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Car reviews - Mazda - Mazda2 - Neo

Our Opinion

We like
Chassis, performance, efficiency, cabin presentation, sporty style, design, agility
Room for improvement
Neo’s lack of cruise control and parking sensors, retrograde packaging compared to preceding versions, tiny tacho, still some road noise issues, fiddly and unreliable Bluetooth

Gallery

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Mazda logo16 Mar 2015

Price and equipment

MAZDA hits a six!Yep, while that hackneyed headline is normally reserved for the company’s lovely mid-sizer, it actually better suits the all-new third-gen supermini from Japan’s most interesting car-maker right now.

Launched last October, the DJ-series five-door only hatch built in Thailand is the last in Mazda’s passenger-car range to adopt the much-vaunted SkyActiv raft of platform and drivetrain technology, while outwardly the pert design sticks to its wildly successful predecessor’s pretty formula.

We’re looking at the base Neo here, starting from $14,990 plus on-road costs – the lowest price a new 2 has ever been in Australia.

Impressive stuff. Our test car comes with a six-speed automatic transmission, so add another $2000 please. Being a Mazda, the sober grey metallic is a no-charge option.

Among the standard features are a full suite of passive and active (anti-lock brakes and stability/traction controls) safety gear, as well as a hill-holder function, air-conditioning, power windows, remote central locking, Bluetooth audio and telephony, Isofix child-seat anchorages, and a push-button start. The spare’s a temporary tyre, by the way.

It's a good list, but rivals such as the identically priced Honda Jazz VTi and now Toyota’s recently revised entry Yaris Ascent add cruise control, a reversing camera and touchscreen audio, so the impact Mazda was probably hoping to make with its sharply attired and priced supermini hasn’t happened.

By the way, you need to be in the $17K-plus Maxx and up to score standard cruise, while there’s no sign of that reversing camera or even rear parking sensors.

At least buyers can (and should) tick the AEB Autonomous Emergency Braking option box (just $400) dubbed SCBC Smart City Brake Support in Mazda-speak.

Interior

At last! The Mazda2 gains a reach as well as tilt adjuster for the steering wheel. Small mercies!It also has the most attractive and alluring interior of any SkyActiv-generation vehicle in the range, thanks to a sassily styled dashboard and cabin presentation. Beautifully designed, nicely executed and with a premium look (if not feel – the plastics are as hard as every other car at this price point bar the especially tactile Peugeot 208’s and Renault Clio’s), it has instant showroom pizazz.

Furthermore, comfy front seats, a great driving position, ample first-row space and a low, wide and long luggage area are basics that the company’s obviously worked hard to get right.

But Mazda’s fudged some of the details, like the fact that the driver’s left-side airvent is positioned to freeze your hand the tachometer is so ridiculously tiny it is rendered unreadable and the complicated and fiddly Bluetooth system is patchy at best – ours failed to reconnect for half the time.

More annoyingly, the rising side window line limits reversing vision – however it isn’t as bad as its Mazda3 or Mazda6 big siblings – while rear-seat adult room is less than we had hoped. Blame the striking cab-backward design for that particular flaw. There are also no cup-holders for people back there, the cushion does not flip forward so the extended load area (rated at 250 litres) is uneven, and there is a fair amount of road noise to contend with.

Readers, you’ve literally heard that one before in a Mazda…Engine and transmission

Here the Neo shines like its Matrix movie superhero namesake, rising to the upper echelons of the class in terms of efficiency and driver enjoyment.

The all-new 79kW/139Nm 1.5-litre twin-cam four-pot petrol engine is a peach, pulling strongly from standstill, and then keeping the pace up manfully as revs and speeds (quickly) rise. It may lack the 4-2-1 trick exhaust found in the Maxx and Genki variants’ 81kW/141Nm 1.5-litre alternative, but in the real world, this is a lusty and long-legged powertrain.

