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

Launch Story

Mazda logo5 May 2010

By MARTON PETTENDY

THE MAZDA2 has always been one of the most accomplished and best-value light-sized Japanese cars available in Australia, and the release of an upgraded model that is now built in Thailand has sharpened the pencil of Mazda’s smallest model in both regards.

Available now at a driveaway launch price of $16,990, the entry-level Mazda2 Neo hatch manual – like all facelifted Mazda2 models – comes standard with electronic stability control.

Unavailable or optional on most entry-level versions of less expensive light-cars, ESC is a potentially life-saving safety technology that probably delivers the most benefit in the smallest vehicle category, which is frequented predominantly by older and young female buyers.

Similarly, side and curtain airbags are either unavailable or optional on the base variants of most light-cars, so the mid-range Mazda2 Maxx – the only specification grade in which the new Mazda2 sedan is available – matches or betters the majority of its rivals by now coming standard with six airbags and a five-star ANCAP crash safety rating.

Of course, side and curtain airbags as still optional on the base Mazda2 Neo, but at $400 the cost is about the same as what some brands charge for metallic paint, which continues to be free on all Mazdas.

Improved standard safety features and small but significant price reductions aside, the upgraded Mazda2 hatch and sedan is hard to pick on the road in terms of cosmetic changes, with the all-new four-door presenting the same mildly massaged front-end design but gaining a relatively cavernous 450-litre boot.

That makes it almost as big as the Mazda3 and Mazda6 sedans, and a whole 210 litres more commodious than the Mazda2 hatch. Further improving the new sedan’s flexibility is a 60/40-split folding rear seat, multi-link boot hinges that don’t rob boot space and one of the largest opening apertures in its class.

Oh, the Mazda2 boot is also fully lined and illuminated, but unlike its most direct light sedan rivals accommodates a spacer-saving, rather than full-size, spare wheel and tyre.

The booted Mazda2 looks a little like a downsized Mazda3 or even Mazda6 in isolation. When parked alongside its larger stablemates, however, it’s sharply rising belt line and more pronounced wedge shape give it a funkier shape – although Mazda’s trademark white-lens tail-light stamp it firmly as part of the Zoom-Zoom family.

Despite riding on the same 2490mm wheelbase as the hatch, the rear seats of the sedan somehow a little more accommodating, offering enough stretching room for two large adults, as well as acceptable head and legroom – even with full-size adults on board up front.

Quality of the Thai-sourced model appears to be on par with its Japanese-made forebears and, although the trim pads that cover the securing bolts in the front armrests are missing out back, the sedan also scores power rear windows, five adjustable head restraints, three child-seat anchors, three soft-sprung overhead grabrails and two bottle holders.

Interior changes are minimal aside from revised and seemingly hard-wearing new seat trims, but the Mazda2 cabin still looks new to us, featuring a cool central LCD screen displaying time and audio functions, a handy console-mounted gearshifter, driver’s seat-height adjustment and the obligatory aux-in audio jack..

No, there’s still no steering wheel reach adjustment or cruise control, the glovebox remains tiny and there’s no centre armrest – let alone a handy one-touch indicator function – but the Two is not alone in its class in these regards.

Its perky 1.5-litre engine does, however, continue to offer stand-out performance along with a purposeful, if ever-present, engine note that’s accompanied by meaningful acceleration to beyond 6000rpm.

If anything, the revised Euro 4-compliant engine – which still drinks regular unleaded petrol remains mated to slick five-speed manual and four-speed automatic transmissions – feels more flexible in the midrange while remaining smoother and more refined than any more affordable light-car.

Based on the midrange Maxx, the Mazda2 sedan comes with the same side and curtain airbags, six-CD player with steering wheel controls and 15-inch alloys as the Maxx hatch.

Because the Maxx shares the same suspension set-up as the base Neo – rather than the sports-oriented Genki hatch, the Mazda2 sedan is softer than the flagship five-door, revealing more pronounced bodyroll during cornering and generally feeling less composed.

That said, the Mazda2 has always been up there with Ford’s Fiesta – which will also switch to Thailand production this year – as one of the sharpest tools in the light-car shed, and the adoption of twin-tube rear shock absorbers (which were already fitted up front) and revised damping tune, maintains its lead in handling terms.

Producing amazingly low levels of wind, tyre and suspension noise at all speeds, the Mazda2 delivers the sort of ride quality, vice-free steering and general body control that was unheard of in the small-car class only a few years ago.

Given the price reductions in concert with important safety additions for the entry-level and midrange versions of the facelifted Mazda2, the subtle dynamic and interior changes make one of Australia’s most polished light-cars better value than ever.

Throw in the added security and cargo carrying ability of the sedan, however, we’d be surprised if Australia’s newest light-sized four-door doesn’t attract more than the 20 per cent overall sales split Mazda has forecast for the all-new Two sedan.

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