When my best friend decided to sell her first car, a 2003 Daewoo Kalos (let’s not judge), I think I was more devastated than her. That car had seen plenty of pizza nights and road trips between the three of us over my friend’s 15 years of ownership. But, it was time for her to move on.
As you probably can gather, my friend doesn’t know a lot about cars. She likes a simple car with all the basics and can get her to and from work without guzzling petrol. She took a liking to the Mazda 2 hatch and told me, “I want a small car, but do you think it would fit my big hockey bag and my army gear?”. Yeah, that could be a stretch.
I steered her in the direction of the 2018 Mazda 2 Neo sedan. At $16,40 before on-road costs, it's the same price as the hatch but has a much larger boot. Perfect.
This model is the entry-level Mazda 2, with a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, and thanks to an update last year, AEB is now standard, as are rear parking sensors. However, front parking sensors, rear-view camera, and satellite navigation are available as options.
Although the Snowflake White Pearl makes the exterior pretty bland and uninspiring, the design is probably one of the best hatch-turned-sedans on the market. It’s a mixture of cute with smart. What is not cute, though, are the wheel covers. This entry-level spec could really benefit, aesthetically at least, from the wheels fitted to the next spec up, the Maxx.
Inside, there is no 7.0-inch MZD touchscreen. In its place is a small monochrome display that shows the time and radio station. Once again, you’ll need to step up to the Maxx to get an infotainment system. A centre armrest is also missing, but can be optioned for $462.77.
The car also has no enclosed storage, with a manual handbrake taking up some precious space. A compartment beneath the manual air conditioning/heater dials (a big tick – easy to operate while eyes are still on the road) is perfect for your phone with USB, 12-volt and AUX connections.
Even though the car is 260mm longer than its hatch sibling, the cabin space hasn’t increased. It still feels a tad cramped, however head room is pretty good. The rear is a different story, but we’ll get to that soon.
To some owners, cabin plastics aren’t all that important, and there’s plenty of it in the Mazda 2, with hard rubber on the armrest, but overall the interior plastics are a good fit.
Seat height of the 2 is very good for a sedan, and on par with a crossover. The seat design is swish with a striped pattern, and they are comfortable too.
Small niggles include no sun visor light – a must for the girls – and the four-speaker stereo isn’t the biggest and best sound you’ll hear. As with most Mazdas, the side mirrors are close and small, so with no blind-spot monitoring, you’ll find yourself doing head and shoulder checks more often.
The rear seats are best left for short trips or kids. It’s not particularly comfortable for adults as it has limited head and foot room, and the hard plastic armrests are only wide enough for a child’s arm. Storage isn’t fantastic, with no fold-down armrest with cupholders, no door pockets, and just one map pocket.
There are no rear connections or ventilation. Also, the cabin light is placed above the rear-view mirror, so there is no lighting for back seat passengers. As you can gather, the rear is a place for little ones, and they are catered for with two ISOFIX points and two top tethers.
The difference in size between the boot of the sedan and hatch is substantial. At 440L, the sedan’s boot is 190L bigger than the hatch – that’s a difference of your average council wheelie bin. That’s a lot. And you probably could fit one of them in the boot as it is deep with a wide load opening. Ideal for my hockey-playing friend.
There are no tie-down latches or side storage compartments, and a temporary spare wheel is there to get you out of trouble. Folding down the 60:40 back seats is not an easy task. The levers are accessed from the boot, which is handy, but the seats don’t fall down all the way, and you can’t reach them from the boot, so you need to access the cabin to complete the task.
Powering the Mazda 2 is a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine, sending 79kW of power and 139Nm of torque to the front wheels. It might not sound like a performance machine, but the power-to-weight ratio is perfect, and it isn’t as slow as you think. The six-speed automatic transmission can take its time kicking back a gear, though, when pushing the car to overtake.
Selecting the Sport driving mode, the throttle is more sensitive and there is a notable difference from the ‘normal’ driving mode. However, Sport mode is only fun at lower speeds, as it revs at 4000rpm at 100km/h, as opposed to 2200rpm. Mazda claims 5.5L/100km fuel consumption on the combined cycle, and through a mix of freeway and city driving we achieved 6.7L/100km.
Road noise is an improvement, but the rattly sound of the engine is noticeable when on the move. At idle, however, it is that quiet you would be mistaken for thinking it had start/stop technology.
On its 15-inch wheels, the Mazda 2 rides fine for a small sedan. It handles Melbourne’s potholes well and feels stable on the freeway. It’s also nimble negotiating tight car spaces in shopping centres, which no doubt will be its natural environment.
The Mazda 2 was last ANCAP safety-tested in 2015 and received the top five-star rating. It comes with a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty, although you’ll have to fork out $99 a year for standard roadside assistance. Every service comes at a 12-month or 10,000km interval, with an average cost of $300 per service.
If you’re like my friend who is wanting a comfortable and affordable small car with a large boot, and does countless late-night pizza runs, you can’t go wrong with the Mazda 2. Sure, the Neo doesn’t have satellite navigation or a touchscreen, but if you’re a simple driver, it won’t matter.
On the other hand, if you’re one to worry about resale or more tech, you’ll need to look at the Maxx for an extra $2000, which gets you the infotainment system and rear-view camera.