Mazda 2

The new Mazda 2 is a radical improvement over its predecessor, plus is fun to drive, too

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

Mazda's new baby is such a radical improvement over its predecessor, it deserves a new name! The 2 is a sharp-looking supermini with character to spare. It remains to be seen whether its compact size will be acceptable for buyers who will have to overlook larger and potentially cheaper rivals, but the 2 is fun to drive and impressively efficient.

Mazda's small car revolution starts here! Not only is the new 2 one of the best-looking superminis of 2007, its next-generation Ford Fiesta platform should give it everything it needs to take class honours.

The firm is determined to consign the memory of the old 2 to the bin. Ahead of the car's official launch in September, Auto Express took to the wheel of one of the first models to arrive in Europe to see if the dynamics live up to the attractive styling.

When you see the Mazda on the move, it's clear the company hasn't held back. The five-door machine's lines have been sculpted to create a car that looks agile, and with RX-8-style bulging wheelarches, plus a pronounced slash along the waistline, it's a design that works well.

But the firm had to do more than simply make the 2 look good. So, for the first time ever, a new Mazda is lighter than the model it replaces. That's due in part to its reduced overall length and lower roofline, but weight savings have been made throughout to make the hatchback leaner, more efficient and better to drive.

From behind the wheel, you are greeted by a heavily sculpted dashboard. The layout is simple and there's lots of seat adjustment – but no reach movement on the steering wheel.

Our test car came with Mazda's hi-tech 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine. With 102bhp, it will be the most powerful unit available at launch, but it also delivers 47.9mpg economy, thanks to its sequential valve timing and variable induction system.

Coupled to a slick-shifting gearbox operated via a dash-mounted 'stick, the engine provides brisk performance. It's coarse at high revs, but it offers more refinement than any engine in the outgoing 2 line-up – partly because of the extra sound deadening used. With Mazda keen to keep early testing to a minimum, we were restricted to a tight handling course for our drive. However, we can confirm that the newcomer is as agile as it looks. The electric power-steering is light and lacks feel, but the Mazda corners with precision. Even at speed it doesn't call on its stability control too often, tucking into bends with enthusiasm.

First indications are that the suspension set-up is capable at smoothing out the bumps too, but we'll have to wait and see how well it tackles the ruts and potholes of public roads.

So are there any downsides to the new 2? The only time the Mazda is likely to lack showroom appeal is when you open the tailgate. To increase stiffness, engineers have raised the boot lip and reduced the width of the opening. Capacity has actually dropped by 17 litres to 250 litres - that's 35 less than Vauxhall's Corsa. What's more, weight was saved by fitting simpler folding rear seats that merely flop forward on to the squab.

When it goes on sale in the UK, the 2 will initially be available with a choice of three engines - 74bhp and 85bhp 1.3-litre units and the 1.5-litre motor tested here. A 1.4-litre diesel will join the range in January, but Mazda has no plans for an MPS-badged hot hatch version.

Entry-level T variants come without air-con or alloy wheels, but will cost around £8,500, while range-toppers weigh in at around £12,000. The 2 will get cheaper still when the three-door version arrives in June next year, priced from roughly £8,000.

Mazda started from scratch with the new 2, and if boot space isn't your top priority, it's a tough car to beat.

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