We are spoiled for choice when it comes to small cars, some are cheap and nasty, others little gems. I was in the market for a new small car around $20,000, manual, decent performance, reliable, fun to drive and easy to drive in the city.
I test-drove, pretty much, everything available and the shortlist was the Renault Clio, Volkswagen Polo and Mazda 2. I considered a Toyota Yaris because I’ve previously owned a Toyota, however occasionally use GoGet (a car share company) which use Yaris's and, I know they only use base models, however, they feel very cheap and flimsy, the interior plastics feel as though you can easily break them off, the blind spots are horrendous and the steering is numb. Yes a Toyota is very reliable, however for the same sort of money you can buy a Mazda which is much nicer car to be in all round and equally reliable.
I've heard some horror stories about Volkswagen's, to do with the DSG gearboxes, horrible after sales service and lots of small annoying things going wrong that cost a ridiculous amount to repair. The styling was also too bland for me. As for Renault I love the styling inside and out, and the 0.9 TCE Engine was great fun, and I seriously recommend looking at one however, long-term reliability was a nagging issue.
The Mazda’s 1.5L engine packs decent performance and doesn’t sound to bad when revved either, and the 6-speed gearbox is a joy to shift with. The ride is firm but compliant, but it can 'crash' over large bumps. The steering is nicely weighted and has a good feel to it; it is easy and light around city streets and weights up when you move onto an open road. I mainly drive in the city and inner city suburbs and it’s perfect for that style of driving. There is plenty of oomph in the lower gears to zip around, but when you take it onto a motorway it is comfortable, quiet and relaxing. Average fuel consumption is 5.9 – 6.3 L per 100km. It is a bit off Mazda’s claim of 5.1 L per 100km and its rivals boast better figures but it is still very economical for the city driving I do.
Up front there is plenty of room, and in the drivers seat all your instruments are wrapped around you and it feels quite sporty. Ergonomically the Mazda is delightful with easy to use controls and switches all round. The heads-up display in the Genki model is a truly fantastic feature and the controls for the MZD Connect are intuitively placed where your left hand will fall, and it takes no time to memorize where the controls are. I love how you can control everything with a dial rather than purely touchscreen, however sometimes it can be a little bit slow to respond to commands. At nighttime the Navigation screen is very bright, and it gets boring to have to constantly adjust the brightness, so you end up putting up with the bright display. Other great features are the auto climate control and auto lights and wipers, hill start assist and cruise control.
Rear seat space is cramped if you have a long torso however most people are fine for the size of car it is. The boot is tiny, however I can live with a small boot. My main issue is the shape of the boot makes it laughably impractical when compared to its rivals. There is a high load lip, and with the back seats folded down there is a big lip where the seats fold. It is defiantly not the most practical car, but still good enough to cover the basic needs (just).
The stop/start system or “i-Stop” is fine just going about your business in regular traffic, and it saves about 10% of fuel approx. I have certainly experienced rougher systems (i.e. Audi A1 and Alfa Mito). If you are in heavy traffic it is catastrophically aggravating, because it doesn’t wait until you have come to a complete stop before switching the engine off, so if you are slowly creeping at 2-3 kph ready to take off it will shut off the engine and cause a delay before setting off again. I turn it off in heavy traffic, however unlike in the Clio, it doesn’t remain off, when you turn the car on again.
Last niggles, if you have a medium to tall drink/drink bottle in the cup holders you will knock it every time you change gears, but there are additional cup holders in the driver and passenger door pockets for larger drinks. Also I’m very disappointed I missed out on the leather seats, LED Running Lights and parking sensors in the 2016 update. However you don’t need the parking sensors, visibility is perfectly fine to maneuver tight spaces. I’ve heard complaints regarding road noise with the 2, however I honestly don’t find it a problem. Its competitors may be quieter, however, it 2 is far from a noisy car. Servicing intervals might bother some people at every 10,000km, but it has life-time capped price servicing so you know in advance the costs.
Complaints aside, the Mazda 2 is an exciting and loveable car. I think the Kodo Design has transferred beautifully into the new 2 and I think the red complements its lines beautifully. The part leather interior trim, tactility of the switches, makes the car feel and look more premium and expensive than it actually is. There is a little bit of fake carbon fiber here and there which I find to be a little bit gimmicky but they have not gone over the top with it. I would recommend this car to anyone who is in the market for a small car.