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After producing pretty dull cars for the past decade, Mazda has rediscovered style and design flair. This is particularly evident in its new 2, a small five-door hatch which replaces the 121. In a crowded and diverse field, the 2 is up there with the best.
There are three variants. The base model Neo is $17,790, the Maxx is $20,570 and the Genki (it means free spirited and cheerful in Japanese, just in case you were wondering) is $22,195. A four-speed auto adds $1,750.
Three years/unlimited km, which is above average.
The Neo has grey/blue interior trim, airconditioning, a CD player, central locking, 14-inch steel wheels and, if you wish, metallic paint.
The Maxx, trimmed in a searing shade of yellow, adds a six stack in-dash CD, 15-inch alloys, remote central locking, power windows and mirrors and wheel mounted audio controls.
The Genki, which arrives in February, is the sporty model. It's equipped with a body kit, ABS brakes with emergency assist and driving lights.
The superseded 121 Metro Shades retains 60 per cent of its new price after three years, which is above average for the small car class.
You sit high, people mover style, with great vision around the car. There's sufficient seat height and travel adjustment to suit any physique. The wheel is also height adjustable.
The dash is simple and stylish, with heaps of oddment storage up front in open and covered bins.
The audio controls on the Maxx's wheel are illuminated, while the headlights are brighter than the usual feeble offerings in this class.
The 2 is one of the breed of small cars which maximises interior space by using a short, tall body. A compact engine bay, plus the layout of underbody parts like suspension and the fuel tank, yields a long cabin with a deep, flat floor which translates to excellent space efficiency, particularly in the back seat and boot.
The 2 has not yet been independently crash tested, but Mazda claims class leading crash protection.
All models have dual stage front airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners with dual stage load limiters, five lap/sash belts and a brake pedal designed to reduce lower leg injuries in a collision.
In addition, minimising injury to pedestrians has been considered in the bonnet design, and there's a gap between the bonnet and the engine/ancillary components underneath it.
An immobiliser is standard.
The driver's seat is generously padded, supportive and very comfortable on a long drive. It's one of the best small car seats around.
The back seat in the 2 is positioned much higher than the front (which kids love) and has 100 mm of fore/aft travel. Access is easy through wide opening doors.
Two tall adults can travel in comparative luxury, with plenty of headroom and legroom when the seat is pushed back. The seat itself is flat and substantially padded; the backrest angle can be adjusted to several positions.
Rear seat practicality is compromised by the fiddly roof mounted centre belt, which requires two clips to fit and is difficult for kids. Child restraint anchors at the back of the load area under the tailgate mean that tether straps get in the way when you're loading or unloading gear, and restrict the carrying of large objects.
Your load carrying options and outright capacity in the 2 are less extensive than in Honda's Jazz, but the 2 still has a decent sized cargo area with some smart touches.
A six footer can walk under the single piece tailgate while the low floor makes for strain free loading and unloading.
Slide out bars on each side of the cargo area each have a shopping bag hook, and a load cover is standard.
The rear seat back is split 50/50, but the seat itself is one piece so you cannot double fold one side only. When one of the backrests is tipped forward, there's a big step in the extended floor; when the whole seat is double folded Mazda claims the 2 will hold a couple of mountain bikes.
Under the floor is a space saver spare and a shallow plastic storage bin.
Build and finish quality are outstanding. The test Maxx felt rock solid and the interior was completely squeak, chirp and rattle free.
Though more powerful than the superseded 1.5 from the 121, the new 1.5 litre engine uses less fuel and, for its output, returns excellent economy. On the highway the test manual Maxx used 6.2 litres/100 km; in town this increased to 8.1 litres/100 km.
The 1.5 produces 82 kW of power - the highest output in the class - so it has more than enough zoom zoom to get the 2 along at a smart pace.
There's nothing happening under 2000 rpm; it's an engine that in typical Mazda fashion likes to be revved fairly hard to perform.
However variable inlet valve timing gives it an acceptably tractable midrange, plus some extra kick (and a buzzy character) from 4000.
At 100 km/h on the highway the 2 is pulling 3000 rpm. The five-speed cable operated manual gearbox is also a touch rough, with a slightly clunky action and an overly abrupt clutch which takes up late.
Extensively revised suspension has given the 2 a compliant and comfortable ride, which is much easier to live with than the harsh 121.
The 2 handles better than most short, tall boxes. Its substantial footprint, retuned Macpherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension and decent Toyo 185/55 tyres give it security and confidence on the open road, where it is also untroubled on rough surfaces.
Some kickback through the wheel is evident on choppy bends.
The 2 has less direct steering, and greater suspension compliance, than usual for the class so while still nippy and agile it sits on the bitumen with the reassurance of a larger car.
The disc front/drum rear brakes are only adequate. A bit more power and feel would not go astray.
While it's in the nature of things that small cars live close to the bottom of the refinement scale, the 2 could be improved in this respect.
While the 1.5 is reasonably refined at highway speeds, wind noise around the top of the Maxx test car's doors was pronounced on the freeway, while on coarse bitumen the front end generated plenty of road noise and reverberation in the cabin.
The Mazda2 arrived too late to be considered in the 2002 Australia's Best Cars awards, which in this class saw the Renault Clio Expression take the honours. If you're looking at the premium end of the small car market, the 2 certainly deserves a test drive as well. It's a fine car, especially strong on quality, comfort and space, and is reasonably priced.
Test by Bill McKinnon, January 2003.
|Body type||5-door hatchback|
|Warranty||Three years / unlimited km|