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Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda2 - Genki 5-dr hatch

Our Opinion

We like
Packaging, performance, dynamics, safety, quality
Room for improvement
The Genki name, baulky gearshift, light steering

Mazda logo24 Jun 2003

By TIM BRITTEN

IF you're not comfortable with the name, don't stress too much: The new Mazda2 Genki is totally free of any badging that might prove embarrassing. In fact, the only places the word Genki appears are in the owner,s manual and service booklet. And that is something between the dealer and you.

For most of us, this is probably a good thing. The last thing we want to see is a return to bizarre Japanese model-naming habits. For many of us, memories of the Datsun Cherry Excellent, Mazda Proceed Marvy, Mitsubishi Starion and Nissan Cedric still linger.

Equally as many of us, however, are probably a lot less sensitive to what others might think, and will be perfectly happy with this largely all-new replacement for the long-running Mazda 121 series. Whatever it's called.

The Mazda2 appellation signifies a dynamic new image for the Ford-controlled car company, much like the recently launched Mazda6 and the forthcoming Mazda3. It's reality an extension of the values previously espoused by Mazda, with a slight emphasis on sportiness as an intrinsic quality across the entire range.

Genki (known as Demio in other markets) is not the only strange name Mazda2 buyers will need to come to terms with: this is the premium model, and it is underlaid by the entry-level Neo and the mid-range Maxx.

The Neo is the only model to come in under $20,000 (in fact it's less than $18,000). The Maxx is just over $20,000 in manual transmission form and the Genki is just over $22,000.

The pricing nevertheless, at Neo level, is less than the old 1.3-litre version of the Mazda 121 Shades - and substantially less than the 1.5-litre model, which edged towards $21,000 in manual transmission form.

The value proposition, taken in context of the new car's upgraded packaging, dynamics and safety, is a major sales tool of the Mazda2.

The company says the car is virtually all new, with different suspensions front (MacPherson strut with lower A-arm) and rear (torsion beam), a bigger body and a variable valve timing engine that produces a lot more power and torque than the previous identical-capacity 1.5-litre four-cylinder.

Certainly from a styling viewpoint the Mazda2 has a welcome freshness that enables it to stand out in the light car crowd. It has the signature Mazda grille, a pert rear-end with teardrop tail-lights and a generally more rounded look than the 121 hatch.

The Genki that is the subject of this test also gets a set of alloy wheels and a bodykit to separate it from Maxx and Neo.

Mazda has also spent a lot of time on the 2 interior: the general look is decidedly upmarket with outstanding fit and finish, quality materials and plenty of handy little design touches. As well as noticeably more space than the 121.

As Mazda says, the dash really does look like it belongs in a more expensive car - especially on Genki, which gets steering wheel switches for controlling the sound system (the Maxx gets these too) and the odd touch of metallic-look trim.

The dimpled-look vinyl steering wheel rim looks classy also - in fact, most of the trim materials, including the "metal mesh" seat coverings, have a quality look and feel. The only real aberration is the upper dash trim, which looks good, but is hard and unyielding to touch.

The dual front gloveboxes are handy, too - although the larger of the two is a bit small to be really useful - and there's a handy little recess above these in addition to a reasonable-sized, lidded centre-dash compartment.

Front seat passengers have nothing to complain about when it comes to general moving-about space - and neither do rear-seat passengers. This is a light car that is quite happy to accommodate at least two adults in the rear seat, making a better fist of the vertical body orientation than even the well-packaged 121.

The mini-wagon aspect comes across pretty strongly too, with a 50/50 split-fold rear seat that can be arranged in a number of configurations including a full-length bed and a full, double-fold arrangement that allows a space big enough to carry two mountain bikes with wheels intact.

The rear cargo area is also covered by a wagon-style roller-type blind rather than the hard, removable panel used in most hatchbacks. The Mazda's bigger body (all dimensions, including the wheelbase, are up on the 121) pays real benefits in general useability and passenger comfort.

Powering all this is an all-new engine, complete with alloy construction and variable valve timing, that produces a decent 82kW from its 1.5 litres, as well as an equally commendable 141Nm of torque. Both considerable increases on the previous 1.5-litre engine's 64kW and 128Nm.

It uses the now-standard twin-camshaft, multi-valve cylinder-head layout backed up by (now also increasingly familiar) variable camshaft timing to extract maximum power and efficiency. Mazda says the engine is producing 90 per cent of its maximum torque at just 1900rpm.

The intake-exhaust manifold placements are reversed compared to the 121, with the exhaust now at the rear of the engine (like every other transverse engine we can think of) where it can heat the catalytic converter more quickly, reducing emissions earlier in the start-up phase.

It delivers through either a revised version of the previous car's five-speed manual transmission, or an electronically controlled four-speed automatic. With 82kW and not much more than one tonne to tote around, the Mazda would appear to have plenty of power on hand.

Particularly appropriate in the case of the bespoilered, alloy-wheeled Genki, this proves to be pretty close to the mark, with an always-willing response to the accelerator and enough torque to sustain speed on hills.

Load the Genki up with more passengers though, and the sweet sounding 1.5-litre needs to work a little harder. And a slight absence of low-down torque, particularly obvious in the manual transmission version, can be noted.

Speaking of the manual, this would be smoother and more pleasant to use with a progressive clutch action better tuned to the slightly baulky action of the gearshift - delicate footwork is required to maintain smooth progress through the gears.

The Mazda's steering, too, is a little too light for most tastes, particularly when clipping along at a decent rate. The Genki and Maxx get bigger, alloy wheels with lower-profile tyres but feel as if they could do with a little more, as the test car moved quite early into understeer when pressed.

On the bright side, the light steering helps minimise this, and is always a boon when manoeuvring into parking spaces.

Mazda has equipped the 2 very well, with dual-stage, twin front airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners and whiplash-minimising front seats all helping the carefully designed structure to minimise passenger injuries in a collision.

The floor pedals are designed to stay out of harm's way in a front-end crash and the front panels of the car are designed to minimise potential injury to pedestrians.

The Genki adds anti-lock brakes to its equipment list, and these come with electronic brake-force distribution as well as brake assist to boost stopping power in an emergency.

But, like the Neo and Maxx, it gets disc brakes on the front only - although the rear drums are bigger than those used on the 121.

At Genki level standard equipment includes a six-stack CD player, height-adjustable driver's seat, front foglights - as well as ABS, alloy wheels and bodykit - while all models benefit from standard air-conditioning, central locking (remote for Genki and Maxx), sliding rear seat and tilt-adjustable steering column.

As a competitor for the likes of VW Polo, Citroen C3, Peugeot 206, Renault Clio, Holden Barina and Honda Jazz, the Mazda is positioned nicely, with just the right amount of styling flair, a tangible upgrade in quality compared with the 121 and very good packaging combined with competitive pricing.

In the busy light car sector, it offers pretty much the dream combination of ingredients.

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