The Mazda 2 has been one of our favourite superminis for a few years now – a stylish, fun-to-drive alternative to the class norms like the Ford Fiesta and Peugeot 208. The current generation car is five years old, so it has been treated to a mild refresh that includes a few interesting technical enhancements.
The 2’s line-up has been rationalised as part of the revamp, allowing Mazda UK to focus on the engines and trims that have greatest appeal. So the 75PS (74bhp) entry point remains – available only in the most basic trim, which is now, bizarrely, called SE-L, a badge that is mid-spec elsewhere in the Mazda model range. And sure enough, it gets a reasonable amount of standard kit, with 15-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, climate control and cruise control. It costs from £15,795.
We’re testing the 90PS (89bhp) variant here, which comes in SE-L Nav, Sport Nav and GT Sport Nav. All of these editions get an uprated infotainment system with a seven-inch touchscreen featuring Android and Apple connectivity, plus Front Smart City Brake Support and lane keep assist. You pay a premium of £1,000 over the SE-L model for the extra power and the added features – which seems, on paper at least, like money well spent.
Sport Nav (£17,495) steps up to 16-inch alloys, while the GT Sport Nav that we were sent for evaluation brings leather seats, a reversing camera, a colour head-up display and heating for the front seats and steering wheel – but costs a hefty £18,295.
Under the bonnet, regardless of power output, is Mazda’s familiar 1.5-litre, non-turbocharged SkyActive-G petrol engine (no diesels here, thank you). But the latest updates include mild-hybrid technology, which cuts the unit’s CO2 emissions to less than 100g/km. The system is basically a belt-integrated starter-generator that uses energy harnessed under braking to reduce load on the engine and increase its ability to cut out when the car is stationary.
On the move – or rather, not on the move – the hybrid tech works well. In particular, you’ll notice very smooth restarts when you’re crawling your way through urban streets. It’s quiet and unobtrusive, with virtually no start-up judder from under the bonnet. The engine is refined, too, with little noise and a very smooth note up to around 3,500rpm.
Unfortunately, with no turbocharging, it is also comparatively short of bottom-end shove – and Mazda has compounded this by equipping the manual transmission (an auto is an option, but only on Sport Nav trim) with ratios so tall that the 2 feels better geared for a land-speed record attempt on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Try to get from 60mph to 70mph on a motorway, for example, and you’ll find the dashboard instructing you to change down not to fifth, but to fourth. And on B-roads, the gearing makes the Mazda feel pretty gutless. It’s an unashamed city car, therefore, at its happiest up to 40mph.
The gearbox is a sweet-shifting unit, admittedly – but you’ll still end up using it far more frequently than you’d like, revving the engine beyond the point where it remains polite. The end result is that the car’s performance and refinement feel less well calibrated for most uses than the small-capacity, three-cylinder turbos found in almost all of this car’s opposition.
The chassis gets tweaks to the rear dampers and the power steering, and while the difference isn’t night and day compared with before, the 2 remains one of the best-sorted cars in the class dynamically. The ride is perhaps a little firm around town – again, it could be worth trying an SE-L on 15-inch wheels to see if that brings a touch more compliance – but body roll is kept in check and the steering is pleasingly direct and nicely weighted.
Inside, the infotainment system (a long-time Mazda bugbear) isn’t quite as trick as the new-generation set-up in Mazda’s 3 – so the screen still isn’t quite as crisp as you’ll find in some rivals. It does at least get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in all but the entry model now, allowing you to bypass Mazda’s relatively clunky interface and access more relevant navigation and music streaming.
The overall dashboard design hasn’t changed, though – so while it’s neatly finished and feels well screwed together, it’s very sombre and still short on useful oddment space. A chunk of dash is devoted to the CD player, for instance, and while there might now be that Apple and Android integration, there’s precious little space on the dash to store a modern smartphone.
This slightly dated approach is also reflected in overall practicality. The boot is a fair size, at 280 litres, but that capacity is beginning to look pretty meagre when some of the 2’s rivals – principally the latest Renault Clio – offer over 100 litres more.