The light-car segment in Australia is in a curious state of flux. The top-selling Hyundai Accent has been discontinued with no replacement, Toyota is preparing to roll out an all-new Yaris, and challengers like the MG 3 are on their way up.
Then there’s the Mazda 2. This current generation is already six years old, which is very close to replacement time usually, but in this instance Mazda has rolled out what equates to a typical midlife refresh.
Unsettlingly, the refreshed Mazda 2 has also seen a big step up in price, although in this instance the previous Neo base model has essentially been removed. The more feature-laden 2020 Mazda 2 G15 Pure acts as the price-leader, and positioned between where the old Maxx and GT models used to sit.
Pricing starts from $20,990 before on-road costs for the manual model, or $22,990 when equipped with an automatic as tested here. That’s a big ask when larger cars like the Hyundai i30 and Kia Cerato undercut the most basic Mazda.
Some things haven’t changed, like the engine and transmission. Mazda’s 1.5-litre non-turbo four-cylinder engine is a willing unit within its class. With 82kW and 144Nm it's close to level with similarly priced rivals like the Suzuki Swift GLX turbo and Toyota Yaris SX 1.5.
Previously, entry-level models boasted slightly lower 79kW and 139Nm outputs, but this latest update sees all models utilise the slightly higher output engine.
Mazda pairs the willing and rev-happy engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. Its torque converter design makes it a more ‘conventional’ auto than rival CVT- or dual-clutch-equipped cars, meaning there are no surprises on the road, no hesitation when parking or moving slowly, and no droning when driving hard.
Some of the rise in price is obviously accountable for. In place of the old push-button audio system, Mazda has fitted its MZD Connect system comprising a 7.0-inch touchscreen, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, AM/FM/DAB radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, native control of Stitcher and Aha internet radio apps (where installed on the user’s phone), and the ability to control the system on the go with an easy to use click-wheel dial in the centre console.
The speaker count has been upped from four to six, and the base model now comes with a reverse camera. Perhaps a little cruelly, all cars ship with a Nav button; however, navigation isn’t included on the Pure, though it is available as an accessory. But with smartphone mirroring that’s certainly less critical, and tapping the Nav button will handily take you to your choice of navigation app.
Alloy wheels are now standard, with 15-inch silver-painted alloys stepping in for the previous 15-inch steel wheels and covers. Design changes give a lower, wider look up front thanks to changes in the way the chrome grille and headlights meet, along with new front and rear bumpers, but no changes have been made to the tailgate or tail-light styling.
Safety is comprehensively taken care of with blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, reverse AEB, rear cross-traffic alert, rear park sensors, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist, LED headlights, and six airbags.
Last crash-tested by ANCAP in 2015, the Mazda 2 range carries over its original five-star score, but the addition of new safety tech since then means the brand hasn’t been complacent about safety.
In base trim, at least, don’t expect to find auto lights or wipers, but as you step up through the Mazda 2 range you pick up those functions: a 360-degree camera, distance-keeping radar cruise control, and traffic sign recognition along with niceties like navigation, climate control, LED running lights, a head-up display and 16-inch alloy wheels.
As a basic package, though, there’s not much missing from the G15 Pure. Push-button start, handsome cloth trim in two-tone brown and black, cruise control, power windows, electrically adjustable mirrors with power folding, leather-wrapped steering wheel, gear knob and handbrake, and height-adjustable seatbelts make for a decent standard-spec list.
It’s pretty clear that Mazda cares less about stripped-out fleet specials and has its eye on pampered private buyers.
The update does fall a little short. There’s nothing really wrong with the basic Mazda 2 package, but the closely related CX-3 picked up a new centre console, including a lidded armrest, and electric park brake to give it a more special and substantial feel inside.
The 2 features only trim changes inside with no design revisions, and feels like the poorer cousin as a result, especially when rivals like the Kia Rio and Volkswagen Polo (depending on spec) have proper centre armrests. Yes, it’s an odd thing to gripe about, but the effect it has on your perception of quality is significant.
There’s some interior mismatching, too. New patterned gloss-black trims adorn the dash and centre console, but older-style matt carbon covers the inner console and door switches. One looks pretty flash, the other looks bargain basement, and the two don’t meld well. Crucially, though, everything is solidly assembled and feels sturdy enough to pass the test of time with no inaccurate trim gaps.
