When the first official pictures of the new Mazda 2 were released, I thought it looks like a shrunken 3 hatchback. But in the metal, illuminated by soft Sapporo sunlight, the exterior design of the 2 appears to be bespoke, and not just a downsizing of its bigger sibling, although the black “quarter blades” where the integral tailgate spoiler meets the C-pillars seem to be the same as those on the five-door 3.
In his presentation, the car’s chief designer Ryo Yanagisawa showed how awkward and distorted the 2 would look if he just shrank the 3 hatchback. He also revealed the “eye of a beast” inspiration for the 2’s striking headlights, but this is more obvious with the high-spec four-lamp LED cluster than with the standard two-lamp halogen system.
Simply put, the new 2 looks good. It’s less pretty, perhaps, than the old 2, but its handsome styling will appeal to both sexes and it’s properly put together, too. The female demographic hasn’t been forgotten, though – one of the 11 body colours is Smoky Rose, similar to lilac.
The interior looks as attractive as the exterior, with an attention to detail that belies the 2’s junior status within the Mazda range.
The dashboard, for instance, has a swathe of pristine white leather right across, plus leather “knee pads” on both sides of the centre console (for the premium-grade model). It’s a classy touch in a small car, and it’s not even available in Mazda’s costlier 3 and 6 models. The funky upholstery pattern and made-in-Japan quality of the plastics and switches are the other “sellable” attributes inside the 2.
Compared to the 3 hatchback, there’s less space in the cabin and 250-litre boot of the 2. But it’s adequate for four Asian adults of average height, with decent legroom made possible by the significant 80mm increase in the 2’s wheelbase to 2570mm. The seats have to be compact to fit within the cabin, but they’re comfortable, especially the front chairs whose backrests and headrests are taller and cushier than before.
It’s easy to set my preferred driving position behind the wheel, with said wheel now equipped with adjustment of both rake and reach (the previous 2’s steering wheel can be adjusted for tilt only). Visibility is excellent through the front windscreen, past the A-pillars and via the mirrors.
Not that I’d be checking those mirrors often at Tokachi International Speedway, where Mazda held its media test drive of the 2 (prototypes with production-spec interiors). Driving the runabout on the circuit is like bringing just “2” bullets to a gunfight, but the car’s handling and acceleration are actually up to the task.
It’s not fast, of course, with only 115bhp to play with from its 1.5-litre engine. But the kerb weight is just over a tonne, and the SkyActiv 4-cylinder is hooked up to a responsive 6-speed automatic gearbox (the old model uses a mere 4-speeder), complete with little paddle-shifters and a well-placed Sport switch, the latter sharpening the response of the transmission and throttle. The Sport mode is useful on the track, but those paddles are not necessary, because the gearbox gets the job done on its own, holding the gears “high” within the rev range and shifting up/down promptly enough.
In the transmission’s manual mode, the shifts requested using the paddles or gearlever are slower than I like, but the engine is actually held at its redline for a few seconds before an auto upshift “overrides” the driver’s wishes. The new 2 feels so much sportier than the old 2, it’s almost a mildly hot hatch. Hitting 100km/h from a standstill takes 10 seconds flat, which is less impressive than how the car behaves in corners. The steering, which is light on initial turn-in, becomes firm and positive as it negotiates the bend at speed, with the vehicle steadily following through.
The positivity of the steering, along with the stability of the chassis, the “continental” confidence of the suspension, the bite of the brakes and the predictable grip from the 185/60 R16 tyres, makes the 2 a cooperative companion on the circuit. Not bad at all for a city car destined to live its life in the city, far away from any racetrack.
The engine is energetic and willing, all the way to 6000rpm. It’s clearly heard when hard at work, but it operates smoothly and there’s no untoward vibration through the bulkhead. When the 2 is just cruising along, it is as calm, controlled and well-insulated as the 3 hatchback.
The supermini’s equipment (depending on specification) includes Mazda’s user-friendly infotainment system, a simple head-up display, effective auto air-con, pushbutton ignition and a multi-function steering wheel.
Mazda’s latest fun-to-drive 2 will be introduced to Singapore in the first quarter of next year.
ENGINE 1496cc, 16-valves, inline-4
MAX POWER 115bhp at 6000rpm
MAX TORQUE 148Nm at 4000rpm
GEARBOX 6-speed automatic with manual select
0-100KM/H 10 seconds
TOP SPEED 184km/h
CONSUMPTION Not available
CO2 EMISSION 119g/km
PRICE INCL. COE
TO BE ANNOUNCED