While it is true that some of the best value cars on the market can be found at the mid-level of the so-called B-segment for hatchbacks, what has been lacking is a small car with spunk. The Fiesta is fun to drive, sure, but it looks a bit humdrum. The Germans (Corsa and Polo) have grown up and feel like bigger cars. And the Toyota Yaris doesn't really register on the fun(k)-o-meter, either. Enter the Mazda2, a model its maker says puts driving enjoyment high on the priority list. But, we wonder, at what cost?
Edgy looks for Mazda2Mazda has finally emerged from its jelly-bean era of forgettable design in recent years. The latest Mazda2 is a case in point. From its gaping front airdam, to the curves over the front wheels and the rising shoulder line, the Mazda2 is certainly one of the sportiest cars in its class. In Dynamic trim as tested here, it also gains smart 15-inch alloy wheels and a tailgate spoiler among other smaller trim additions. The colour palette offered by Mazda is also suitably fruity.
The sporty looks of the Mazda2 have not compromised the interior packaging. In fact, with a relatively long wheelbase of 2 486 mm, the Mazda doesn't only gain a wheels-at-the-corners stance, but also a spacious interior. Rear legroom is surprisingly good given the compact dimensions, and even headroom will be sufficient for most adults. The only real let-down is the boot, which can only accommodate 250 litres-worth of luggage, and that is with a space-saver spare wheel, too. The rear seats can fold forward, of course.
Mazda's designers have done well to carry the sporty theme through to the facia of the car. The instrumentation is particularly attractive, with an oversized speedometer taking pride of place, overlapping a small rev counter on the left and a digital trip computer on the right. The centre section of the facia also boasts some smart design, with a very neatly integrated audio system and rotary controls for the ventilation system. If there is a design- or trim-related complaint, it really only concerns the overwhelming expanses of shiny, hard, black plastic. Had Mazda added metallic surrounds for the neat ventilation outlets and door handles, for example, perhaps the monotony would not be so overbearing. That said, build quality is as good as one tends to expect from Mazda.
Dynamic trim includes a number of features not commonly found at this price level. Although the steering wheel is only adjustable for height, the seat can move up and down, too, so a comfortable driving position is easy to find. The steering wheel itself is a sporty three-spoke item with very solid-feeling remote audio controls incorporated on one of the spokes. By the way, an auxiliary port for the sound system is also provided. Furthermore, there are dual front airbags, ABS with EBD, front and rear fog lamps, electric windows and mirrors all-round (including power folding for the mirrors).
Mazda2 offers eager performanceMuch of the Mazda2's surprising verve stems from it being relatively lightweight compared with its peers, weighing in at under a tonne. The fact that the 1,3-litre engine develops 62 kW and 121 Nm of torque is therefore not so much of a concern. In fact, the Mazda2 feels livelier than the 0-100 km/h time of 13,2 seconds makes it sound. There is a negative, however. The lightness has certainly come at the expense of some refinement, because road and mechanical noise do filter into the cabin more noticeably than on some rivals. However, if your'e a driving enthusiast, the higher levels or engine noise are unlikely to be a major turn-off, especially when you keep in mind that the lightness also contributes to the excellent fuel consumption figure of 5,4 litres/100 km.
Like almost all cars in its segment, the Mazda2 makes use of a MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension arrangement. And just like many others, it boasts an electrically assisted power steering system. Yet, from behind the wheel, the Mazda2 feels rather different. There's still some of that slight steering vagueness around the straight-ahead position, but turn it with purpose and you'll be surprised (and delighted) with its exquisite weighting and precision. The suspension, which is firmer than most cars in this segment and consequently can get crashy over poor surfaces, is a delight on smooth roads. The Mazda2 provides exceptional grip for this class and excellent body control, too. Combine all of this with the precise steering and good throttle response from the eager little engine and you have a car that really lives up to the expectations of driving enjoyment created by its maker.
Mazda2 - VerdictThe Mazda2 won't be for everyone. The ride is quite firm, which can be tiresome if you regularly drive over poor surfaces. The relatively poor NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) control means the cabin can be quite noisy, too. And the boot is too small. In all other respects, however, the Mazda2 is comfortably near the top of its class, but adds a proper dose of driving enjoyment to the mix which no other car in this class can quite match. It's a winner.
· Eager engine
· Fuel economy
· Standard features
· Build quality
We don't like:
· Ride refinement
Engine: 1,3-litre, four-cylinder, petrol
Power: 62 kW @ 6 000 rpm
Torque: 121 Nm @ 3 500 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Wheels: 15-inch alloy
Top speed: 172 km/h
0-100 km/h: 13,2 seconds
Fuel economy: 5,4 litres/100 km
·Volkswagen Polo 1,6 Comfortline: A fair bit more expensive than the Mazda but Comfortline trim gets you a decent specification level, a more powerful 1,6-litre engine and solid residuals. Understandably popular but lacks a standard service plan.
· Opel Corsa 1,4 Enjoy: A very solid newcomer that offers a good blend of build quality, specification and back-up (a service plan is standard). The Opel is a slightly more spacious, refined car all-round but lacks the Mazda's sparkle.
· Toyota Yaris Spirit: This very popular car has a similar power output and performance to the Mazda, but trumps everything in this segment in terms of safety, seven airbags are fitted. Otherwise, not to much to write home about, but there is that promise of reliability and Toyota after-sales care.