Mazda’s bid to close the quality-perception gap to fellow mainstream brand Volkswagen has extended to its most affordable car, the Mazda 2. The ‘GT’ badge may sound like a bit of a misnomer for a city car – unless it stands for Grand Tiddler – but since 2017 it has represented the flagship Mazda 2 model.
The Mazda 2 GT is priced from $21,680 (before on-road costs) in six-speed manual form, or from $23,680 for the six-speed auto model we’re testing. That places it just $900 higher than the Mazda 2 Genki, and a comparison of the spec lists confirms the GT’s mission is simply to create a more premium feel and look.
There is no extra equipment per se. It shares the Genki’s stylish 16-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, satellite navigation, keyless start, head-up display, a 7.0-inch MZD touchscreen infotainment system, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, electrically folding side mirrors, daytime running lights, LED fog lights, rain sensor, rear sensors, and autonomous emergency braking (operating front and rear).
Metallic paint is a rare inclusion (for any segment), with only Soul Red an extra cost ($300).
Instead, the tiny price premium adds a touch of premium by switching the black cloth upholstery of other Mazda 2 models for two-tone seats mixing white leather and black cloth in the hatch (tested here) or black leather with suede in the sedan. (The four-door gives the GT another distinction over the Genki, which is available in hatch form only.)
White soft-touch material with white stitching is also applied to the side panels of the centre console, passenger-side dash, and front door armrests, with the latter gaining white panels. A red ring is added to the 2’s stylish circular vents.
It’s a successful upgrade that blends with the leather-covered gear lever gaiter, handbrake lever and steering wheel to echo the improved Mazda interior presentation we’ve seen in other models such as the Mazda 6 medium car and CX-5 SUV. It also allows the Mazda 2 GT to compare favourably with the all-new VW Polo.
Inevitably, for a relatively affordable city car, there’s a limit to the luxury look. There’s still a high ratio of hard plastics, and the window and heating/ventilation switchgear could be more tactile. No electric seat adjustment, either, while the front-seat cushions would provide a broader level of comfort if they extended further for better under-thigh support.
Rear-seat passengers certainly won’t be feeling the luxury. The Volkswagen Polo and Honda Jazz are just two examples of key rivals that offer notably more rear leg room than the Mazda 2, which at 4m long is one of the longer models in its class.
There are no rear air vents or centre armrest, and storage is almost non-existent. The 60/40 seatbacks fold flat to expand cargo space beyond the 250L boot that’s about average size for the city-car class.
Connectivity is as important in this segment as any other, and the Mazda’s MZD Connect system presents well and ticks the box marked 'intuitive'. Although the 7.0-inch display is a touchscreen set-up, the rotary/joystick controller on the centre console is an entirely natural way to navigate and select the menus and functions – and the controller is accompanied by a handful of handy shortcut buttons. This is the only way to operate MZD on the move as the touchscreen locks out. It’s a nod to safety, but what about the front passenger?
The front centre console includes a 12-volt socket, two USB ports, SD-card slot and an AUX port. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto aren’t available yet in the Mazda 2, and perhaps the GT should feature Bose audio rather than the no-name six-speaker system that sounds underwhelming.
The GT features the same 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol under the bonnet of every Mazda 2, though benefits from the slightly more powerful of two tunes in the range. And we do mean 'slightly': the 81kW and 141Nm outputs are just 2kW and 2Nm higher than the lower-spec engine.
Deemed good enough for the Mazda MX-5 sports car – albeit in heavily modified form – the 1.5-litre has plenty of enthusiasm. It helps give the Mazda 2 GT sharpish getaways from standstill, and it likes revs – which is a good job, as there’s not a great deal of torque.
It’s even sprightlier if you flick a console switch to put the drivetrain into Sport mode, though this is recommended for higher speeds as it comes at the expense of smoothness and refinement around town.
The six-speed auto performs well, too – smart enough to know when to hold a gear, as well as changing gears with smoothness. It’s fractionally more economical than the GT’s standard six-speed manual, with an average official fuel consumption figure of 4.9 litres per 100km that makes the Mazda one of the most frugal models in its segment.
Adhering to Mazda’s zoom-zoom philosophy, the 2 GT embraces winding roads with its agile and planted handling. There’s plenty of tyre roar on coarse surfaces, though, and the steering is less convincing on straighter roads – an on-centre vagueness that forces the driver to make fussy corrections.
The suspension is biased more towards handling than comfort. Yet while damping is on the firm side, occupants are adequately cushioned from big bumps and potholes.
No unpleasant repair-bill shocks for five years, either. In August 2018, Mazda, belatedly but welcomingly, joined the majority of manufacturers now offering standard warranties longer than the old three-year norm. The Polo, as well as the Toyota Yaris, are still offered with only three years.
Servicing costs are reasonable, too – averaging $300 annually over a five-year capped-pricing plan – while Mazdas typically perform well in consideration to resale value.
If a spacious and practical interior is high on your city-car priority list, CarAdvice would recommend looking at a Honda Jazz or VW Polo.
For the same money as this 2 GT auto, there are also options in the small-car class. That no doubt contributes to Mazda’s expectations that the GT will account for less than five per cent of Mazda 2 sales.
None of those small cars would feature as much equipment as the GT, however. And for buyers prioritising equipment, a smart cabin and enjoyable driving dynamics, this Mazda’s badge could stand for Good Thing.