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First drive: New Mazda2 shapes up for light fight

Lithe: Redesigned Mazda2 rates among the best light-sized driver's cars.

A leaner, stronger and safer Mazda2 arrives Down Under, sharply priced from $16,500

6 Sep 2007

MAZDA’S new-generation, DE-series Mazda2 is set to stir the light-car class with keen pricing and stability control availability to match its striking styling.

Officially on sale on September 13 from $16,500 for the base Neo, the second Mazda to wear the ‘2’ moniker since 2002, costs $165 more than its DY-series predecessor but adds approximately $1000 of additional value.

This includes ABS anti-lock brakes with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and emergency brake assist (EBA), remote central locking, a driver’s seat height adjustor, a centre rear head restraint and MP3 player connectivity.

The baby Mazda – only available as a five-seater five-door hatchback for now – joins the pioneering Hyundai Getz in offering stability control as an option across the range in a sub-$20,000 vehicle. Only the two-seater Smart ForTwo standardises it at this price level.

Known as DSC in Mazda-speak, stability control is bundled up as a “Safety Pack Option” on the Neo and $18,710 Maxx that also includes traction control and side (front) and curtain (front and rear) airbags for $1100 extra.

The top-line Genki model, coming in at $20,845, already has the sextet of SRS airbags as standard, so Mazda charges $700 extra for DSC and traction control.

However, though ventilated disc brakes feature at the front, all models make do with drum brakes at the rear.

An automatic gearbox is a $1650 option on all versions.

Mazda has reduced the auto’s price because the ‘2’ loses the Activematic Tiptronic-style sequential shifter – introduced during 2005 – but retains Mazda’s long-lived ‘hold’ function that keeps the gearbox from changing up from the selected ratio.

Unlike its predecessor, the latest Mazda2 is designed to appeal as much to Europeans and Australians as Japanese light-car buyers.

So, flying in the face of Japan’s ongoing love affair with little boxy cars, Mazda took a risk by abandoning the previous two-generation models’ “Mini MPV” mantra for a “Personal City Commuter” approach.

This explains why boxiness has finally given way to style, which Mazda claims is the number one purchase motivator in this segment. The man who designed the car, Ikuo Maeda, is also behind the look of the RX-8.

While the Peugeot 206’s enormous international success inspired Mazda to style a car with global appeal, the look of the still-striking 1994—1998 BA 323 Astina helped to guide Mazda with the look of the ‘2’.

As DE chief project manager Shigeo Mizuno revealed, both past and present Mazda designs strive to emulate an athlete poised on the runner’s block. Well, at least it’s a far cry from fish and Tokyo city skyline references.

The result – after a protracted design process involving a late redesign – is a look that has scored very highly in German and Italian consumer survey clinics, according to Mazda.

Underlining this is the fact that in the first few weeks of sales, demand for the car in Japan – where it has been known as the Demio since the 1996 121 Metro – is running at three times the anticipated rate.

A fresh approach also permeated the skin.

Mazda started from scratch to develop a completely new front-wheel drive light-car platform for this ‘2’, even though the old DY range is barely five years old.

22 center imageEconomies of scale will occur via a three-door hatch model that will be unveiled next March at the Geneva motor show, while a four-door sedan is also in the pipeline – principally for China but also perhaps for Americans too. For now, neither is confirmed for Australia.

Ford’s next-generation Fiesta, due later in 2008, is also a recipient of the DE understructure, although it will wear a completely different set of clothes inside and out.

Mazda says that decreasing noise intrusion was a top priority for the engineers.

While the more aerodynamic shape (by four per cent) helps to lessen wind noise, attending to road noise transmission paths into the cabin results in a 2.3-decibel cut. This is something owners of the outgoing Mazda2 would appreciate.

Compared to that car, the new ‘2’ is 41mm shorter at 3885mm and 65mm smaller, but 15mm wider. It sits on the same 2490mm wheelbase.

But while the latest Mazda baby is smaller and lighter, it also happens to be stronger than before.

One reason why is the use of latest-generation ultra high-tensile steel as well as increasing the proportion of high-tensile steel from five per cent to 31 per cent, according to Mazda.

Interestingly, Mazda overlooked using more exotic weight-saving materials like aluminium and fancy plastics for lighter steel options. The latter is also more compatible with Mazda’s manufacturing processes, saving expensive retooling.

The ‘2’ is also more rigid than ever, thanks to localised stiffening of structures such as the suspension tower surrounds and spot-welds around the tailgate.

Mr Mizuno also cites the “Under Main Road” structure that is designed to deflect energy under the body and away from the passenger cell in severe impacts.

The upshot of a beefed-up body and chassis are improved dynamics and better noise/vibration and harshness control.

Despite the weight of added equipment, the Neo is 60kg lighter than its direct predecessor. Without the extra features, this figure would approach 100kg – a refreshing result reversal for a modern mass-produced passenger car that must also pass many crash-safety legislation requirements.

Devising a shorter, smaller car contributed 40kg of the other 60kg, 22kg was banished from the bodyshell, the largest single saving, while the revamped MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension system is now 13kg-lighter than before.

