I feel I should preface this with a confession on my part: mainly that I don’t own, nor have I ever owned, a Mazda 2. Instead, I merely rented one over the course of time that I was on holiday in New Zealand. Though this is the case, I feel that after driving 1400km and spending over 18 hours behind the wheel, I got to know the car pretty well and thought I’d fling in my two cents on it.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is a review of a rental car. However, as we occasionally do, we've decided it is interesting enough and thorough enough to publish here. Enjoy the read.
Jumping back to before I was enlightened by the Mazda 2, or 'Demio' as it’s badged in NZ, the story actually starts with the acquisition of a first-gen Nissan Tida from the rental depot, or as I’ve come to call it, the worst car I’ve ever driven. The Tida was slow, boring and generally unpleasant. And, if this wasn’t enough to already make me hate it, it then decided to leave my girlfriend and I stranded and lost on top of a mountain. The car’s cigarette lighter wasn’t generating enough power to charge our phones or power-banks, and therefore we had no maps or anything.
Needless to say, after two hours of driving the Tida, and as soon as we found our way off the mountain, it was back to the rental car depot. We were then presented with this 2010 second-generation Mazda 2, or as I now think of it, the best small car I have ever driven.
The Mazda, upon first impression, was the standard kind of car you’d expect to find at a budget rental depot. Complete with mismatched hubcaps, yellowing headlights and rear end more banged up than a rodeo bull, it was not wrong to assume that despite only having 127,000km on the clock, it had led a very hard life over the course of its nine-year existence. Despite all that, I was quite happy to be in anything but the Nissan Tida, and this seemed like it would work well.
Before getting in the car, I had always had a soft spot for the Mazda 2. My uncle and his partner used to own one, and in my mind the Mazda 2 always had the best ad campaign and jingles of any other car company of its time. (On another note, does anyone remember the top 12 from Australian Idol doing an acapella version of 'Zoom zoom zoom' to advertise the car, or was that just a fever dream I had when I was 10?)
The second-generation Mazda 2, specifically, always seemed like a fun, cool, cheap little car, and miles apart from its boxy-looking predecessor, the first generation. I would even go so far as to say the second generation's looks surpass that of the current gen-three, which in my opinion looks a little less fun and a lot more bulgy.
Behind the wheel, despite being quite a small car, the driving position could be made very comfortable. I, for instance, am 6ft 1in and really, at times, didn’t feel like I was driving a small car at all. Unlike other small cars, 'cramped' or 'boxed in' are not words that come to mind when thinking about the Mazda 2. With decent visibility as well as a decent stereo sitting in a modern-looking dashboard, paired with tastefully, trendy-patterned upholstered seats, the combination of these things made the car quite a pleasant place to be. The boot was also surprisingly roomy, fitting our two suitcases with no major issues and excess room for an extra backpack or two.
The 1.5-litre engine coupled with a four-speed auto felt like a perfect match when paired to this car. It was surprisingly nimble, accelerated well, and never felt like it was in any way struggling. The car also held its own on the freeway, overtaking trucks and motorhomes with ease, even on some decent uphill roads.
Handling was a whole other story. The Mazda 2 gripped to the road exceptionally well, and I don’t believe I ever felt any signs of understeer. The combination of the surprisingly plucky motor and the fantastic handling made this car a great little asset on those mountainous, winding New Zealand roads.
Of the downsides or things that I would have probably changed about the car if I had my way, there are not too many major issues that come to mind. The biggest one is probably the surprising amount of road noise that makes its way into the cabin, though I’m not sure if this is just due to the ageing tyres my particular car had, or if it is a general problem. This proved itself to be a little tedious, but nothing that the stereo could not fix.
Besides that, simple things like the inclusion of a temp gauge would have also been nice, as well as a better, accurate/less vague fuel gauge. Although, this could have just been my anxiety and desire to not be stranded in rural New Zealand talking.
The addition of cruise control would have also been fantastic, although, again, this could have just been my foot talking after seven hours of driving and not particularly what this city hatch was designed for. My last gripe, funnily enough, is that in the centre console there is a single cup holder, which just seems a bit odd considering there is definitely room for one more.
Compared to the other small cars similar to the Mazda that I have driven, being the Suzuki Swift, Ford Focus and Toyota Yaris, I have to say, this does stand out as being my favourite, and in my mind, the best. While the Yaris was a strong contender, whatever fun I found in the Mazda was replaced with a feeling of conciseness and necessity. Really, that’s a nice way of trying to say it felt more like an appliance than a car. (It probably didn’t help that the Toyota was literally brown.)
My Ford Focus experience was both unreliable and uneventful, and the Swift, granted it was a while ago, was quite forgetful. Out of all four cars, the Mazda was the only one I found myself turning around to look at when walking away from it and being genuinely impressed.
In conclusion, the Mazda 2 is an all-round fun, good looking, smart and convenient small car with some mid-size car sensibilities. Fuel mileage around town was fantastic, and out on the open road it was a similar story, but I found myself filling up after most days of driving around 400–500km. All round, the car is also very affordable. Fantastic examples start at not too much more than $5000, and cheaper than that if you are considering a manual transmission.
I think when I was on a high from driving this car, I started ranting and raving about it being the true successor to the classic Mini – being that it’s a fun, cheap to run, small car that could appeal to anyone. But I’m not so sure I would put all my money behind that statement after sleeping on it for a few days. But it does come very close nonetheless.
The question remains then, after renting, driving and giving an all-round favourable review of the Mazda 2, would I own one? Probably... Maybe?