Attempts at cajoling company car drivers into choosing smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles has met with limited success so far.
While it may be true that the upper-medium sector is no longer the dominant fleet force it once was thanks to larger and better equipped lower-medium models and the greater choice offered by SUVs and MPVs, there has been little evidence of a full-scale rush towards superminis.
One reason is that many small cars lack the “wow” factor that would attract drivers of larger vehicles.
The current Mazda2 is an example. While it may be a worthy contender on the roads, it suffers from a dour, unappealing exterior and as such never captured the attention of fleet buyers.
But things are about to change in a big way when the new Mazda2 hits British shores in September. Like most other new superminis it is bigger than the model it replaces and, in the Mazda2’s case, light years away from its underwhelming and awkward-looking predecessor in every key area.
Mazda chiefs are so convinced about their new supermini offering that they anticipate UK sales will rise from the current level of 4,000 units per year to 10,000 – 30% of which are expected to go to fleets. Mazda expects the 1.5-litre petrol to be the biggest seller in the UK.
These figures are small fry when compared to the Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa, which last year sold 104,000 and 74,000 units respectively in the UK.
But 10,000 units for Mazda is serious business – last year it sold just over 50,000 cars in the UK, and fleet took a record share of that, hitting more than 19,000 registrations.
And the arrival of around 3,000 new Mazda2s on the fleet sales sheet next year will do the manufacturer no harm at all.
With competitive pricing the Mazda2 should do well, undercutting the equivalent Fiesta 1.25 Studio 5dr by £500 and Corsa 1.2 Life 5dr by £1,150.
Mazda believes that the 2 offers so much in the way of style, driveability and fuel-efficiency that many company car drivers will actually want to downsize into it.
One of the ways Mazda has upped the fuel economy figures is by making this car 100kg lighter than the old model – a rare occurrence these days when every successive generation of new cars gets bigger and heavier. To achieve this, Mazda has eliminated anything useless from the car. Each component was examined and where necessary rejected or lightened.
By using some ultra-high tensile steel parts, the body has been lightened by 22kg, while the suspension has shed 13kg and the seats 5kg.
Mind you, the designers reckon that safety has been increased – for example by adding an extra side impact bar – and Mazda is confident that the 2 will gain the maximum five stars in the Euro NCAP crash tests.
Under the bonnet goes a choice of 1.3 and 1.5-litre petrol engines, both home-grown Japanese units, offering from 75bhp to 103bhp and fuel economy on the combined cycle from 47.8mpg to 52.3mpg. CO2 emissions range from 129 to 140g/km.
At launch there will be no diesel option but a PSA Peugeot Citroën-sourced 1.4-litre unit offering 68bhp will be available later.
However, with diesel models generally priced at a significant premium above petrol and the fuel economy gains in cars this small being much less, this model will probably not be a huge miss at launch.
Trim levels will be TS, TS2 and Sport.
Behind the wheel
Never mind the styling and driveability – the first thing a 6ft 3in tester like me worries about in a small car is whether or not I can actually get in and drive.
To my surprise, not only are there acres of legroom in the front, but there is plenty of space for rear passengers too, as long as the front seats aren’t placed all the way back.
From the outside, the Mazda2 looks great – it’s sporty, chic and lithe. Inside, it’s comfortable and practical – note a special place for ladies’ handbags next to the handbrake between the front seats, which gives an idea as to who this car is aimed at.
There isn’t a lot of boot space though – you won’t get much more than a couple of shopping bags in there unless you fold the rear seats down.
Mazda has put a great deal of effort into the handling capabilites of this car and after a short drive on a test track in Vienna I’d say the engineers have triumphed.
There is a great deal of feel through the wheel of what’s going on down below and the 1.5-litre engine powered round the circuit, with the chassis hardly batting an eyelid at fast corners.
Even when my driving colleague almost lost it on one sharp bend, the little car simply hiccuped a bit, corrected itself and we were off again safely.
The Mazda2 is a huge leap forward over the old model. It looks smart, feels well built, has a strong engine range and is also priced well. Finally Mazda has produced a supermini offering which is worth considering.
|Model:||1.3 75||1.3 86||1.5|
|Max power (bhp/rpm):||75/6,000||86/6,000||103/6,000|
|Max torque (lb-ft/rpm):||89/3,500||90/3,500||101/4,000|
|Max speed (mph):||104||106||117|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||52.3||52.3||47.8|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||129||129||140|
|On sale: September|
|Prices (OTR): £8,499–£11,799|