Credit must also be given to the slick-shifting six-speed torque-converter automatic, which is super-efficient at finding the right gear necessary to get the job done. Perhaps the best of its type, there’s also a Sport function that hangs on to each ratio for longer for added spirited driving (though it does eventually up-shift past the red line automatically). Note that around town the latter function’s propensity to stay in the lower gears might be annoying.

Anyway, throw in excellent fuel consumption – we averaged around 6.8L/100km on 91 RON premium unleaded – and the smallest Mazda on the market is one of the most convincing performers to boot. Top marks here.

Ride and handling

The DJ-series Mazda2 shares some of the same SkyActiv platform components as the 3, 6 and CX-5 SUV, and we know from previous experience that there’s a strong strand of athletic DNA in there as a result.

And while the 2 deviates in using the class-norm torsion beam rear end instead of the others’ multi-link back axle, the reality is that you’d be hard-pressed to pick the difference, since the smallest and lightest of the SkyActiv chassis vehicles is so poised and composed through corners, and sticks to the road with a surety that is rare in this end of the market.

It takes quite a bit to unbalance things, and even when that happens, there is enough pliancy and control for the driver to easily correct things, although the excellent stability and traction control nannies are also well versed at intervening gently.

There are, however, a couple of complaints to be made here – at either side of straight-ahead the steering feels a bit doughier than we’d hoped, lacking the sharpness of, say, a Ford Fiesta.

Beyond that, the helm is the very model of measured responsiveness, but a car engineering as cracking as the 2’s deserves the most driver-orientated turn-in possible. After all, why design a car that looks so rear-drive biased as this fab little front-driver?The other qualms include some rack rattle over rougher edges, accompanied by a fair bit of bumpiness from the rear end (that’s where torsion beams bow to a true independent design), as well as the aforementioned road-noise intrusion.

While far better than the old DE-series 2, this Neo’s Dunlop Enasave EC300 185/65R15 rubber likes to rumble along audibly.

Still, show it a twisty bit of tarmac and the mighty little Mazda will be more than up to the task of conquering those corners.

Safety and servicing

At the time of writing, Euro NCAP and ANCAP have yet to release its results for the DJ 2/Demio, but the previous one rates a full five-star rating, so the prognosis is good.

Service scheduling falls every 12 months or 10,000km – whichever comes first.

Fixed prices currently alternate between $280 and $307 per visit, up to 16 services. A three-year unlimited kilometre warranty applies.

Verdict

The third-generation Mazda2 Neo is a compelling driver’s car, a shapely styling statement, and a comfortable, affordable and extremely easy and practical urban runabout that also works on the open road.

The lack of cruise control and reverse camera features in the base version is disappointing, but if neither of these items concern you, then we cannot think of a better all-round supermini proposition for the money.

Alternatively, you could partially address the spec shortfall with the slightly more powerful and far more attractively trimmed Maxx from $16,990.

Either way, and even with the road noise and minor cabin annoyances, you’d be left with what we believe to be the best modern Mazda passenger car to date.

Don’t buy a B-segment hatch before checking out the 2 Neo first.

Rivals

Volkswagen Polo 66TSI Trendline DSG, from $18,790, plus on-road costs
TOWERINGLY competent even after five years on the market, the Polo remains the great all-rounder, especially since the newly facelifted version arrived late last year. Consistency, refinement and smoothness is the name of the game here.

Renault Clio Expression TCe 120 DCT, from $20,290, plus on-road costs
If it weren’t for the high pricing and at-times laggy off-the-line acceleration from the otherwise punchy 1.2-litre four-pot turbo, the sexy, athletic yet cultured Clio would rule. Sadly, though, no 0.9-litre turbo three-pot auto is offered to bring the cost down.

Suzuki Swift GL 4AT, from $17,900, plus on-road costs
DON’T let the 1.5-litre/four-speed auto combo put you off – the Swift lives up to its name as a sharp, involving and deceptively quick urban runabout with the added virtue of being properly compact – handy when parking around town. Still such a cracker!

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