1 Sep 2007
MAZDA’S fifth-generation ‘2’ was expected to stir the light-car class with its keen pricing and the availability of stability control to match its striking styling.
At the time of its release in September 2007, the baby Mazda – only available once again as a five-seater five-door hatchback – joined the pioneering Hyundai Getz in offering stability control as an option across the range in a sub-$20,000 vehicle.
However, though ventilated disc brakes featured at the front, all models made do with drum brakes at the rear.
Despite the weight of its added equipment, the Neo was 60kg lighter than its direct predecessor. Without the extra features, this figure would approach 100kg – a refreshing 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 body shell, the largest single saving, while the revamped MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension system – 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.
Employing an electric power-assisted rack and pinion steering set-up was another calorie-counting technique.
Mazda carried over the existing 1.5-litre twin-cam four-cylinder engine, but with detailed changes that resulted in slightly less power (76kW at 6000rpm versus 82kW) and torque (137Nm at 4000rpm Vs 141Nm), but the weight savings helped deliver comparable or better performance with improved fuel economy.
The curvy exterior theme carried on inside, with a descending belt line to aid vision and a 38mm higher gear lever to be closer to the driver.
While the Mazda baby was smaller and lighter, it also happened to be stronger and more rigid than before thanks to localised stiffening of structures such as the suspension tower surrounds and spot-welds around the tailgate.
The upshot of a beefed-up body and chassis were improved dynamics and better noise, vibration and harshness control.
Also noticeable inside was a large glovebox and plenty of storage receptacles but there was no sliding rear seat (unlike the original Mazda 121 of 1987).
There was a 10 per cent reduction in boot space, from 280 to 250 litres, compared to the old ‘2’, although folding the rear seats down increased the load capacity to 787 litres.
Besides all the electronic safety equipment, all models included dual front airbags, air-conditioning, power windows and electric mirrors.
Mazda added a three-door model to the range in May 2008 – just a couple of months after it appeared at the Gemeva motor show – and the newcomer enabled the company to reduce the entry price in Australia by $750. It arrived in Neo and Maxx specification levels that mirrored the five-door models.
In May 2010 a facelift featuring Mazda's new corporate face was applied and a sedan variant made its way into the range, replacing the three-door.
Suspension and braking improvements were a feature of the mid-life upgrade, as were increased standard equipment levels with a focus on safety that included standard electronic stability and traction control across the range.
In January 2011, Mazda moved production from Thailand back to Japan after just eight months. The sedan was dropped and the range benefited from a minor facelift.
The Neo hatch received new 15-inch steel wheels, body coloured exterior door handles, fresh seat trim and piano black interior finishes. The Maxx also got the new interior trim with the piano black highlights, while both models became available in two new colours: Aquatic Blue and Burgundy Red.