5-litre petrol and diesel engines that make great real-world economy and brings buyers one of the most interesting interior designs in the segment. If you were thinking of buying an ordinary small hatch of this sort, it might be time to consider a more extraordinary one.
Integral to this Mazda2’s design philosophy is its SKYACTIV-Chassis, its SKYACTIV-Body, its SKYACTIV-Drive transmissions and its two SKYACTIV engines, all of them with bulk trimmed to the minimum, bringing the collective result that this car is significantly lighter than most of its rivals. As a result, it'll accelerate more quickly, stop more sharply, corner more keenly, the suspension will be able to its job more effectively and you won't be exacting such a huge demand on brakes, transmission and tyres. Hardly a marginal improvement then, but instead one you can really feel.
Onto those SKYACTIV-G petrol and SKYACTIVE-D diesel engines then, all of them 1. 5-litre in size. On these shores, the vast majority of buyers will choose the petrol option, which is deliberately old-school in its configuration, offering four cylinders and normal aspiration in an age where most rivals are switching to downsized three cylinder turbo units.
I’m putting the technology to the test with the pokiest petrol version, a 115PS unit that’s able to deliver more performance than almost anything you’ll get in this class that doesn’t claim to be some kind of junior hot hatch.
Most people though, will choose this SKYACTIV-G unit in its more efficient 90PS state of tune. Here, you get the choice of a five-speed stick shift or a 6-speed automatic.
On to the diesel option, a pokey 105PS SKYACTIV-D unit with a decent 220Nm of torque on tap – certainly more than you’d expect from a car of this size. More importantly, we’ve a car here that, to all intents and purposes, is able to offer the performance of a really potent black pump-fuelled supermini at the same time as delivering the economy you’d usually expect from a really eco-conscious diesel.
In designing this car, Mazda’s development team contemplated what the competition was doing. And then did something completely different. Most modern superminis, they noticed, were being designed to look bigger and roomier than they actually were through the simple trick of moving the front A-pillars forward. It’s a quick way to make the cabin look bigger – but an illusion that’ll disappoint once you take a seat inside if the car in question sits on underpinnings that are very little different from those of its predecessor. The third generation Mazda2, its development team decided, wouldn’t be like that. What if those A-pillars could be moved 80mm backwards, yet at the same time, the car itself could be made 140mm longer, with 80mm of extra wheelbase? Wouldn’t the resulting shape look sporty and compact, yet disguise as much practicality as a car in this class might ever need?
It was a great concept and it’s been completed with a rather artful interpretation of the ‘KODO’ ‘Soul of Motion’ design theme that inspired the ‘Hazumi’ concept version of this car and which for some time now, Mazda’s been rolling out across its model range. This is perhaps most evident here at the front, where this prominent three-dimensional grille is linked to ‘predator’-style headlights by these chromed wings that pass through the lamps - on this top version lit by jewel-like LEDs - on a contour that continues down the side of the body.
Follow this swage line in profile and you’ll see it joined by two others: an upper crease that ends at the horizontal rear combination tail lights. And this lower crease, there to give a bit of shape to the flanks.
But of course, as usual, it’s what lies beneath all the stylised panelwork that’s really important. In this case a SKYACTIV-Body that’s lighter yet stronger and far more rigid than before. And a SKYACTIV-Chassis that’s designed to try and replicate the kind of connected feeling you get in Mazda’s little MX-5 sportcars – something the brand likes to call Jinba Ittai, this translated from the Japanese to mean a feeling of horse and rider becoming one. That’s what’s driven development of this car’s completely redesigned steering, braking and suspension systems.
And, as it happens, the same concept’s also inspired much of the thinking that’s created an equally characterful at-the-wheel experience.
First up is this deeply-cowled motorcycle-style central dial, provided as a rev counter in the sporty version, with a digital speed read-out that’s also replicated on the optional head-up display that projects key driving information onto the bottom of the windscreen.
The other defining interior feature lies not in what’s included but in what’s missing. There’s no centre stack dividing the front of the cabin – so no mid-mounted display screen or stereo system. That infotainment display, where provided above base trim level, has been re-sited onto the very top of the dash where it’s placed more precisely into your field of vision.
Out back, that extra body length has released a little extra boot space, the trunk capacity up 30-litres to a 280-litre total that’s about the same as you’d get from most rivals, though a little down on boxier contenders like Skoda’s Fabia and Hyundai’s i20. Still, the capacity increase combines with the wider, lower-set luggage lip and a useful 1,000mm gap between the wheelarches to ensure that Mazda2 users can now more easily cram in awkwardly-shaped things like baby buggies.
Engine efficiency is another key area where Mazda likes to differentiate itself from its competitors.
The company bases its development around what it calls ‘SKYACTIV’ technology, a programme aimed not only at improving the efficiency of engines and transmissions but crucially, also focusing on lightweight design. This vitally important aspect has seen the engineers pore over this model in intricate detail, removing unnecessary bulk wherever they could find it. As a result, the Euro 6 engines, the gearbox and the chassis are all significantly lighter than before, leading to a minimum kerb weight that can be as little as 970kgs, enough to make this one of the very lightest contenders in its class.
But enough on the technology: let’s cut to the chase. What does it all mean when it comes to the bottom line? Essentially this: that a Mazda2 will provide you with sprightlier performance than virtually all its direct rivals, yet at the same time equal or better the efficiency of almost any comparably-powerful supermini competitor you care to name. To give you an example, the volume SKYACTIV-G 1. 5-litre 90PS petrol variant will deliver 62. 8mpg on the combined cycle and 105g/km of CO2.
Good things often come in little packages. Here’s one of them. It’s a small car that’s been developed with an extraordinarily large amount of care and as a result, is a class act. No other rival offers a better all-round blend of performance and efficiency, plus this third generation Mazda2 delivers smart looks, reasonable pricing and an interestingly-styled cabin offering premium segment features and some lovely quality touches.
The bottom line is that if you thought all superminis were the same, it’s well worth trying one of these. Life, you might find, is full of surprises.