Oh, how the mighty have fallen. I’m sitting in my driveway at the wheel of my new long term Mazda 2, grappling with what can only be called a reality check.
Since joining Wheels two and a half years ago, I’ve enjoyed a golden run of long termers. Even as the office junior I managed to wangle a Toyota 86, then a Range Rover Evoque, and most recently a Volkswagen Golf GTI Performance.
Lofty heights, you’ll agree, so the news that my next long termer would be a Mazda 2 – a budget city car – was difficult to swallow.
Granted, this makes me sound like a massive snob. I shouldn’t have worried; this Mazda 2 is seriously impressive.
The model I have here is the range-topping Genki, which, thanks to $200 of premium paint costs $20,190. That’s a five grand hike over the base $14,990 Neo, but there’s plenty of bling for your buck, like 16-inch alloys, automatic wipers, an enormous and intuitive 7.0-inch infotainment display, cruise control, Bluetooth, sat-nav and the same head-up display system as an up-spec Mazda 3.
It also has one of the best small-car interiors around. It might be a ‘light car’, but the Genki’s carefully executed interior is wonderfully premium. The dash design is a masterstroke, as are the digital/analogue instruments and leather multi-function steering wheel. Even the Audi-esque circular air-con vents scream class.
The exterior design is a highlight, too. The old 2 was a soft, feminine thing to look at, but this new car, infused with Mazda’s Kodo design language and a new, angular front, is suitably handsome.
Where the 2’s magic really lies, though, is under the bonnet. After six months in the king of all Golf GTIs, I feared the 2’s engine would feel gutless. Again, I was wrong.
Genki and mid-spec Maxx variants run a higher output, higher compression (13.0:1) version of Mazda’s new 1.5-litre naturally aspirated four and it’s a gem. Muscular, flexible and almost unbelievably tractable, it’s easily one of the best applications of Mazda’s SkyActiv engine tech.
True, given its modest 81kW and 141Nm outputs, the Genki is no powerhouse, but select the right gear and it never feels underpowered, even on hilly roads. And swapping cogs in the 2’s crisp six-speed manual ’box is no hardship. In fact, the beautifully oiled, mechanical-feeling gearshift is so sweet I’ve found myself changing ratios unnecessarily, purely for fun.
The one glaring chink in the Genki’s armour is the lack of a reversing camera, which is a $420 option. This oversight is a shame, not only because competitors such as Honda’s base $14,990 Jazz include one as standard, but because the 2’s narrow, sweeping glasshouse and thick C-pillar mean you really need one. Reversing out of angle parks is a rather tricky experience.
Still, I can honestly say that, so far, I’m rapt in the little Mazda. It’s so convincing that if I’d just dropped $20K of my own hard-earned on it, I wouldn’t be disappointed. It not only boasts remarkable value and an involving, economical drivetrain, but thanks to its stylish new look and superb interior, it has character and personality, too.
Reality check? Pah, seems my golden run of long termers continues.
The top-spec Genki we have here might bristle with high-tech toys and a stunning interior, but Mazda says the most popular variant will be the base $14,990 Neo, which will account for a whopping 60 percent of sales. Mid-spec Maxx and Genki models will each draw 20 percent of buyers. Neo models make do with a lower-output 79kW/139Nm 1.5-litre atmo four, roll on 15-inch steel wheels and, thanks to a plastic steering wheel and different instrument layout, lack the Genki’s interior sparkle.
Is bigger better?
New Mazda 2 is larger than its predecessor everywhere except width. Overall length has grown 160mm, it’s 20mm taller and the wheelbase is 80mm longer. Its wheels now sit closer to the car’s corners, and while the new 2 isn’t necessarily roomier, it’s a lot more comfortable. Front seats, which come from the Mazda 3, are wide yet supportive, as is the rear bench.
This article was originally published in Wheels June 2015.
Click here to read the full range review on the Mazda 2.