The Mazda2 is a funky little hatchback that I met in its first incarnation somewhere around 2007. It was a nicely-styled, very practical hatch that punched rather above its weight-class in terms of ability.
Pretty much from the outset it was obvious this was a good little car. It became universally obvious as well – when it won the World Car of the Year title in 2008 (the line-up of rivals that year was the Ford Mondeo, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Audi A5/S5, Audi R8, Cadillac CTS, Ford S-Max, Nissan Qashqai, Nissan Skyline coupé (Infiniti G37 coupé) and the Volvo C30).
Mazda has won this award with only one other car – the MX-5, which this year won the World Car of the Year and World Car Design of the Year titles.
Fast forward seven years and the fourth generation of this little sub-compact became available locally. It was announced in November of 2014 – along with the news it had won the Golden Steering Wheel award in Germany and the Good Design Gold Award in Japan as well as that country’s Car of the Year.
Here in South Africa, we skipped the first and second generations of the Mazda2, finally getting a chance to make its acquaintance when the third generation rolled around. It set some pretty high standards for everyone else – and also for anything to come.
The latest version to travel down my driveway was a 1.5-litre diesel automatic. When that first generation arrived, conceiving of a small city car with both a diesel and an automatic gearbox would have excited me just about the same as watching the international wall-painting championships.
Fast-forward to today and I have to be honest. With the roads as they are, the traffic as it is and the abysmal levels of skill exhibited by other drivers and driving a car with a diesel auto seems quite attractive.
The lack of clutch means I don’t have to wear my left leg out with all that first-second nonsense negotiating the ridiculous numbers of speed bumps which have sprouted everywhere or the stop-start demanded by every single intersection that now seems to sport a stop street.
Basically, the combination means you can do your stop, stomp on the accelerator and the 250Nm of torque (available between 1500 and 2500rpm) takes care of getting you going briskly again. You don’t have to change gears thanks to that six-speed auto, so it remains a fairly relaxed driving experience. Additionally, fuel consumption figures claimed by Mazda for this model is 4.4 litres per 100km (22km/l) – and I did find it quite a job to get that fuel needle moving from full.
Since it has been quite a while between generations, with little but a facelift in that time, you’d think the Mazda engineers would have had some time to improve on things a bit, a bit of spit-and-polish here and there to get things up to date.
Well, they’ve made the hatch 175mm longer for a start and 20mm higher. It is exactly the same width as before. The additional length and height are used for increased passenger comfort and they’ve definitely done something underneath as well – the drive is a bit different (although it has been a whole bunch of years that have passed since I drove the original, so this is from memory alone).
The new Mazda2 seems softer than the original, a bit less sport and a lot more grown-up. It is now more comfortable than before, absorbing the bumps rather better, but the cornering is now less sporty than previous.
If that is better or worse, well the answer is entirely down to your driving style and what you want from a car.
I referred momentarily to the Mazda2 being more grown-up. Well, the interior of the test model featured a black leather interior with red piping, a multi-function screen with jog wheel situated between the seats, it accepts USB, SD and Bluetooth and has a multi-function steering wheel. Hardly the stuff of entry-level motoring.
This new version of the Mazda2 is built with the company’s Skyactiv technology – their first sub-compact model to use their KODO – Soul of Motion design language.
The little Mazda wears this new coat well, the curves and lines look good and instead of looking like just another compact car, the new Mazda2 has a sharp and defined edge to it which provides a somewhat sportier appearance
If you want all the fruit by opting for this top-of-the-line model, it won’t come cheap. While the entry-level Mazda2 (1.5 6-speed manual) weighs in at a starting price of R204 100, the test model (1.5 diesel 6-speed auto Hazumi) clocks in a rather more significant R286 700.
Like the previous model, I rather like this latest one. Clearly I was getting the best out of the deal, driving the top of the range model, but there is no little car feel to the experience. It isn’t an econobox in appearance, technology or finish and that is what makes it so good.