Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda2 - Neo 5-dr hatch
Attractive appearance, good practicality, smooth engine, standard ABS, fuel economy
Room for improvement
Soft suspension and busy ride, tinny sound system, gearbox feels awkward
2 Nov 2007
THE Mazda2 passed its first test even before leaving the kerb. The bright Kermit green test car was described as ‘cute’ by someone right in the middle of Mazda’s target market for the little runabout.
Acceptance by the young ones, especially women, is crucial and looks are all-important in this class.
The mini Mazda looks far sportier than the previous model, but not in a masculine or aggressive way.
Its rising shoulder line and rounded edges contribute to the sprightly look and the appeal increases with vibrant colours like bright blue, red and the green of our test car.
That’s all good and well, but what about the driving experience? Well, the Mazda2 is better in a lot of ways, but it still feels like an affordable light car.
The chassis basics, including a short wheelbase and relatively light body, are no doubt conducive to creating a sharp and agile machine, but that doesn’t seem to have materialised.
The little Mazda still corners well enough and will be more than sporty enough for many of its target customers, but the suspension has been softened in the name of comfort.
This avoids an overly harsh ride and, on the whole, the Mazda2 is pretty comfortable, but it is flustered by bumps or ruts in the road. You notice even slight bumps and it takes longer to settle than it should.
Most young target customers probably couldn’t care less about this, but it should be noted that the Mazda2 is not a handling star like its Ford sibling, the Fiesta. It will be interesting to see if the next Fiesta, to be built off the same platform, will have a sportier tune.
While the existing Fiesta is known for great handling, it falls down when it comes to interior quality, something the Mazda2 does very well.
The smallest Mazda sets new standards for the quality of the plastics used for the interior, putting it a step ahead of other light-car interiors. It even tops the Honda Jazz cabin.
The circular integrated sound system looks good and the rest of the controls are logical and easy to use, while the instrument display is clear and clean.
There is no ground-breaking design here, but the layout and the quality create a look and feel that is class-leading.
Mounting the gearshift on the lower part of the dash frees up space for some extra space, and a cup-holder, in the centre console.
More importantly for many of the young people targeted with this car, an auxiliary plug is mounted in the centre console. That means their iPod or MP3 player can sit in the centre console compartment, right next to the plug, which beats having the lead sticking out of the dashboard or having the plug out of the way in the glovebox like some other cars.
Strangely, the sound system in the entry-level Neo was disappointing. It is rare to notice that a sound system is below par these days, but that was the case with the Mazda2.
Adjusting base and treble levels did nothing to improve the tinny sound and we find that surprising because listening to the radio, iPod or CD is a surely high priority for young buyers.
The other problem is that, because the system is integrated into the dashboard, you can’t just pull it out and replace it with a better head unit.
Interior packaging of the Mazda2 is good, though. It might not be as tall as the model it replaces, but there is still good leg and headroom for front and rear passengers.
The rear seats are very flat and firm, but at least there are head restraints and lap-sash belts for all seats.
There are several handy little storage places, although it would be nice to have a decent sized glovebox instead of the super-slim compartment in the Mazda2.
Otherwise, the car’s practicality is impressive, with the rear seats folding down to open up enough space to store a large mountain bike, which is not bad for a car this size.
On paper, the 1.5-litre engine is a step backwards from the previous unit (6kW less power and 4Nm less torque). Who brings out an engine with less power and torque than the last?
What really matters, however, is how the engine performs in the real world and, thankfully, the Mazda2 is 60kg lighter than the previous model and the engine is also very good.
It has enough pull down low to ensure you don’t have to wind the engine right out to the red-line to get anywhere in a hurry. In fact, you can maintain a reasonable pace by changing up at around 3500rpm.
The engine is also quite smooth and relatively quiet. Even at highway speeds, when the engine is doing 3000rpm, it is not intrusive.
That’s great, but at that pace any engine noise would be drowned out by wind and tyre noise. There may be less tyre roar than was present with the last car, but it is still quite noticeable.
Fuel consumption for the test car came in at 6.9L/100km, which is very impressive.
The curious thing is that there is no trip computer in the base model Neo, which means no distance-to-empty reading or fuel economy average.
With such good figures, you would think that Mazda would want its owners to know exactly how little fuel their car is using seeing the figures are so good and we think it’s unlikely that many customers are going to measure the amount of fuel going in and the distance travelled in order to calculate a figure.
This lack of a trip computer is a sign of cost-cutting, but it’s nice to know that Mazda at least spent the extra money to include ABS brakes as standard equipment.
Spending up on safety didn’t quite stretch to electronic stability control, but at least it is available as an option at a competitive price, along with extra airbags.
The manual gearbox is just adequate and, while the dash-mounted gearshift does free up space, it still feels strange to drivers used to a gearbox that sits down to the side of the driver, especially when you change up.
Mazda is not alone here, with other small cars from Honda and Toyota adopting the same set-up, but it makes the car feel even less sporty.
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