Car manufacturers talk a lot about car design as a ‘language’ and they like creating new ones. A new design language is a change in direction in terms of design for a manufacturer’s range of cars and this new look usually gets a premiere with an avant-garde concept that does indeed look gorgeous, sporty and eye-catching.
The promise is always that what you see on a revolving stand in Geneva, Paris, New York, Tokyo or Frankfurt will influence production models.
But by the time the designers get around to restyling the brand’s smallest models, the exciting new design language that took your breath away a few months earlier will be harder to find than an ancient language like Yola.
Somehow the designer’s vision never seems to translate so well when confined within the parameters of what it takes to make a modern, affordable, efficient small car with mass market appeal.
Ah but not so for the new Mazda2. Mazda’s KODO design philosophy has translated really well within the compact frame of the Mazda2 – it’s a bit of a looker, with enough presence on the road to prey on larger cars and eat its peers for breakfast should they find a Mazda2 in their rear view mirror. The inspiration for KODO design is the pent-up energy of an animal about to pounce, so if the Mazda2 looks predatory to you, that’s a success.
My test car (pictured) was finished in Soul Red, which is now a bit of a Mazda signature colour. It carries a small premium over other metallics, but it really shows off the Mazda2’s sculpted curves and creases.
Inside there is a distinctly upmarket, mature and refined flavour to the Mazda2, and it’s not difficult to draw parallels between this and Audi interiors. Granted my test car was in top spec GT trim and the plush quotient was upped a bit by a posh two-tone, cream and black interior . But the combination of the clean, elegant lines of the dash, stylish circular vents, slick infotainment screen and sophisticated rotary dial commander, gives the Mazda2 serious style. Some European competitors could take some pointers from this.
Though compact on the outside, the Mazda2 is competitive in the small car class in terms of space. It’s comfortable up front, and in the rear, head and leg room is adequate for this class. The boot is 280 litres, which is a bit off say the 330 litres in a Skoda Fabia – but it’s close when compared to the likes of the Ford Fiesta, Volkswagen Polo and Opel Corsa. There is a quite a high lip.
There are four trim levels for the Mazda2 in Ireland – SE, Executive, Executive SE and GT – and a choice of a 1.5-litre diesel (105bhp) or a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine with two power outputs, 75 or 90bhp. The 90bhp version is exclusively available on GT trim. While many rivals have turned to small turbocharged petrol units in the quest for more power and economy, such an engine is absent from the Mazda2 line-up.
A problem? Well certainly the Mazda2 is small and light so the 90bhp is adequate power and you will hit 100km/h from a standstill in 9.4 seconds. Emissions and economy are on par too – this model has an annual motor tax bill of €190 and will return up to 63mpg.
The power delivery is slightly different however. In the Mazda the power has to build, and the engine can feel a bit flat in higher gears. It’s not that it’s underpowered – it’s just that you have to search for the power through the gearbox to overtake and you never quite get the same sort of immediacy of throttle response and strong burst of power when you change gear as you would with the help of a turbo.
The Mazda2 balances easy progress, good handling with smooth comfort most of the time, though the manhole covers, potholes and other random bumps and ruts of Irish roads will make themselves known in the cabin.
There is a mature but fun feel to this car – mature in that it feels solid and stable on the road and cruises comfortably without too much intrusion from road and wind noise. It’s fun because of its natural, precise steering and composure through bends. The gearbox has a magnificent sporty action to it through a short throw. Find a series of fast flowing corners and the Mazda2 will change direction and glide around them with confidence and ease – and you will enjoy doing it (if the engine was a bit punchier for exiting those bends we’d be close to small car motoring nirvana!).
An entry level SE model with the 75bhp, 1.5-litre petrol comes in at €15,995 with front electric windows and mirrors, remote central locking, tyre pressure monitor, hill hold assist, steering wheel mounted audio controls and keyless start. Executive trim with the same engine has a list price of €16,995 and adds 15” alloy wheels, electric windows all round, Bluetooth, air con, cruise control and front fog lights.
Executive SE trim comes in at €19,495 for the 90bhp petrol engine and the only automatic option in the line-up. This trim also opens up the option of a 105bhp diesel with a manual gearbox at €22,195. The highlights in terms of equipment are a lane departure warning system, smart city brake and the 7” inch screen for infotainment with a very nifty rotary dial commander and useful shortcut buttons located on the centre console. Top spec GT comes in at €19,495 or €20,595 with the leather and LED pack. This is for the buyer wanting something a little bit more special and the GT certainly delivers with a gorgeous interior that’s well kitted out.
The Mazda2 blends mature elegance with a lighter, fun side. Practicality wouldn’t be a stand-out feature and the engine line-up is not as extensive as some rivals. But the Mazda2 feels like a quality offering in this segment – not only does it have a smart, well-finished interior but it’s also a well-engineered small car that’s good to drive.
Model tested: Mazda 2 1.5-litre SkyActiv-G 90bhp GT
Price: €21,240 (Range starts at €15,995)
Engine: 1.5-litre petrol
0-100km/h: 9.4 seconds
Economy: 63mpg (4.5l/100km)
CO2 emissions: 105g/km
Tax band: A3 (€190 per year)