The Mazda 2 Neo hatch has been part of the CarAdvice Melbourne fleet for a number of months, and now, sadly, it's time for it to go home.
Affectionately nicknamed the 'Red Rocket', our Mazda 2 long-termer has racked up nearly 4000km in our hands, including everything from the daily commute to and from the office, to driving to the Great Ocean Road and back.
What's impressed us most about the entry-level Mazda 2 is just how easy it is to live with day to day, even if it has a shoddy infotainment system – or lack of – that has been the main complaint across the Melbourne team.
However, with a starting price of $16,990 plus on-road costs – $17,290 before ORCs as tested with the optional Soul Red metallic paint – it's to be expected there will be some specification shortcomings on a car aimed at buyers on a budget.
If you can look past the absence of a proper infotainment screen and rear-view camera, there are plenty of things you get for the money, like city-speed autonomous emergency braking (AEB), Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, manual air-conditioning, cruise control, push-button start, multi-function steering wheel and rear parking sensors.
Sure, it's still pretty basic, but when you hop in the driver's seat everything looks and feels high quality, particularly for a vehicle at this price point.
The Neo grade misses out on the soft-touch bits up front as found on the Genki and GT variants, but the hard plastics that adorn the dash and doors don't feel thin and flimsy like the materials you may find on rival models.
Space isn't the Mazda 2's main drawcard either. The rear seat is pretty tight, and the 250-litre boot is one of the smallest in the class. If practicality is what you're after, you're better off looking at the Honda Jazz, or perhaps waiting for the new-generation Volkswagen Polo to arrive later this year.
From the outside things are pretty basic, too. There's halogen headlights, no fog-lights and steel wheels – Avis spec – though the humble clothing doesn't take much away from what is still a smart-looking little hatchback.
But it's once you start up the 1.5-litre petrol engine and head off down the road that the Mazda 2 starts recovering ground, because it's one of the best – and arguably, the best – cars to drive in the segment.
While its outputs of 79kW and 139Nm may seem modest, the Red Rocket only weighs 1045kg, meaning there isn't a lot of weight to shift.
Our tester is fitted with the optional six-speed torque converter automatic transmission, which commands a $2000 premium over the slick-shifting six-speed manual ($14,990 plus ORCs).
There's plenty of punch off the line and on the move, with the Mazda 2 offering zippy performance around town. Getting up to freeway speeds is also done with ease, and the engine note isn't too loud or thrashy compared to some equivalent cars from rival manufacturers.
Despite the fact Mazdas are constantly marked down for their NVH levels (noise, vibration, harshness), the Mazda 2 is generally refined and quiet in most situations. You'll find that rougher sections of country highway will transmit noticeable tyre roar into the cabin, but then again it's a $17K light car, not a luxury sedan.
It's a delight to steer, too. The weighting is more on the lighter side, but the Mazda 2's sharp turn-in and direct steering feel make it relaxing yet engaging to drive across all situations.
What we'd really like, though, is a little more power. The Mazda 2's keen steering and chassis are almost begging for the 118kW/200Nm 2.0-litre engine used in the MX-5 sports car – it would be quite the little hot hatch.
Meanwhile, the ride is a little on the firmer side, contributing to that sportier feel in the corners, though it's still supple enough to negotiate the lumps and bumps of city life without too much fuss.
The comfortable seats also help the Red Rocket to be a capable long-distance cruiser, something that not all of its rivals can lay claim to.
After spending the last few months with the Mazda 2, we'd definitely recommend it as one of our top picks in the light car segment, particularly for a first-car buyer or young couple that don't need to carry a lot of stuff.
If you're cool with the lack of rear-view camera and infotainment screen, sure, save some cash and get the Neo – though you can option a mirror-integrated rear-view camera system for $811.21.
However, our pick of the range for those on a budget would be the mid-spec Maxx, which adds the aforementioned features absent in the Neo, while still coming in just under the $20K mark at $17,690 for the manual and $19,690 for the automatic.
Regardless, we're a little sad to see Red Rocket go... #sadface
Click the photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser
2017 Mazda 2 Neo hatch
- Odometer reading upon return: 4802km
- Distance travelled: 3760km
- Fuel consumption average: 6.8L/100km
- Fuel cost: $249.47
MORE: Long-term report one - Introduction
MORE: Long-term report two - The daily grind
MORE: Long-term report three - Infotainment
MORE: Long-term report four - Interior comfort and practicality
MORE: Long-term report five - Team review
MORE: Long-term report six - Road trip