Finally Mazda has addressed the runt of the litter by replacing its unloved Mazda2, a car that was more “zimmer, zimmer” than “zoom, zoom”.
Its new model is still numbered 2 but shares almost nothing in terms of attitude, design or mechanics with its predecessor. Thank goodness.
So what you get is a car that looks a cross between the Corsa and the Grande Punto, which makes it both funky and cute. Considering that one of the major reasons for buying a supermini is looks, then the Mazda2 is already in a strong position.
Other strengths it brings to the market are lighter weight, and therefore lower emissions and better fuel consumption, and Mazda’s reputation for reliability.
No surprise then, that Mazda expects to triple the number of supermini sales it managed with the old 2, to around 12,000 units in 2008. Of those sales, only between 20-30% will be fleet business, sales director Jeremy Thompson says.
This is because they do not intend to push the car through short-term rental channels, or do any bodyshop units.
Instead, Mazda hopes it will significantly lower the average age of its supermini buyers – in effect “doing a Civic” – which shouldn’t be difficult.
One of the pillars of this attraction will be the light weight message.
It’s difficult to know whether this was planned or came about more by accident because this is a very different car to the upright boxy model, but no matter: lighter weight, and therefore lower emissions and better fuel economy has fallen right into Mazda’s lap as virtually every other car gets heavier.
The new car is almost 100kg lighter than the previous one, thanks to many little incremental savings, including a body shell that uses lightweight high tensile steel in places, a redesigned suspension and even a lighter electrical system.
It also helps that the car is about 4cms shorter than the previous model, another 4kg saving.
Never shy of a catchy strapline, Mazda calls this approach “Honest Simplicity” – taking a long, hard look at everything to really identify savings.
The chassis and architecture is the basis for what will be the next Fiesta, but this has been borrowed from Ford in advance. Mazda takes the lead in B-segment car development and then transfers many parts back to Ford.
From launch, the Mazda2 will be offered in three petrol engine variants, each with a five-speed gearbox.
There are two options of the 1.3-litre engine, in either 75bhp or 86bhp form, with both managing 52.3 mpg on the com-bined cycle and 129g/km of CO2.
Then there’s a higher power 1.5-litre offering 103bhp, 47.9mpg and a CO2 rating 140g/km. On sale at the end of the year will be a 1.4-litre turbodiesel version with 68bhp.
There are three variants available: TS, TS2 and Sport, with prices starting at £8,499 on the road.
That’s not exactly the cheapest on the market, but it is very comparable in terms of the amount of power offered, and certainly the levels of kit.
Mazda isn’t looking to do high volumes and so stripped-out, budget-level cars aren’t really its thing.
Even the entry level TS comes with attachment for an iPod, driver’s seat height adjustment, electric door mirror and a magazine rack.
The marketing people are hoping that particular feature will be filled with Grazia and Heat rather than Yours and The English Garden.
The next level up, the TS2, is a fair leap at £1,500 more expensive while the Sport version is a further £1,800 at £11,799.
It comes with pretty much all the kit you can get for the 2, such as a funky sports styling, climate control, cruise control and automatic rain and light sensor. About the only thing missing is metallic paint at £350.
In fact, as is often the way with Mazda, there are very few options at all for any of the cars – only metallic paint, air conditioning, dynamic stability control and traction control can be specified – which at least makes the models clear and distinct on the used market, which should help residuals.
There is talk that eventually an MPS version will be offered, as well as three door models, but for the moment, these three cars are the only versions on sale.
Unusually, the car was on sale ahead of the launch and has been in showrooms since the start of September.
Mazda UK managed to negotiate an early batch of 1,000 cars from Japan to coincide with the vital change in registration plates, although it hasn’t been marketed hard yet.
Behind the wheel
Getting behind the wheel highlighted a small problem.
It’s really hard to tell the two 1.3 versions apart unless you’re the product manager for the Mazda2.
And that means those doughty fellows in the used car market will harrumph.
Once the right models were identified with the help of Mazda experts, we set off.
On all cars, the interior is tidy if uninspiring, the shapes fluid rather than straight but with a lot of the same dull black plastic.
Bearing in mind it’s a Japanese supermini designed in Japan, the seating position is actually pretty good for a big European galoot such as myself, and there’s an excellent amount of legroom in the back for such a compact car.
So how does it drive? Well, with the 1.3 86bhp and 1.5-litre 103bhp models, the answer is very similarly.
The bigger-engined model has more spring at the top end but you’d be hard pushed to notice a great deal of difference in the middle and lower ranges.
You wouldn’t call any of the models fast, but even the lowest power version is adequate.
The gearbox is lovely and the brakes strong, although the electric power assisted steering is a slightly disconcerting mix of extremely direct allied to being almost completely devoid of feel.
It has to be said though that the entire launch was conducted in torrential conditions which made it very hard to properly judge how it handled. That said, there seemed loads of grip in the wet, which bodes well for a dry run.
At last, Mazda has a 2 that actually fits into the range properly.
It looks funky, drives well and is well-specced. The lack of variants is likely to hinder sales in such a price sensitive sector, but then Mazda knows that, and it should easily sell in the numbers expected.
|Model:||1.3 low power||1.3 high power||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||107||117|
|Fuel consumption (mpg):||52.3||52.3||47.9|
|CO2 emissions (g/km):||129||129||140|