Somewhere, there’s probably an unwritten rule that says small superminis need to be lifeless and boring in order to fulfil their calling as practical city transport.
Certainly some of the efforts you see biffing about town look distinctly like washing machines with a wheel at each corner, their manufacturers no doubt reasoning that a supermini’s role in life is to provide reliable and functional transport from one end of town to the other, and little else.
Thankfully, not all car makers subscribe to this view, and when time came for Mazda to develop a new Mazda2, they decided they’d inject their creation with a double-helping of zeal. As a result, the new Mazda2 goes about its business in a far more engaging way than you would otherwise think necessary. Or possible.
Ok, it’s true, the new car has grown a little in comparison to the old one – it’s 140mm longer, 20mm taller, and has an 80mm longer wheelbase – but rather than morph into some kind of overweight self-parody, the new 2 is only 10kg heavier than its predecessor, and that’s despite being loaded with new kit.
Much of that is thanks to the company’s ‘gram strategy’, the principle of shaving off the odd gram here and there on the basis the cumulative saving adds up to something more meaningful, but the larger exterior dimensions have allowed Mazda to offer up even more interior space than the old car, itself already the automotive equivalent of Dr Who’s Tardis.
In practical terms, there’s more shoulder room, more space between the driver and front passenger, and more knee-room for those in the back, where you’ll also find headroom that’s decent enough for a couple of six-footers. There’s 30 litres more boot space, too, now at 280 litres, rising to 950 litres with the seats folded.
In fact, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d climbed aboard a car from the segment above, such is the feeling of space from the front seats.
You might find yourself impressed with the quality of the finish, too. The materials have been upgraded almost everywhere – we particularly like the weave-effect trim that pops up throughout the interior, while the contrasting leather option lends the cabin a genuinely upmarket feel.
The fascia design is reminiscent of an aircraft wing, punctured by the desperately attractive swivelling air vents that look like jet engines. Perched atop this is Mazda’s excellent MZD Connect system, standard on all but the entry-level models.
It provides not just the usual suspects in terms of DAB digital radio and Bluetooth connectivity, but also internet services such as Aha and Stitcher, plus the ability to play music not just from your phone or iPod, but also from a good ol’ USB stick. Hell, there’s even a CD player if you’re still into that kind of thing.
On top of that, Mazda’s system offers a bewildering array of configuration options, from how many times the indicators flash to how long the lights stay on, and on Nav models the route guidance offers some of the clearest instructions available, as well as full European mapping and three years’ of free updates.
The system is presided over by what Mazda calls its Multimedia Commander, and although that conjures up images of a bossy civil servant in a hi-viz jacket, it’s actually a twisty-turny wheel mounted by the gear-lever that allows you to flick and scroll your way through the various menus. If that’s not for you, you can resort to jabbing a pinky at the touch-screen or barking at the surprisingly effective voice command system.
The gadget list doesn’t end there, though, with some models gaining LED running lights and headlights, automatic wipers, smart city brake support, and lane departure warning, plus an optional Safety Pack that includes a head-up display, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and automatic high-beam control.
Power comes from a choice of three petrol engines, all of 1.5-litres and with power outputs of 75, 90 or 115PS, plus a new 1.5-litre diesel with 105PS.
The diesel is the most efficient, emitting just 89 g/km of CO2 and recording up to 83.1 mpg in the official tests. The quickest is the 115PS petrol model, which can sprint from 0-62mph in a creditable 8.7 seconds while still emitting just 117 g/km and achieving up to 56.5 mpg.
We spent a week with the 90PS petrol, and despite its modest power output and 0-62mph time of 9.4 seconds, we discovered a little car that is far more endearing than it has any right to be.
The first inkling that Mazda’s engineers have gone just that little bit further comes at the first gear-change: Mazda consistently offers up a deliciously well-weighted shift action, and the new Mazda2 is no different.
That’s just as well, because you’ll need to rifle your way through the ‘box to keep things on the boil, although in truth that’s just a convenient excuse to snick the stubby lever from one ratio to the next.
However, the petrol engines are also remarkably forgiving; if you’re feeling lazy the little Mazda will happily lollop along in a high gear without the slightest complaint, and this lends the ‘2 an easy-going air of docility that’s particularly welcome around town.
We had little trouble winding up the little Mazda for a series of overtakes, and even when pulling out in to fast-moving traffic or doing battle on the motorway, the Mazda2 continues to feel like a bigger car than it really is.
That said, we wouldn’t object to a high-power version. The fabulously well-received Hazumi concept on which the new car is loosely based featured some delectable detailing, particularly the more pronounced roof spoiler, the enticing central exhaust pipes, and the chunky rear bumper, and we’d love to see these details make their way on to a production version – perhaps accompanied by a small-diameter turbo for the 1.5-litre petrol unit. We think that would make the ‘2 a seriously compelling option for a wider audience, without having to sacrifice the company’s fuel-efficient mantra.
Much of this desire stems from the fact the new Mazda2 is also a tidy handler. There’s some pitching when accelerating hard off the line, but lateral movements are well controlled, and while the steering does have a slight edginess around the straight-ahead position, either side of this it offers sharp turn-in and a lot less understeer than you might be expecting.
This eagerness hasn’t arrived at the expense of ride comfort, though: dropping the Mazda’s little wheels into the worst pot-holes we could find did little to upset things, and we were particularly impressed by the way the suspension’s movements were insulated from the cabin.
This is all adding up to an endearing little car: the brakes have real bite, it turns in well, is docile around town, rides quietly and comfortably, and we averaged around 53 mpg during our time with it.
The entry-level SE grade which starts at just under twelve grand can feel a little like the poor relation, but move up to the SE-L grade for just a thousand pounds more and you gain alloy wheels, fog lights, folding heated door mirrors, cruise control, speed limiter, lane departure warning, smart city brake support, and more.
The 90PS petrol engine is probably more than sufficient for most people, and while the 115PS version gains some welcome performance and loses little in terms of economy, it does nudge the price up to £16,995.
Strictly speaking, the new Mazda2 doesn’t need to have such a delightful gear-change, nor does it need to turn-in so keenly, ride so well, or offer such a feeling of space for its occupants.
But then this isn’t an ordinary supermini. Dare we say it, but it’s a supermini with soul.
|Entry-level Price||£11,995||Price as tested||£14,925|
|Engine||1496cc, 4-cyl petrol||Transmission||5-speed manual|
|Power||90ps @ 6,000rpm||Torque||148Nm @ 4,000rpm|
|0-62||9.4 secs||Top speed||114 mph|
|Economy||62.8 mpg||CO2||105 g/km|
|Dimensions||4060 x 1695 x 1495 (LWH)||Kerb Weight||1050 kg|