Most small cars are sensible (rather than sensational) when it comes to their looks. The Mazda 2 offers something different from the norm though, with a curvaceous design lifted from its larger sibling, the Mazda3 hatch. It has a wide chrome grille, oversized lights, and neatly shaped panels, so it looks compact and sporty, despite now coming with five doors. Base models have steel wheels and plastic covers, and have to make do without fog lights, or LED running lights. Mid-range SE-L versions get 15-inch alloys, but only the top Sport models get the eye-catching LED headlights you can see in our pictures. There are a range of accessories though, including sporty stickers, and larger 16-inch alloy wheels.
The materials feel robust, and the layout is simple, so it’s really easy to navigate the dashboard
Anyone who bought the previous Mazda 2 will struggle to recognise the interior of this new car. In other words, it now looks great, and is right up there with the best small cars. The driving position is a bit too high, so you feel like you sit on the car, rather than in it, but there’s enough adjustment to the seat and steering wheel to accommodate most drivers. The materials feel robust, and the layout is simple, so it’s really easy to use, even on the move. The big circular air-vents look great and feel substantial, as does the smart, leather-wrapped steering wheel. Forward visibility is good, but the thick C-pillars do obstruct your when joining a motorway. The touchscreen infotainment system is fairly easy to use, but can be slow to respond; a VW Polo has clearer menus.
This is not the Mazda’s biggest strength – but it provides a decent amount of space for up to four adults. Those in the back will be a little squeezed for room though, and rivals like the Hyundai i20 and Skoda Fabia are both considerably more spacious, especially with three sat across the rear bench. The door pockets in the front are quite small, but will just about carry a 500ml bottle of water. The boot is reasonable rather than outstanding, with 280-litres of capacity. Its tall, narrow shape limits the type of luggage you can fit inside though, and it has a high loading lip too. Base ‘SE’ models come without the 60:40 split folding seats, and even on cars that do have this feature, the seat backs leave a big step in the load bay, which isn’t ideal when you’re loading larger items.
Ride and handling
Anyone who enjoys driving on a challenging road will love the nimble Mazda 2
There is plenty to like about the way the Mazda 2 drives. Anyone who enjoys driving on a challenging road will love its tight body control, keen turn-in and high levels of grip. It feels light and agile compared to many rivals, but is still very easy to drive in town. The steering is a little inconsistent (a Ford Fiesta is sharper still) and seems to vary its responsiveness depending on how much lock is applied, but the Mazda is more fun to drive than most. The downside of this agility is that it’s not exactly the softest riding supermini. Even on the non Sport versions, the ride is quite firm, and at low speeds, or on scruffy town roads, it rarely settles down. Things do improve once you’re out of urban areas, but big bumps and crests will jostle you around the cabin.
Small cars keep getting bigger and bigger – but also need to be more efficient than ever. Most car makers tackle this problem by turbocharging small petrol engines, to deliver a good mixture of performance and economy. Mazda, however, do things very differently. The 1.5-litre Skyactiv engines in the Mazda2 have a larger capacity than most superminis, but deliver similar performance. The petrol comes in three different states of tune; 74bhp, 89bhp and 113bhp. We’ve tried the top two, and while the extra power of the most potent version does make a difference on steep hills and the motorway, most buyers will find the 89bhp version quick enough. It needs working hard to extract decent pace, and if you do push this engine it becomes noisy at higher revs. The 1.5-litre diesel is much punchier in-gear, with 162lb ft of torque, and needs working less, but also costs more than its petrol twin. The manual gearbox is a joy to use, and comes with five or six speeds, depending on the power output – there is also a six-speed automatic available on petrol models.
The diesel version is particularly efficient, with tailpipe emissions of just 89g/km
The Mazda 2 costs marginally more than its closest rivals, such as the Ford Fiesta, and Skoda Fabia. That means it will cost a bit more as a company car, despite its low CO2 emissions across the board. The company’s Skyactiv technology features in every car, including a smooth start/stop system, which saves fuel. The diesel version is particularly efficient, with tailpipe emissions of just 89g/km, and an economy figure of over 80mpg. The Mazda 2 does come with more standard equipment than its competitors though, and has decent residual values. The company is known for its highly competitive PCP finance deals too, which will suit plenty of buyers, as it’s a popular way to run small cars like this. Mazda also regularly introduces special editions of its most popular models, which add in loads of optional extras, for only a small increase in the on-the-road price.
The previous version of the Mazda 2 was one of the most reliable small cars that you could buy, at least according to several leading customer satisfaction surveys. We see no reason to doubt that this new model will match that class-leading performance. Its interior looks and feels very well made, from materials that seem built to last. Mazda has a rather enviable reputation for mechanical reliability too, so the engines are unlikely to cause any issues. However owners are only given a small safety net though, with a warranty of only three years or 36,000 miles, whichever comes first, whereas some rivals offer up to seven years of cover. Even so, we’ll confidently predict that the new Mazda 2 is a safer bet than most small cars, and is unlikely to cause you problems.
All versions of the Mazda 2 come with six airbags, traction control, tyre pressure monitors and hill hold assist, which stops you from rolling backwards on the steepest inclines. The SE-L version comes with active safety technology on top of this standard kit roster. This includes lane departure warning, which works by vibrating the wheel and giving an audible alarm if you stray out of lane without indicating, and automatic emergency braking at low speeds. It also has an adjustable speed limiter, which works with the cruise control. Top-spec versions come with the option of a ‘Safety Pack’ which boosts the specification even further, with blind spot monitors, a head-up display, high beam assist (to dip the lights for you) and a sensor that will alert you if any traffic is passing behind you when reversing. However not all of this equipment is standard across the entire range, and the Mazda 2 only earned a four-star rating from Euro NCAP in crash tests.
The SE-L trim offers the best value, with cruise control, DAB digital radio, and Bluetooth
There are three trim levels to choose from in the Mazda 2: SE, SE-L, and Sport. The top two trims can also be had with or without sat-nav – which pushes the price tag up by a few hundred pounds. The SE models are best avoided, as despite featuring essentials like air-con and front electric windows, they miss out on Bluetooth, DAB radio, and lots of other equipment that you’ll find is offered on the cheaper trims of competitor small cars. The SE-L trim is far better value, with a leather steering wheel, cruise control, and (if you go for the 89bhp 1.5-litre engine) a touch-screen infotainment system, which works well. Dig a little deeper for the Sport model, and you’ll also get automatic lights and wipers, climate control, keyless entry and start, and other goodies normally found on big saloons. The sat-nav system deserves a special mention. It’s easy to use, monitors traffic, and quickly finds the quickest routes to your chosen destination.
The Mazda 2 is a great choice for anyone who wants a good looking small car that is fun to drive, and affordable to run. The interior is smart and sophisticated, with a reasonable amount of space, and the 1.5-litre engines all provide eager performance and high mpg. If you need a big boot, or comfy ride though, there are better alternatives.