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First drive: New Mazda2 - when less is more

Two cute: Redesigned Mazda2 is smaller and offers more features.

Stylish light-sized newcomer ticks all the right boxes to be another Mazda winner

19 Jun 2007

By DAVID HASSALL in VIENNA

MAZDA has bucked the trend of car-makers worldwide by building a new model that is actually smaller than its predecessor with the second-generation Mazda2, which received its European launch last week in Austria.

The new Two comes to Australia in September as a five-door hatchback only and is expected to further boost Mazda Australia’s growing status on the local market.

It is expected to be priced at around $16,500 – only a couple of hundred dollars more than the current model’s official price of $16,300 (recently reduced to $15,490 in the run-out phase).

Standard equipment will include ABS brakes, power windows and mirrors, all of which are currently on the options list.

It has front driver and passenger airbags only, but a safety pack will be offered at between $1600 and $1700 that includes four more airbags (side and curtain) as well as dynamic stability control.

The model line-up will stay the same, starting with the Neo, then Maxx and the sporty Genki (which is identified by a bodykit).

A company insider told GoAuto that a three-door version will be introduced at the Geneva motor show in March. It should come to Australia later next year.

There are no firm plans – as yet – for a performance model, but it is being evaluated and it might even be a turbocharged MPS version.

What is more certain is that there will not be a turbo-diesel version (deemed to be not needed because the petrol engine is so economical), a hybrid, a sedan, a coupe (deemed appropriate only for the US, which won't sell the Mazda2), a cabriolet or a tallboy (unique to Japan, where the previous version has struggled).

And we will not be getting the unusual Miller-cycle engine as this recently announced unit is purely for the Japanese domestic market. It was not offered to foreign markets and Mazda Australia claims it has no interest in the "underpowered" 1.4-litre unit.

The second-generation Mazda2 is 15mm wider than the current model, and sits on the same wheelbase and about the same track, but is 40mm shorter and some 55mm lower.

If the US had been taking the car, it would have been bigger, chief designer Ikuo Maeda told GoAuto.

Mr Maeda also noted that, while he was part of the team responsible for the first Two, he was not happy with the final result, describing it as "just a box".

22 center imageThe lower roof of the new model has an obvious effect with reduced (but still more than acceptable) headroom, but the bigger issue is a 10 per cent reduction in boot space to 250 litres, down from 280 litres for the current local-spec hatch.

Considerably funkier inside and out than the plain model it replaces, the new Two is also lighter, faster, cleaner and more economical.

The new model was introduced last week to Australian motoring media in Vienna, even before production starts in Japan this week of cars for our market.

Mazda Australia managing director Doug Dickson told GoAuto that supply was limited by Japan’s ongoing production capacity problems, but said that the new model would sell around 800-900 units a month initially.

"We can’t get any more than that unless it falls below expectation in another country, which means we could grab their allocation, but we don’t expect that to happen," said Mr Dickson.

Mazda’s sales projection is some 50 per cent up on the current car’s 2007 sales average, which is in turn 30 per cent up on the same period last year, but Mr Dickson believes his faith in the new car is well placed.

While Australian-market Mazda2s retain the existing 1.5-litre engine, five-speed manual gearbox and four-speed automatic transmission, the car is built on an all-new platform that will also host the next-generation Ford Fiesta.

On paper, the engine has lost 6kW of power and 4Nm of torque, but that is mostly because of a change in measurement methods (now being taken from after the catalytic converter rather than ahead of it).

In reality, Mazda says it has dropped only a couple of kiloWatts due to modifications to meet Euro IV emissions standards, but the specs show a drop from 82kW to 76kW at 6000rpm, with torque dropping from 141Nm to 137Nm at 4000rpm.

While the Europeans claim an official fuel figure of 5.9L/100km, that is based on 95 RON petrol (our premium unleaded). However, in Australia it can run on regular 91-octane unleaded, which will take the claimed consumption figure to above 6.0L/100km. Nonetheless, it will be lower than the current model, which offers 6.5L/100km for the manual.

Mazda Europe also talks of a 100kg weight reduction over the outgoing model, but the more highly specified Australian model will be only 65kg lighter (the addition of ABS alone adds a warranted 8-10kg).

Program manager Shigeo Misuno, who commented that the size reduction returned the Two to being "a real sub-compact", said that most of the weight saving was the result of efforts in every area of design.

He estimated that 20 per cent was as a result of the car being smaller, 20 per cent through features adjustment and some 60 per cent through "engineering efforts" (half of that in the body and the rest in suspension, hubs, powertrain and electronics).

His deputy, Mitsura Wakiie, also told GoAuto that 22kg was saved in the body, partly because of size, but also through 53 per cent use of high-tensile steel, which has increased overall torsional rigidity by five per cent to improve handling and steering.

Three extra braces (under the front subframe, under the central tunnel and on top of the rear strut tower) were added after testing began to further improve the driving dynamics.

