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“Having just spent the previous week in a brand new Volkswagen Polo which is direct competition to the Mazda2, it gave me an excellence comparative frame of reference. At first glance it’s off to a very good start.”
October this year marks a year since Mazda started operating as a separate entity in South Africa after successfully divorcing themselves from Ford late in 2014.
It’s been an impressive year for the Japanese marque who have successfully relocated offices and their warehouse facility as well as all the infrastructure needed to operate independently.
On top of this they’ve managed to bring to market the very impressive CX-5 compact SUV and Mazda2 hatchback as well as the new Mazda3 sedan and hatch as well as the Mazda6 sedan. With the much anticipated new MX-5 and CX-3 Crossover to be introduced in the very near future.
A very busy year then for Mazda South Africa
Indeed. Having not personally driven cars in the new Mazda range, I figured the best place to start is at the bottom, with the car you see here, the new Mazda2.
Saying that, just because the Mazda2 is the cheapest and smallest Mazda in the range doesn’t mean that it cheap and dull. Far from it, the Mazda2 is a very smart yet still funky enough looking hatchback which gives the current bunch of good looking hatchbacks such as the Ford Fiesta and Kia Rio a run for their money. The Volkswagen Polo? Well, that just looks positively bland in comparison.
Following on from the Mazda3, 6 and CX-5, the Mazda2 is now fully integrated into Mazda’s new corporate styling, dubbed KODO – Soul of Motion. It also features Mazda’s SKYACTIV technology which is Mazda’s all-encompassing philosophy of redesigning and engineering every component of their cars from structure, to engines and gearboxes, to be both environmentally friendly, efficient and just plain fun to drive.
Let me guess, it’s powered by a 3-cylinder 1.0-litre turbo engine?
No, I’m happy to report that Mazda has chosen to buck the current trend of engine downsizing and instead has stuck with traditional 4-cylinder engines in the Mazda2 range. Available in both petrol or diesel, both engine variants displace 1.5-litres.
As mentioned earlier, SKYACTIV means taking what is currently available in tweaking and re-engineering it to be the most efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. It makes sense. Instead of spending a fortune on research and development for a trendy new 3-cylinder turbo (reportedly R&D can stretch into the billions), Mazda has ploughed existing resources into efficiencies around their existing range.
Good news for enthusiasts who enjoy revving an engine – as opposed to wafting along a wave of low-end torque provided by a turbo engine – the naturally aspirated petrol engine in the 1.5 Dynamic spec model I drove, is an absolute gem. It produces 82kW and 145Nm and has plenty of shove to get the little hatchback moving around fairly quickly.
Fortunately, my test unit was of the three pedal variety (you can spec a 6-speed auto if you want), and again, Mazda have hit the sweet spot with this gearbox. It has one of the most satisfying actions I’ve felt in a small hatchback, with a positive ‘thwack’ when a new ratio hits home and is chunky and solid in feel.
Dynamically the Mazda2 is set up for comfort, obviously, and riding on standard 15-inch rims with 185/65 rubber you can tell why. I can say that this combination is perfect for our often treacherous South African roads, and it makes you wonder why manufacturers insist on huge European spec wheel and tyre combinations which are prone to buckling and popping at even the slightest meeting of a pothole. Of course, they look good.
Tell me about the inside?
Having just spent the previous week in a brand new Volkswagen Polo which is direct competition to the Mazda2, it gave me an excellence comparative frame of reference.
While the Polo serves up quality you’d expect from a far bigger and more expensive car, it does it in a rather boring fashion. The Mazda2’s interior echoes its dynamic exterior with an equally funky interior, with fit and finish and quality of materials being just as good as the Polo. It is without a doubt the car I would prefer to spend more time in.
Inside you get smatterings of quality (real) aluminium trim, and circular Audi-like air vents. A meaty leather wrapped multi-function steering wheel as well as leather gear knob and handbrake lever imparts a very upmarket feel, but what takes centre stage is the 7-inch multimedia screen. Sure it’s affixed to, and juts out of the top of the dashboard like an afterthought, but such is the fashion these days.
Controlled via a large circular knob which resides next to the handbrake and functions very much like BMW i-Drive system. Being both easy and intuitive to use, even complex tasks like changing audio settings or connecting your phone via Bluetooth are achieved with just a few twirls and clicks of the controller. Shortcut buttons for ‘Home’, ‘Music’ and ‘Nav’ certainly make life easier. Just behind the main controller knob is a smaller conventional knob for audio level/on and off.
Other standard equipment on the 1.5 Dynamic model includes air conditioning, push-button engine start, Bluetooth music streaming, Internet radio integration, 6 speaker audio system, power folding mirrors, height and reach adjustable steering wheel, driver and passenger airbags, and ABS brakes with EBD.
Let’s wrap this up
As a first encounter with the new Mazda range, the Mazda2 was a complete surprise. I liked it very much. With good looks, a superb engine and gearbox combination, a stacked standard specification list and with one of the best warranties and service plans available (both 3 year and unlimited kilometres), what is there not to like?
It also undercuts the competition by some margin, and in that regard it shoots to the top of the list as my favourite compact hatchback.
Mazda2 1.5 Active – R188 000.00
Mazda2 1.5 Dynamic – R199 900.00 (Driven)
Mazda2 1.5 Dynamic Auto – R213 300.00
Mazda2 1.5 Individual – R211 400.00
Mazda2 1.5 Individual Auto – R222 800.00
Mazda2 1.5 DE Hazumi Auto – R259 900.00