IAIN ROBERTSON 

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Mixed messages strike at us from all angles in the automotive scene, reports Iain Robertson, as he takes a deeper view of Mazda’s smallest model sold in the UK, which can be relied upon to stick to the script, en-route to maximising CSI scores.

Customer satisfaction is a very understated premise. It ought not be so, because there are few enough aspects of human existence that are as important and brand integrity should sit more happily at the top of the requisites’ pile than it does for some makers. It is a truism to state that people buy brands. However, the waters are muddied with a mix of mongrel sourced ‘own labels’. Yet, some of those automotive brands play a judiciously directed continuation game of a sort that makes BMW (‘double kidneys’), Audi (‘shield with four rings’) and Bentley (‘colonnade grille’) standout.

IMGOur world is packed presently with disingenuous ‘virtue signallers’ and woe betide you, if you do not don their uniform. It is the same senselessness that surrounds visiting an online medical forum, rather than seeking the advice of a qualified practitioner, which is a virtual guarantee of harming life expectancy. Yet, far from being sacrosanct, brands are being subverted by rafts of ill-qualification and a relative dearth of knowledge.

Mazda is a brand that has been nudged throughout its century of business from pillar to post, some of which included an association with South Korean Kia and temporary ‘ownership’ by North American Ford. However, it has never lost its pertinent Japanese core truth, which is reflected in its ‘five-pointed’ radiator shell and the wings of its corporate ‘M’ logo. Just as vital as branding is the integrity carried by a logo-style and a strong family design presence.

IMGDue to a lack of major volume sales, Mazda appears not to compete on the same playing field as the Fords, PSAs and VWs of our world. It is a situation that might play against it, when cross-brand pollination and major group formulation proliferate as a means to survival. Yet, it also plays directly into Mazda’s hands. Pressure on list pricing is alleviated but its stance as a brand for the cognoscenti is enhanced. In addition, it is not jostled and chivvied along as a conventional line-up of products, as its main rivals would be. Mazda is certainly and emphatically non-mainstream, as such, it can be measured alongside similarly aspirational brands, like Volvo.

Mazda is a sporting brand, as can be evinced by the runaway success of its MX-5 two-seater but, even though the ‘GT’ tag is applied to the specification of this test example of the Mazda2, it is not via the tortuous ‘GTi’ route but, rather, the more honest Grand Touring proposition. With overall gearing that makes a 55mph cruise an easy 1,500rpm in 6th gear (even a motorway legal drive will not breach 2,000rpm), touring is a valid descript. Naturally, there is a downside to such leggy, relaxed, top gear motoring, in that 109lbs ft of torque at 4,000rpm proves insufficient for speedy/safe overtaking, unless the driver downshifts to a more willing third.

IMGYet, I do not wish to imply that the 1.5-litre, 87bhp Mazda2 lacks spunk; give it its head from take-off and it is more than capable of cracking the 0-60mph dash in 9.4s, with a top speed of 114mph, figures that underscore its modest 1.14-tonne kerbweight and finely honed aerodynamics. However, gearing legginess is also a major contributor to excellent fuel economy and I found that the 53.3mpg official figure could be beaten easily. Its CO2 rating of just 94g/km is a further measure of Mazda’s Skyactiv-G commitment to sustainability, albeit in a fossil-fuelled manner. The range starts at £15,795, rising to £19,075 of the highly-spec’d test car.

While hybrids are also on Boris’s recent ban-list, the mild system employed by Mazda incorporates idle-stop/start, by employing an efficient and integrated belt-driven starter, and brake energy recovery to a compact storage battery, which is doled out to aid acceleration and reduce emissions as required. Mazda may be a little ‘late to the party’ on the electrification front but it is not confusing the poor consumer, with the unfortunate imbalance of EV, PHEV and other, over-priced hybridised developments that have also stymied the market. It is another example of Mazda sticking resolutely to its brand truth.

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It is worth highlighting that the driving experience of the Mazda2 is largely uncompromised. The multi-adjustable driving position is good, even for a 2.0m tall tester, in a 4.0m long hatchback, although upper lateral support from the front seats is lacking. The engine never feels less than willing in its lower ratios, while remaining quiet and refined in fifth and top. The gearshift quality is short, crisp and precise. Quick and responsive steering is matched by a sweet clutch operation and precise braking. Although the ride quality can be a little jostling on typical A and B roads, progress along dual-carriageways and motorways is firmly supportive and sportingly compliant. The Mazda2 handles well, although mid-bend bumps can upset its composure slightly.

The cabin is impressively detailed, clad in leather/leatherette and featuring several ‘soft-touch’ zones, although the dashboard moulding is hard. A neat instrument binnacle, flanked by eyeball airvents and with a pop-up colour HUD (that projects speed, navigation and driving information into the lower section of the windscreen) is dominated by an analogue rev-counter, within the lower right segment of which is the digital speed reading. The main dial is flanked by digital readouts that can be prioritised using either the cross-spoke switches on the steering wheel, or by delving into the touchscreen located centrally in the upper section of the dashboard. It is very well presented and, once again, underscores a simple truth about the brand.

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The boot is typical of the breed, with a 280-litres capacity that can be expanded to 950-litres, when the rear seats are flopped forward. The equipment list is comprehensive at this level, with a heated steering wheel rim, reversing camera and even a driver attention alert fitted as standard. Its annoying lane discipline system can be switched off and its Xenon headlamps provide superb nocturnal illumination.

Conclusion:     Mazda plays its cards straight. It knows what the future holds and it will address demands accordingly. In the meantime, it relies on its brand to inform an adoring customer base about its indefatigable reliability, durability and honesty.