Applying the epithet ‘great’ to a car brand could be termed dangerous, although Iain Robertson remains confident in his belief in Mazda that, as relatively small and independent as it is, it can tolerate critical appraisal and continue to impress totally.
Typical of Japanese cars, small has always been a beautiful platform upon which to base a range. Known originally, in 2002, as the Mazda Demio, with the company adopting a numerical model-naming policy, the first Mazda2 was a chunky 5-door estate, which also fostered the Fiesta-based Fusion model for Ford. In fact, they were not dissimilar, sharing for the European market both 1.25 and 1.4-litre Fiesta power units (there was also a 1.4-litre diesel) and the ‘2’ was even assembled at the same Valencia plant in Spain. However, the Ford relationship, as beneficial as it had been to Mazda, was soon to be terminated.
By 2008, the second generation ‘2’ was introduced, which canned the high-roof, mini-MPV look of the Demio in favour of a more conventional hatchback, with a steeply angled rising waistline. Available in both three and five door versions, it was notable for its ultra-lightweight construction. Mazda was emphasising its independence, with its standalone status for the tiddler that was breaking with convention. Its stock 1.3 (84bhp) and 1.5-litre (100bhp) petrol engines were not forced to work hard to deliver class-leading performance, which also included first-rate frugality, although a low-power diesel was also available for a return of upwards of 65mpg.
Inevitably, the Mazda2 felt quite flimsy, its doors closing with a tinny clank, rather than the reassuring clunk of larger family members. However, as I recall from a stirring test drive route around the upper reaches of the far north of Scotland, which now forms part of the beguiling North Coast 500, the car’s handling was compliant, surprisingly softly sprung but with mechanical grip in abundance. Dynamically, its steering was accurate, the brakes pin sharp and the overall experience was immense fun, for what was a relatively inexpensive small car. Interestingly enough, a pre-emptive electric version was sold in limited numbers in Japan, although consumers reported that they were unhappy with its restricted 124mls range.
When the third generation Mazda2 was launched in 2014, it had larger dimensions but appeared similar in style to the previous model, featuring the new Mazda ‘five-point’ corporate snout. However, it was a markedly different machine. Whereas the previous model was plastic-fantastic in the cabin, the new ‘2’ featured higher levels of tactile quality in an altogether more grown-up package. The cabin doors also closed with a more solid thunk.
Now upgraded, the revised 2022 Mazda2 goes on sale from the 1st October. While not completely fresh, it does introduce new trim levels and improved efficiency across the range. As before, the Mazda2 line-up is powered exclusively by the 1.5-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engine and a 112bhp version (0-60mph in 9.4s, top speed of 118mph, 50+mpg) has been reintroduced alongside the 72 and 87bhp standard outputs.
No less than seven variants are now available, commencing with the £16,475 SE-L in lowest power form, while the range is topped by a new £20,845 GT Sport Tech model and the punchiest of the three engines. The middle-ground motor is offered in SE-L and Sport trims, with Sport versions driving through a choice of either manual or fully automatic transmissions. The flagship GT Sport Tech is matched exclusively to the slick six-speed manual gearbox and, with the exception of the entry-level hatchback, all manual versions of the 2022 Mazda2 feature the M Hybrid system and carry e-Skyactiv G badging.
Putting Mazda’s pursuit of efficiency gains into perspective, the 87bhp motor’s 120g/km CO2 rating has been slashed to a mere 107g/km, achieved by whacking up its compression ratio from an already high 13.1:1 to a remarkable 15.1:1, while the exhaust manifold is now a 4-2-1 tubular bunch of bananas, rather than the boring 4-into-1 cast type for much improved breathing.
Keen to maintain a well-equipped stance for the ‘2’, all models in the range feature as standard sat-nav, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity and air conditioning, while it also sees the introduction of wireless Apple CarPlay from Sport trim up. The GT Sport versions gain a colour head-up display, reversing camera, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel, while the range-topper supplements its equipment tally to include items not normally found as standard in this class, including adaptive LED headlights, blind spot monitoring, rear smart city brake support and a 360-degree camera. Reflecting on the new list prices highlights that value-for-money is central to the Mazda2 proposition, which is a rarity in these days of sky-rocketing retail prices.
When the now replaced version first emerged, it benefited from significant but conventional suspension alterations that included new top mounts for the dampers, more responsive power steering and Mazda’s unique take on G-vectoring control, which aided the car’s cornering performance significantly. All of these aspects are carried onto the 2022 models gifting the ‘2’ with the dynamic grace of an MX-5, which ensures that it is still a class leader in overall handling and roadholding terms.
It is abundantly clear that the Mazda2 is now a very complete small car. It feels uncompromisingly resilient, backed up by taut but comfortable handling that possesses a hugely enjoyable sporting edge. Its cabin is well-appointed and spacious enough, even for a tall driver and front passenger. Naturally, the back seat is more compromised on the space front, although split-folding more than doubles the available boot area, which at 310-litres with the seats in use is only average for the class.
Conclusion: Mazda is one of the more thoughtful car brands. Through carefully curated user-friendliness, supported by plenty of technological forethought, continuous improvement ensures that it uses its R&D budget wisely and cost-effectively. I shall be looking for a replacement for my Suzuki Vitara in less than a year’s time and a new Mazda2 is already on the wish list.