Mazda also literally weighed up as many individual items as it could to see if excess mass could be shaved off. Shortening the wiring harness saved almost 3kg, for instance. Such a ‘gram-by-gram’ strategy is also behind the lightness of the latest MX-5.

Employing an electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering set-up is another calorie-counting technique the Mazda2 touts.

Furthermore, it provides very high levels of power assistance at very low speeds for easier manoeuvrability and parking, so the Two needs only 2.7 turns lock-to-lock and has a turning circle of 9.8 metres.

Of course, reducing mass directly reduces fuel consumption – which lessens emissions – and increases a vehicle’s power-to-weight ratio, for better performance characteristics.

Mazda has carried over the existing 1.5-litre twin-cam four-cylinder Euro IV emissions-compliant petrol engine, but with detailed changes that actually result in slightly less power (76kW at 6000rpm versus 82kW) and torque (137Nm at 4000rpm Vs 141Nm), but with comparable or better performance.

Note that the differences would be smaller if Mazda chose to quote its figures ahead of the catalytic converter (as previously) instead of after it, which is more representative in the real world.

In manual models, it takes 10 seconds for the 0-100km/h dash to occur, on the way to a ‘theoretical’ top speed of 190km/h.

Fuel consumption drops between 0.2 and 0.4L/100km, with the five-speed manual models returning 6.4L/100km on the combined average cycle, while the four-speed automatic cars average 6.8L/100km.

Perhaps as early as next year, we may also see a 1.4-litre four-cylinder HDi common rail turbo-diesel engine arrive as an option. Matched to the low-mass mini Mazda, we can expect the diesel version to easily return sub-5L/100km fuel consumption figures.

Sourced from PSA Peugeot/Citroen and used on a variety of other vehicles across Europe, it was devised as part of the European engine specification for both the new Mazda2 and the upcoming Ford Fiesta.

Stay tuned for more news on that one soon. There is a chance that an announcement will be made around the time of the Mazda2 three-door’s unveiling early next year.

To improve ergonomics, the gearlever with both transmission choices is 38mm higher to be closer to the driver. The handbrake has also edged nearer.

Also benefiting the driver is a descending beltline to aid forward/side vision.

In its role as “Personal City Commuter” Mazda has fitted a large glovebox and plenty of storage receptacles.

However, in the interest of saving weight, there is no longer a sliding rear seat like there used to be in baby Mazdas.

Indeed, there is a 10 per cent reduction in boot space, from 280 to 250 litres, compared to the older Mazda2, although folding the rear seats down increases the load capacity to 787 litres.

Besides the aforementioned ABS, EBD and EBA, all models include dual front airbags, air-conditioning, power windows and electric mirrors.

The Maxx, which now costs $380 more in DE manual guise than it did as the DY – adds 15-inch alloy wheels, a six-disc CD player, steering wheel mounted audio controls, a rear spoiler and fancier silver trim inside.

The $555 more expensive Genki manual tops that with a bodykit, 16-inch alloys, different seat trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and front foglights, as well as the six airbags.

Unfortunately cruise control is not available as a factory-fitted option.

Since December 2002, almost 25,500 DY Mazda2s were sold in Australia.

With the DE, Mazda forecasts to sell about twice as many as before – 850 per month against the previous car’s 450-monthly average over its five-year lifespan, representing an 89 per cent increase – but it privately wants to shift at least about 1100 per month when supply from the Hiroshima factory frees up.

Mazda’s new marketing manager Alastair Doak assures us that we will not receive any cars from the new China plant.

Younger women are the main target group, while the auto should account for about 60 per cent of total volume. This is in contrast to the outgoing Mazda2, which had 70 per cent of its demographic over the age of 30. Mazda hopes the DE’s youthful demeanour will have that plummeting to 45 per cent.

Around 55 per cent of all Mazda2 sales over the life of the vehicle are expected to be the Neo, with the Maxx and Genki accounting for about 25 and 20 per cent each respectively.

Mazda believes that about 20 per cent of all Neo and Maxx buyers will choose the Safety Pack Option (extra airbags, DSC and traction control) while only five per cent of Genki people will exercise their safety pack option. Mr Doak says he will make it his personal mission to increase this percentage.

Eleven colours are available, with the Spirited Green hero hue, Golden Yellow, Golden Red and Metropolitan Grey being new to Mazda’s light-car palette.

Continuing a customer-pleasing practice, Mazda does not charge extra for metallic or mica paint.

Among the dealer-fit options are Bluetooth connectivity and rear parking sensors.

The mini-Mazda is the first of a flurry of new light-car models.

Honda’s next-generation Jazz is first up early next year, followed by the aforementioned 2008/9 Ford Fiesta.

We are also expecting the all-new versions of the Hyundai Getz, Volkswagen Polo, Mitsubishi Colt and Citroen C3 before too long, as well as a facelifted Holden Barina from Korea.

2007 Mazda2 range pricing:
Neo $16,500
Neo (a) $18,150
Maxx $18,710
Maxx (a) $20,360
Genki $20,845
Genki (a) $22,495

Read more:

Buff new Mazda2 weighs in for light title fight

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

The Road to Recovery podcast series

GoAuto can help you buy a new Mazda2

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