Richard Aucock | March 2015
You’re probably very familiar with the old Mazda2. Resplendent in green, it’s the star of the LV car insurance TV ads. (Even if you don’t know the car, you’ll know the music.) Mazda customers know it well too, because its dealers sell around 1,000 a month; OK, Ford’s Fiesta sells ten times that, but the 2 is still an important car for Mazda.
Indeed, with the 2015 arrival of the all-new MX-5, it represents a real opportunity. Because there’s also an all-new Mazda2, using the firm’s clever, lightweight SKYACTIV chassis and engineering technology, and benefitting from the latest Kodo design that’s helped make the Mazda6 and forthcoming CX-3 such striking-looking cars.
Now with no Ford input (the old one shared engineering with the Fiesta), this is Mazda at its best: a focus on light weight, clever but affordable technology and a bit more of a sporting focus than is perhaps normal in the practicality-obsessed supermini sector. Because Mazda doesn’t have to chase the mass market, it can create a car that straddles the gap between mainstream and premium, with
It certainly looks smart, particularly in optional Soul Red metallic. The sweeping front end is crisp, further enhanced by the LED daytime running light pattern of the Sport Nav (SE and SE-L variants are also available). Mazda’s taken visual mass out of the side profile, which we like, and although the rear is uncannily similar to the old one, the designers have still lightened and modernised it.
Inside, it’s been transformed over the slightly bleak and plasticky old car. It’s a cracking interior, edging towards MINI levels of quality, with a modern, grown up design and chunky, clicky, feel-good controls marking a big step on. The high centre console with a handily-placed gearlever creates a bit of a cockpit feel and the central rev counter of Sport Nav versions means it’s not just the ample seats and perfect, straight-ahead driving position that reminds you of the MX-5.
The infotainment system is particularly impressive, with a BMW-style rotary controller between the seats but touchscreen functionality for the (again) BMW-style stand-proud screen in the dash. It works so well, we’d say the £400 for nav-equipped cars is a must-spend.
It’s also roomy enough, benefitting from a stretch in length to just over four metres. There’s a class-average 280-litre boot, an adult-sized driving position and room enough for adults in the rear, too. Cars such as the new Skoda Fabia ace it on space but most won’t find much to complain about here – it’s certainly competitive with a Fiesta there. But is it as good as the wonderful Fiesta to drive: can it live up to the MX-5 comparisons?
What’s the 2015 Mazda2 like to drive?
The Mazda2 weighs from 1,045kg, rather less than most normal superminis. This is significant. It gives the car a well-engineered integrity that’s a bit less damped and a bit more involved than the generic supermini norm.
It does all the conventional stuff well. OK, the ride’s on the taut side of non-sporting but it’s always well controlled and pay-off comes with tidy, light-on-its-feet handling and a chuckable sharpness to the steering. Besides, Mazda’s still taken a lot of the harshness to bumps out of the suspension, that owners of the old car will notice and appreciate.
It’s easy to drive too with, again, an overlay of driver focus making the neat, accurate steering and lovely snappy gearshift pleasing to all. We wouldn’t mind a bit more toque from the 90hp 1.5-litre petrol engine (that’s where the volume sales will be), but at least it doesn’t completely bog down thanks to the car’s low mass and engine’s bigger-than-normal capacity. Trip computer stats suggest it’s efficient enough too.
We’d like it to be a bit less whiney, though. It’s not the most subtle of engines; it’s hardly loud, but the energetic bark is certainly prominent, particularly when revved. This is perfect for those who appreciate the sportiness, but will perhaps be a surprise to those used to the deeper, more subdued hum of modern turbo petrol alternatives such as the 1.0 Ecoboost Fiesta.
On the Mazda2 brand specialist’s advice, we eschewed the turbodiese (just 5 per cent of sales) and tried the 115hp Sport Nav model instead. Key differences here? More power and, significantly, a six-speed gearbox. Logic would suggest it shouldn’t be that different; it is, fully justifying the ‘sport’ name.
The closer ratios make it feel even livelier and the 115hp engine tune somehow feels zingier and more spirited than the 90hp, even though torque figures are identical. It loves to rev, loves being thrown down twisting back roads and, while it’s not a focused hot hatch like a Fiesta ST, the purity of it makes for a super warm hatch alternative for £3k less. C’mon, Mazda, now stick the MX-5 engine in and see what it can do…
Is the 2015 Mazda2 an MX-5 supermini?
Mazda quite rightly mentions the sublime MX-5 often. As well it should, when you’ve got a car so sublime coming to market for such an accessible price. But for those who need a few more seats, more practicality, more ease of use and all the other sensible-shoes stuff, there is indeed a bit of that MX-5 spirit in the Mazda2 to please them.
It’s the little things that you notice day-to-day. The snappy, direct gearshift is better-defined than is normal in this class of car. The revvy petrol engines relish and reward holding onto gears. The steering wheel is a lovely thing to hold (and the directness it gives back isn’t bad, either).
The light weight of the car gives it more purity than you may expect from a cooking supermini, too. Chuck it into a corner and its nimble front end doesn’t default into understeer; throw it across a challenging Devon back road (like we did on the launch) and you don’t get the sense of mass taking over. It’s light on its feet and driver-pleasing as a result.
OK, it’s not a rear-drive sports car that revs to 7,500rpm. But it does still have a few of the vibes felt in the MX-5 to make it feel a bit different to the rest. Maybe that’s why customers have snapped up the £14,995 Sport Edition launch car, crafted to uncannily mimic the new MX-5 in the Mazda website banner ads. We’re pleased to report they haven’t been deceived.
Verdict: 2015 Mazda2
We like the new 2015 Mazda2 a lot. Like the firm’s other new-era Skyactiv designs, it’s a car that feels like it’s been thoughtfully engineered by specialists rather than just created by committee set on meeting generic targets.
It’s this that gives it a bit of the MX-5 spirit; sure, it’s not quite the driver-focused sportscar the Mazda two-seater is, but there’s still plenty there to please enthusiasts without scaring off the core buyers. For this, and the way it looks, and the cut-above interior, it’s certainly worth spending the little extra it costs over those generic supermini alternatives.
Rivals: 2015 Mazda2
- Ford Fiesta
- Renault Clio
- Volkswagen Polo
- Skoda Fabia
- Vauxhall Corsa
Specification: 2015 Mazda2
Engine 1.25-litre four-cylinder petrol, 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel
Gearbox Five/six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Price from £11,995
Torque 100-162lb ft
0-62mph 8.7-12.1 seconds
Top speed 106-124mph