With the arrival of the all-new Mazda 2, the Hiroshima-based company has rounded its four core SKYACTIV models, adding the new 2 to the CX-5, Mazda 3 and Mazda 6. The outgoing Mazda 2 captured the World Car of the Year prize back in 2008, so the new model has a lot to live up to. And from our brief test of a pre-production model at the Shuzenji proving ground two hours south of Tokyo, first impressions are stellar for a hatch that has to knock horns with the likes of the Volkswagen Polo and Ford Fiesta.
Slightly bigger all-round than its predecessor, the Mazda 2 gains 160mm in length to 4,060mm, picks up 25mm in height to 1,500 mm, while its wheelbase stretches 80mm to 2,570mm and width remains unchanged. The bigger body delivers more leg and head room – as well as all-round visibility thanks to a larger windscreen and A-pillars that shift 100mm further forward. When you consider that the new 2 is a bigger car with significant new technologies, a curb weight gain of just 40kg (up from 990kg to 1,030kg) is more than acceptable.
Employing Mazda’s new signature ‘Kodo’ design language, the 2 inherits a similar grille and flowing lines as seen on the 3 and 6. However, we would argue that the 2’s overall proportions, contours and angles offer the best example of Mazda’s new design philosophy thus far.
Powering the new compact Mazda is a choice of the new 1.5-litre SKYACTIV turbo diesel or a 1.3-litre SKYACTIV petrol engine. Generating 103bhp and 220Nm of torque, the 1.5-litre diesel will be the main engine for Europe. Producing peak torque at around 5,000rpm, it delivers beefy response from as low as 1,500rpm all the way up to 5000rpm. While the 6-speed manual is well matched to the 1.5-litre diesel, surprisingly the gearing of the new 6-speed automatic extracted the best performance, especially at low revs.
On the road, the Mazda 2 picks up where the 3 and 6 left off. Chief engineer Ayumu Doi says that higher trailing arm mounts for the torsion-bar rear-end improve ride comfort and low to medium-speed stability. In addition, caster angle has been laid back 1.7 degrees to improve straight-line stability. That, in combination with the longer wheelbase, reduces pitching under braking and flattens out the car in the corners.
We found however, that the 2 still delivered a hint of bodyroll, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but at mid-range speeds the ride felt a touch too firm. Mazda tell us that minor adjustments will be made to the production model to improve ride quality.
The steering turns in well at speed but does feel slow and lacks feedback, a possible drawback of the standard-fit low rolling resistance tyres. The lower grip levels mean the car has a tendency to understeer when pushed. In fact, these tyres left us wondering how well the car would corner with grippier rubber.
Boasting four different interior trim combinations, the car’s cabin is a much nicer place to be. Apart from the entry-level bland grey cloth seat variant, the new 2 offers class-leading interior trim with the top of the range three-tone (cream, red and black) seat design taking Mazda design in a direction it’s never been before. Safety features have been significantly enhanced too. These include blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, radar cruise control, head-up display, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic high-beam.
Mazda has put a lot of effort into lifting the 2’s dynamics, design and quality levels to bring it in line with Europe’s class-leaders. With a totally new stylish look, new engines, sporty handling and improved trim levels, Mazda has placed it in the same playing field as the VW Polo and even the Audi A1. The car’s success will rest on how the market interprets its handling, ride comfort and interior quality and design flare, a combination of traits that have not been typical Mazda offerings up until now.