Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda2 - Genki 5-dr hatch
Styling, youthful presentation, agile dynamics, refined powertrain, strong engine, easy manoeuvrability, comfortable cabin, practicality, great colour range
Room for improvement
Some road noise, twee instrumentation, glove box arrangement, sea of black plastic in up-spec Genki
5 May 2010
TRUST us, we are living in a light-car golden age.
Ford Fiesta, Mazda2, Suzuki Swift and Alto, Fiat Punto, VW Polo, Toyota Yaris, Peugeot 207, Nissan Micra, Honda Jazz and now the Hyundai i20 …
Dunces and duds are few in this class (hello Kia Rio and Holden Barina), diversity rules, and we have never had it so good for so little.
You can thank BMW’s 2001 Mini for injecting much needed spunk in the smallest sector, but the challenge that all of the itty-bitty dynamos so admirably meet is to keep our interest up and prices down.
Yes, earlier efforts like the 1998 Daihatsu Sirion (remember that?) and 1999 Toyota Echo broke Japanese moulds with their distinctive styling, but the British-built icon reset the bar for fun and design (again). Great looks as well as a fab drive sell. Mini’s never been cheap though.
That’s where the second-gen Mazda2 stepped in so effectively in September 2007, boldly brandishing the company’s Japanese design language with disarming confidence and originality. After its boxy (but appealingly proportioned) predecessor, the DE series Two looked as street smart as next week’s must-have set of trainers.
Mercifully, Mazda has not messed with its baby’s appearance at all come facelift time this past May, setting out instead on lowering prices and improving safety. Three years on and the Two still turns heads.
The interior, on the other hand, has not aged quite as well.
At first glance it comes across as a fresh and youthful/cheap and twee take (you choose) on the modern light-car cabin, with cheery seat trim, a fine little steering wheel and interesting circular motifs for the (OK) audio system and instrumentation.
But to touch any surface is to be reminded that this is an economy car built down to a price not in Japan as before, but now Thailand.
The Fiesta – formerly from Germany but soon to join its Mazda cousin at the Rayong plant – uses richer materials. In contrast Bentley may as well build the Polo as far as perceived quality is concerned.
Astoundingly, we also experienced broken interior trim – a first (and hopefully last) for a Mazda – that undermines our faith in this model’s new low-cost sourcing.
The actual appearance of the (non lockable) glovebox does nothing to diminish a budget feel either, since it looks like a vandal has tried to jimmy it open with a crowbar. Mazda says the idea of the semi-exposed lid is to accommodate items such as big maps, but it just looks unfinished and is unintuitive to press open. Let’s hope this idea dies when the next-gen Two appears in about 2012.
Finally, as with all Mazdas, there is noticeable road noise intrusion, although this isn’t such an issue in a low priced city car, and not nearly as bad as in some rivals.
Get over all those and the Two’s cabin is a fine example of clever thinking and sound execution.
Take the driving position – we couldn’t fault it despite the lack of telescopic adjustment for the tiltable steering column.
The front seats seem flat but are actually inviting and supportive, and fold all the way down to the rear bench.
There is adequate ventilation, sufficient storage facilities for the flotsam and jetsam that accompanies this car’s younger demographic, and no squeaks or rattles.
The raised gear stick lends a sporty air, and aids reach and lever controllability since your left hand does not have far to travel.
Move to the back and you feel as if you may as well be sitting in a Mazda0 for all the penny pinching going on – where’s the overhead grab handles, seatback pockets, reading lights or cupholders? OK in the $16,500 Neo zero points in the $20,940 Genki as tested.
Unlike in the front, taller people will find rear leg and headroom tight. But kids won’t. Plus we rate seat comfort as sufficient, with a trio of inertia reel belts and headrests to keep the littlies put. Entry and egress isn’t too bad for a car with such a swoopy roof either.
Unusually in this class, two of the three child-seat anchorage points are positioned behind the rear seats instead of right at the back of the car, so the tether straps don’t have to foul boot space. But the middle tether hook is ahead of the rear bulkhead.
The luggage space itself is fairly deep (a space saver spare lives beneath that rodent fur-like floor covering) if not particularly wide or long, and the solenoid button release adds a soupcon of class to lifting the hatch, but – as in the Fiesta – only the backrests fold forward, rather than the seat base too, so the Two does not have quite the versatility that it could have. Hatch cargo volume ranges from 250 litres to 787 litres – which isn’t brilliant for the class.
But, we ask, does the typical Mazda2 buyer really care? If so, they should choose a Jazz instead and wow all with its commodious cargo capabilities. Keen drivers, however, have a better choice.
We reckon they’d be more interested in the sweet and spirited 1.5-litre twin-cam four-pot petrol engine, that punches above its weight with strong low-down response, a wide rev arc of accessible power, and a willing smoothness up in the top ranges. Zippy is the word.
Mazda’s managed the right spread of gear ratios for the five-speed manual ‘box, because step-off acceleration is smart while top on the 110km-plus trot is no aural toil. It has a fine lever action rowing along in heavy traffic too.
The average combined fuel economy figure is 6.4L/100km but the car’s eager nature had us burning through the 42-litre tank fairly rapidly around town. It is here that the equivalently priced Polo 77TSI’s 5.5L/100km abilities show the Mazda up a mite.
Still, just looking at the Two raises high expectations for the steering and handling, and the Japanese car does not disappoint thanks to a quick-action tiller that’s both smooth and talkative. That describes it around corners too, with the driver feeling in control at all times. Push hard through a turn and there is progressively more understeer (running wide through a corner), but there’s grip aplenty and the security of strong anchors and DSC stability control to keep everything tight.
Our 195/45 16-inch wheel and tyre combo did not seem to adversely affect the Two’s town-ride ability (though they do make themselves drone relentlessly on the highway), with the suspension straightening most of those knotted and potted roads surfaces out with remarkable aplomb. Only the really big stuff sent the shocks right through to the cabin.
The bottom line is, though, we never expected a refined luxury car anyway, and so for what it is, this is still a well engineered runabout.
So where does the 2010 Mazda2 Genki stand three years in from this generation’s inception?
Don’t buy it we say (unless it’s a bargain price), and stick instead with the cheaper Maxx hatch and enjoy more value and just as much safety gear.
The Two continues to be a youthful and energised alternative to the sporty and stylish Fiesta or Swift, while adding a dose of style, personality and guaranteed Japanese engineering dependability that the Euros simply cannot come near.
A Fiesta’s more fun, Jazz is roomier and Polo a whole lot posher inside, but there are ample elements of all in the Mazda too, so it’s a can’t-lose option that still burns amongst the brightest in the star-studded light-car class.
Baby-class consumers have never had it this good, and the Mazda2 is still a great example.
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