There are no soft plastics on the dash or doors either, which isn’t particularly unusual for the segment, but you do get soft sections to rest your elbows on. You can spot the lift-out sections that cover the fasteners for the central screen, too, and as you glance in the rear-view mirror you’ll see the upper tailgate isn’t trimmed, just painted. Again, not a particular deal-breaker, but at odds with Mazda’s premium push and slipping compared to the presentation of other cars in the segment.
The front seats are comfy, even for a long session behind the wheel. There have been tweaks to the seat shape, and for my shorter stature the Mazda 2 is a good fit, with lots of seat and steering wheel adjustment to get the driving position just right.
More surprisingly, rear seat room remains part-time useful. In fact, there’s better outward visibility and easier entry and egress than you’ll find in the larger Mazda 3 hatch, and by the seat of the pants (and by virtue of being able to sit up taller) leg room feels surprisingly similar.
Some rivals are a fraction more roomy in the back, but when you’re dealing with such small external dimensions, don’t expect anything too grand. Adults won’t want to perch there all the time, but the G15 Pure is up to the task for quick sprints across town.
Further back, the boot is good for 250L of capacity. The tailgate is set quite high, so you’ll have to lift and drop your luggage in.
For more space, the rear seats offer a 60:40 split, but the backrests don’t fold flat and leave a stepped floor. Furthermore, there’s a dearth of tie-downs and bag hooks, so after a run back from the shops, you may have to retrieve your shopping from the four corners of the boot with nothing to keep it in place.
On the road, the Mazda 2 drives with a pert confidence that makes it zingy around town, small enough to fit into tight spaces, but stable and comfy, too.
The ride can be a little bouncy at low speeds with just the driver on board, but settles as you pick up the pace or with a companion on board. For the most part, though, it can put up with the urban patchwork of shoddy city streets, cobbles and patches without crashing or wobbling about the place.
There once was a time you wouldn’t dare take tiny urban cars out of town for a lack of freeway ability, but in the case of the Mazda 2 it’ll happily sit out on the open road without getting buffeted by winds (which I put to the test on a particularly squally weekend).
There’s some tyre noise to contend with, but not enough that you need to yell over the top of it to your passenger. The engine can keep its pace on hills without suffering too badly, but overtaking does require a bit of a run-up to extract the best results from a burst of rolling acceleration.
Off the highway and onto more entertaining roads, the little Mazda manages to hold its own, too, though that’s not its ultimate goal. Slip the transmission into sport mode and it becomes more willing to play along.
Otherwise it’s smooth, easy to live with, mostly quiet unless you really push it, and has enough urge to tackle most situations with confidence. It doesn’t have the turbo push from down low like a Swift GLX or Polo, but more often than not it doesn’t particularly need it.
Fuel consumption is rated at 5.3L/100km, but on test the Mazda 2 used 6.3L/100km, which is well within reason, and my driving split was even between city and country distance. If you’re less likely to venture out of town, you can expect it to be a little higher without getting too wild.
Ownership includes a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty and five years' roadside assistance. Mazda’s capped-price servicing is set at 12-month or shorter than average 10,000km intervals alternating between $300 and $330 for each service. Unlike all-inclusive plans from rivals, Mazda also charges extra for brake fluid ($68) and cabin filter replacement ($89) every two years or 40,000km.
Try as it might, the Mazda 2 can’t outrun its age. It’s far from outdated, but there are still some signs Mazda’s most compact model has been around for a while, and newer compact cars from Suzuki, Kia and soon Toyota highlight the 2’s advancing age.
It’s tricky to reconcile a once circa-$17K car now being priced from over $22K. Yes, there’s more equipment into the deal, but for plenty of Aussie buyers looking for a high-quality first car or frugal but trustworthy second car, the Mazda 2 has withdrawn itself from contention.
In all, the Mazda 2 G15 Pure impresses. It exudes a sense of quality and provides decent driving dynamics without pushing into the realms of uncomfortable sports-skewed cars.
A long list of features and comprehensive safety equipment all stand the 2020 Mazda 2 in good stead, but unfortunately the recent price hike puts it out of reach of some buyers, and casts it into the cut-throat world of high-value and high-volume cars from the class above.