Other weight savings included 13kg in suspension and brakes, 5kg by using high-tensile steel front seat frames, 5kg by eliminating the exhaust pre-silencer, 2.9kg in electricals, 1.9kg with the intake and cooling system, and 1.0kg in the door speakers.

Mr Wakiie said that these measures had taken the Two from being the biggest and heaviest B-segment car to the lightest.

Although Mazda Europe (which gets our 1.5-litre engine for the first time) listed its target rivals as VW Polo, Renault Clio, Peugeot 207 and Nissan Micra, Mr Dickson said that the Australian rivals are basically Japanese, including the class-leading Toyota Yaris, Honda Jazz and Suzuki Swift.

The new platform contains numerous measures to improve noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) as well as extra stiffness and collision protection.

Although many of the major components – the MacPherson strut front suspension, torsion beam rear axle and electric steering – are basically the same architecture as before, every component is completely new, obviously with incremental improvements throughout.

The car does not yet have a Euro NCAP crash rating, but the company expects it will score five stars.

While the previous model was developed by Ford at Dunton in England, this time Mazda took control of the platform development and "invited the Ford engineers" to Hiroshima to provide their input.

The next Fiesta – with Ford’s own styling – will again be powered by the 1.6-litre Sigma engine, which develops about the same power as the Mazda 1.5.

Styling is clearly one of the new Two’s strong suits and, although it is obviously still aimed at young women, especially Japanese, designer Maeda-san believes it has a more general appeal.

Nevertheless, the curvy interior contains clear giveaways to its intended market with a large centre console designed to hold a handbag and a novel glovebox/magazine rack designed specifically for image-conscious young Japanese women to show off the latest issue of Vogue.

With even a cursory look, it should come as no surprise that Mr Maeda also designed the RX-8, as the Two carries similar prominent front fenders and rising waistline that dominate its stance.

It features a 354mm beltline that Mazda claims is the lowest in the B segment.

Although designed in Japan, Mazda’s design team in Frankfurt also played a part in the styling and two of the three clinic groups who reviewed the initial designs were from Europe (Italy and Germany). Mr Maeda only made his decision between two final concepts after visiting Milan and imaging the car in that environment.

After reviewing feedback on the new car, Mr Maeda will lock-in the 2009 facelift in a couple of months, before starting work on the third-generation car. No rest for the talented, then.

Drive impressions:

THE styling of the new Mazda2 promises plenty and, on the basis of a brief first encounter in Vienna, the little car delivers. Mazda Australia’s high sales expectations seem well-founded.

Driving the car at the track-like OAMTC Test and Training facility in Teesdorf – founded 23 years ago by former racer Franz Wurz, the father of Williams F1 driver Alexander Wurz – the new Two made as good an impression as could be expected in such an environment.

The first thing you notice is the comfort levels for the driver and front passenger, with very supportive and comfortable seats that will apparently be used in the next-generation Mazda6.

Although the roofline has been lowered on this model, the previous one was so high that the reduction is not an issue and even tall drivers will find there is sufficient space above the old bonce.

The curves of the dash are a nice change from many of the bland fascias you encounter these days, though we were not convinced by the magazine rack glovebox design (but we are clearly the wrong demographic).

Passenger comfort in the rear is another issue, with obviously limited legroom unless the front seats are moved forward a little.

With a low waistline, plenty of glass and pillars that are not too intrusive, visibility is a strong suit, which should please the largely female market.

Out on the track, the performance was no more lively than you might expect from a 1.5-litre and, of course, we would have liked more, but it should be more than adequate for the urban life for which it is intended.

The sharp shift quality of the manual (we did not have an automatic available as it is not offered in Europe) and progressive feel of the clutch, plus city-friendly gearing should ensure it is a nippy performer around town.

On the highway, though, the engine will be spinning at close to 3000rpm at 100km/h, so thankfully all the work the engineers have put into NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) appears to have been effective and engine noise should not be too intrusive.

Even though we are not always impressed by electric steering, in the Two it felt very good, with a good and natural feel. In fact, the steering felt better than many cars costing twice as much and more.

Handling is predictably and appropriately dominated by understeer, but it is very controllable and, most importantly in this market, safe, scrubbing off speed without fuss if you hook into a corner too hard.

Ride was difficult to assess because the three cars GoAuto drove, including a right-hand drive version, were all considerably different, despite having the same specifications and tyres. Nothing sinister, we hasten to add, probably just a factor of the cars being pre-production prototypes.

We expect that the most compliant of the three will be more indicative of what to expect when the car arrives in Australia in three months’ time, in which case it will cope well with broken surfaces and provide welcome ride quality – at least on the base wheels and tyres.

The new Mazda2 deserves to succeed and we have no doubt the company will be able to sell as many as it can get its hands on. We love the styling even more in the metal than from the teaser photos and, on this brief taste, it is just as good to drive as it is to look at.

Read more:

New mill for Mazda2

Full details: Mazda’s all-new Two exposed!

First look: New Mazda2 zooms into view


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