minor visual differences but the popular Japanese car retains the happy look that has made it so popular with private buyers for years.
The updated Mazda 2 range kicks off at $14,990 plus on-road costs for the Neo, $17,690 for the Maxx and $20,690 for the Genki. There's new variant in the range, wearing the Mazda 2 GT badge and it brings leather seats and more, for $21,680.
Our test car is the second in the range, the Mazda 2 Maxx, which with automatic transmission comes in at $19,690, so about 21k or so on the road depending on which state you live in.
Powering the little Mazda is a naturally-aspirated 1.5-litre petrol engine that delivers 81kW of power and 141Nm of torque. It’s not all that much until you factor in the 1076kg weight, which makes the Mazda 2 a zippy little city car with reasonable power-to-weight ratio. But, add a bit more weight in the form of four large adults, and it will struggle with hilly terrain or overtaking on the highway.
Unlike the majority of its Japanese competitors, the folks at Mazda have refused to go down the continuously variable transmission (CVT) path, which means the Mazda 2’s power is still delivered to the front wheels via a traditional six-speed automatic transmission (or, if you prefer, a six-speed manual and an extra $2000 in your pocket).
This has a small negative effect on fuel economy, which the company claims is 5L/100km on the combined cycle. However, there are positives, including a far better driving experience with a more traditional feeling gear-change, rather than the elasticity and associated noises that invariably come with a CVT.
In saying that, the Mazda 2 is not a refined offering when it comes to cabin noise. It’s a noisy place inside, with the drivetrain and tyres generating far more audible nuisance than is really necessary.
The Mazda 2 also has a rather firm suspension setup, especially noticeable if you're sitting in the back row. It’s not hard enough to call it uncomfortable, but it’s firm nonetheless. Bumps and potholes are felt through the cabin a little more than we would like.
It also tends to move around a fair bit when pushed into corners, which is rather odd, because usually, when a vehicle has firm ride it makes up for it with minimal lean into the twisty stuff, but there is noticeable body roll in this case.
The updated Mazda 2 also brings about the Japanese brand’s new G-Vectoring control technology which is incredibly difficult to feel.
Basically, Mazda's software – which was eight years in the making - reads steering inputs to ever-so-subtly reduce engine torque to the front wheels. Once there is a reduction in torque, it shifts the weight of the vehicle forward, which adds more bite to the front wheels, which, Mazda claims, adds more grip and confidence at any speed. Does it work? Probably. Does it make a noticeable difference to the driving experience? None whatsoever.
That’s not to say the dynamics are compromised, because if anything the Mazda 2 is probably up there as one of the best in segment when it comes to driving enjoyment. It’s an ideal city car and it has the right mechanical setup to make sure the driving process remains fun. We liken it to the Mazda MX-5, which also shows considerable body roll but remains a very enjoyable car to drive.
Perhaps our biggest disappointment with the Mazda 2 is its interior. It is starting to feel a little dated and presents a peculiar mishmash of hard and soft plastics, with the addition of a carbon-fibre-like finish through the dash that, while adding visual appeal, seems like a stop-gap. There are plenty of harsh and scratchy plastics throughout as well, which further detract from the car’s aesthetic.
Usually, we would commend the Mazda infotainment system. However, the one in the Maxx misses out on navigation and the entire range lacks Apple CarPlay, which is a bit of a no-no in this day and age when the target market is young, first-time car buyers who likely put technology and connectivity above all else but, perhaps, safety.
It does have two USB ports, but we found that if you have your iPhone (iOS 10) linked via Bluetooth for telephony, and streaming music and charging via a wired connection, the infotainment system has a tendency to occasionally crash. Which is rather frustrating.
The front seats are comfortable and there is a reasonable amount of storage space inside the cabin, be it cupholders or storage compartments for phones et cetera.
The rear will easily accommodate two adults but forget about a fifth passenger if the destination is more than a few minutes away. ISOFIX points are available for two child seats, which also makes this an ideal car for small families looking for a reliable and safe second car.
The boot measures just 250 litres, which rules out any large prams, but if you can get away with folding the rear seats down, the little hatch can swallow a fair bit of luggage. It doesn’t offer the same levels of practicality and luggage load carrying capacity as the clever Honda Jazz, but it’s otherwise a very reasonable boot.
The Maxx misses out on keyless entry, but still has a push-button start system. This isn’t all that helpful as you still need to get your hands on the keys to open the door, then get in and press the start button, as opposed to just grabbing the door handle with the keys in your bag or pocket for the entire operation.
At the end of day, you can’t go wrong buying a Mazda 2. It’s a solid car and one that will prove to be a reliable, safe and problem-free experience. It’s not cheap and the features of the Maxx leave a bit to be desired for the asking price in the class. But as an overall package, it’s a solid choice.
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