Mazda 2 review
Mazda 2 aims to take on the supermini elite with good looks, a fun drive and plush interior
The fourth-generation Mazda 2 has a tough job on its hands; not only does it have to compete against the UK’s best-selling car, the Ford Fiesta, is goes up against the Vauxhall Corsa, VW Polo, Peugeot 208 and even the Audi A1 and MINI 5dr.
Taking cues from the CX-5, Mazda 6 and Mazda 3, it features a chiseled exterior and a plush interior with more space and a bigger boot than before – thanks to an 80mm increase in wheelbase. It’s great fun to drive, too, thanks to its low kerbweight, agile chassis and a range of brand-new SKYACTIV engines and transmissions.
A punchy yet efficient new 1.5 SKYACTIV-G petrol is available in three power outputs and with new six-speed manual or automatic gearboxes, while the new 1.5 SKYACTIV-D is only available with 104bhp and a manual gearbox, but returns incredible fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 83.1mpg and 89g/km – putting it among the cleanest cars in its class.
The Mazda 2 is packed with technology, too, including a head-up display, a seven-inch central touchscreen with excellent smartphone connectivity and safety kit including an auto brake function and lane departure warning.
Our choice: Mazda 2 1.5 SKYACTIV-G SE-L 90
Mazda has applied its Kodo design language to the new 2, and as a result it looks very much like a scaled-down version of the 3 family hatchback. There’s the familiar trapezoidal grille treatment that features the brand’s chrome-finished ‘wing design’ insert first seen on the facelifted 6 saloon.
Elsewhere you’ll spot the bold creases and curves along the car’s flanks, the swooping roofline and the steeply rising waist. It looks a bit heavy-handed and bulbous at the rear, but overall the 2 is a smart and distinctive small car.
All models get body-coloured door mirror housings and a subtle tailgate spoiler, while SE-L models can be identified by 15-inch alloys and front foglights. Flagship Sport versions pack the most kerb appeal courtesy of their larger 16-inch wheels, LED daytime running lights and colour-coded grille insert.
The eye-catching design continues inside, where Mazda has attempted to push the 2 upmarket. For instance, the neatly styled dashboard gets a trio of eyeball air vents (the fourth is cleverly hidden in the facia below the infotainment touchscreen) that feature controls with an Audi-style, metal-effect knurled finish. Another highlight is the large speedometer flanked by digital readouts for the rev counter and trip computer.
Yet while the cabin looks smart and is robustly constructed, it can’t match the Volkswagen Polo for premium appeal. There are few soft-touch materials, while the plastics covering the top of the dash and door trims look and feel a little low rent. Also, the rear doors shut with a tinny clang.
On the plus side, soft leather covers the steering wheel and gearlever, while the switchgear feels sturdy in its operation.
Two all-new engines have been developed for the Mazda 2. The 1.5 SKYACTIV-G - available with 74bhp, 89bhp or 113bhp, and with a new six-speed manual or six-speed auto – does without a trendy turbo but has a compression ratio of 14:1 (the highest of any naturally aspirated petrol engine), a strategy that Mazda insists delivers better real-world economy. The figures certainly back that up.
The 1.5 SKYACTIV-D is only available with 104bhp and a manual ‘box – as with all supermini diesels, it’s difficult to justify the extra cost, but it offers decent performance and refinement.
The petrol engines really encourage you to drive hard, and you’ll be rewarded with near-hot hatch levels of performance in even the 89bhp version. The engine revs freely and has good response, but when you push it hard it sounds a bit uncultured and old-school. It’s perfectly civilised when cruising at lower speeds, though.
The entry-level 74bhp petrol is adequate enough but it needs to be worked hard. However, like the 89bhp, once up to speed the entry-level petrol cruises well.
The diesel has an incredibly linear power delivery for a turbocharged engine and stays refined even when you ask it to rev.
The steering could do with some more feel and weight in corners but its direct and fast enough to let you string a series of corners together smoothly and with plenty of confidence. The manual gearshift, as with all Mazdas, is reminiscent of the MX-5's with a short, sporty throw and a satisfying click as you select each gear.
Hit a pothole in the version equipped with 16-inch wheels and you’ll know about it – as you’d expect with a car with this level of pizzazz, the ride is best described as sporty. But otherwise the driving experience is refined and comfortable enough to make the 2 an excellent long-distance car, not just an urban runaround. The 2 is also impressively quiet and composed on the motorway, with little wind or road noise.
Mazda’s track record is excellent – the 3 claimed a top 25 finish in our 2014 Driver Power satisfaction survey, in particular praising its reliability and build quality. Although the 2 features all-new engines, we’d expect the new car to be as reliable as any other Mazda – there shouldn’t be any need to trouble the three-year warranty.
Euro NCAP hasn’t had a chance to crash test the latest Mazda 2 yet, but it has a good base to start from with a body that’s 22 per cent stiffer than its predecessor, while Mazda will be aiming for top marks thanks to a suite of hi-tech safety systems available to customers.
These include an auto braking function, blind spot detection, a lane departure warning system and high beam control that automatically dips the lights before you dazzle any oncoming traffic. The front, side and curtain airbags have been redeveloped to better restrain passengers; too, while the longer wheelbase means there’s a longer front-end crumple zone.
By stretching the wheelbase by 80mm, Mazda has managed to boost interior space in every direction. There’s more room in the back than a Ford Fiesta, and while two six-footers will probably struggle to sit one in front of the other, you could just about fit five adults at a squeeze. The new Hyundai i20 just has it beaten on interior space, though. There’s a large glove box in the front, along with door pockets shaped to hold large bottles.
The deep boot means you have to lower objects down into it, but the trade-off is much more space than before. There’s 280-litres with the rear seats in place, or 960-litres with the folded down (10 and 14-litres less than the Fiesta respectively, but 30 and 173-litres more than its predecessor). However, there’s a nasty step up in the boot floor when you fold the rear seats.
Ergonomics are spot-on, too; the range of adjustment for the front seats and steering wheel is superb, while the pedals are nicely positioned without any offset. As it’s only-offered as a five-door model, getting in and out of the rear seats is simple.
Mazda likes to think of itself as an honest car company, more interested in giving customers real-world fuel savings than focusing on spectacular results in the official EU economy cycle. That’s why its strategy is based around high-compression naturally-aspirated petrol engines rather than following the turbocharged, downsizing trend.
As a result its engines aren’t the cleanest in the class, but they are pretty close. The entry-level 74bhp version of the 1.5 SKYACTIV-G returns economy and CO2 emissions of 60.1mpg and 110g/km. Our pick and likely to be the most popular model is the 89bhp version, which returns 62.7mpg and 105g/km with the five-speed manual gearbox or 58.8mpg and 112g/km with the six-speed auto.
The range-topping 114bhp petrol is only available with a six-speed manual gearbox and returns 57.6mpg and 115g/km. The cleanest model in the range, and by quite some distance, is the 104bhp 1.5 SKYACTIV-D, capable of 83.1mpg and 89g/km – identical to the 104bhp VW Polo 1.4 TDI.