Price rises and only minor changes for the facelifted Mazda 2 city car, but clever aesthetic touches, fun drive experience and the right equipment keep this model fresh
There’s life in the old Mazda 2 dog yet, as the now nine-year-old model embraces another facelift. And for that, we must be grateful.
In its current generation, this smallest of Mazda offerings has been with us since 2014, and 2023 is another year with no all-new model. It begs the question, will there be another? Or is this its final hurrah?
Whatever, we must celebrate this car still exists. This charming, fun and affordable tiddler is a dying breed: Ford’s Fiesta’s gone. Hyundai’s Accent’s axed. Honda’s Jazz is distant history in Australia.
Yet Mazda’s lavished love on the 2 for 2023, massaging the exterior and interior, adding goodies and making it a little more economical.
And get this. They’ve retained a manual gearbox for those of us who still love driving. And despite a predicted 10 percent to 90 percent sales split, they’ll still sell you a sedan version – now the sole surviving four-door three-box in the light car class.
There’s no revolution to be found, but the 2 remains one of the most honest and likeable city cars available. It still rocks an old-school naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine, while rivals embrace buzzier, torquier turbo three-pots.
The 2’s dashboard and controls also feel like they’re from another era, but their simplicity may actually be a trump card to those just learning to drive, and for retirees not wishing to be swamped by screen overload and intrusive driver aids.
Young and old drivers are the two core demographics for this model.
City-sized SUVs – Mazda’s CX-3 included – may be the current darlings of such buyers, but you’d be mad to overlook the sharper-priced and – to my eyes – more aesthetically pleasing Mazda 2.
In fact, the cheapest on offer is the pick… if you can handle three pedals and a self-shifter. Starting at $22,410 (before on-roads), the base G15 Pure hatch manual has exactly the charms and driver involvement P-platers should covet.
It, and the slightly higher-spec Pure SP, have the most distinctive front ends of the new 2s, using a black or body-coloured panel over the front grille for an almost EV vibe. Move up the range and you get a more conventional black mesh grille; it’s actually a shame the Pure’s panel isn’t uniform.
Pictured: the Pure SP in the new Air Stream Blue shade
Bumpers front and rear have been redesigned, while fresh for 2023 are two new colours, an Aero Grey and the correct choice: Air Stream Blue.
The latter’s a classy hue that really pops on the little 2, and is complemented with a mint decorative panel on the dashboard. It just works with the fun nature of these little cars.
All 2023 Mazda 2s use an 81kW/142Nm 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol, mated to a six-speed automatic gearbox and turning the front wheels.
The only alternative is optioning the six-speed manual in the entry-level Pure grade, which delivers more involvement and 82kW/144Nm.
Prices have climbed to reflect the facelift updates and ever-increasing costs of production.
That entry-level Pure manual is up $900 to $22,410 (add $2000 for auto); a Pure SP is $25,210 (up $1200); Evolve is $25,910 (up $800) and range-topping GT $27,610 (up $1000).
The sedan version is available only in Pure and GT grades, is automatic only, and mirrors the hatch’s specifications.
The Mazda 2-based CX-3 SUV may have a slightly larger, more powerful 2.0-litre engine, but cost of entry now starts at $26,800 for the base G20 Sport. That makes the Mazda 2 look fair value.
Key 2023 Mazda 2 features include:
Pictured: the entry-level Pure grade
G15 Pure SP adds:
G15 Evolve adds:
G15 GT adds:
The only cost options are paint. Six colours are free (including the lovely Air Stream Blue), while three others (including signature Soul Red Crystal) adds $595.
How many L Platers and P Platers do you see these days, tooling around in their parents’ giant SUV or ute? I fear many never get to experience a small, lightweight city hatch and thus what driving a proper car is like.
The Mazda 2, despite its age, is still an engaging little handler with buzzy performance if you don’t mind exploring the higher rev ranges.
First of all, as an urban tool – it’s expected hunting ground – the 2’s a responsive, quiet and refined companion. Easy steering and titchy turning circle help in town, and if you sling the auto gearbox into manual mode and stay in a lower gear there’s decent response from the 1.5-litre.
Steering wheel paddles are missing and would make life easier, but really, here’s a car that should be bought with manual gearbox. The clutch is light, the shifter throw pleasingly short and effortless.
Importantly for young drivers, it also keeps their left hand busy driving and away from their phones, at a time when licence points and second chances are hard to come by.
You can bang through cogs rapidly with this weighty little self-shifter, and if you’re feeling the fun, leave it to spin up to 6000rpm and it starts to fly. It’s damn noisy if you do this, but it feels properly quick now, helped by its svelte kerb weight of around 1100kg, depending on gearbox choice.
It feels a more analogue, old-school drive experience than with the turbo three-cylinder engines found in many city car rivals. These have better low-down torque for pleasing zip – something you miss in this Mazda when in the lower rev range.
All Mazda 2s get the company’s G-Vectoring Control, which adjusts torque as you corner by evaluating steering and throttle inputs.
You’ll never notice it working, but it’s there to help handling, turn-in and overall ride quality. However the science works, it makes for a pleasingly planted little funster you’ll love to throw around.
It’s allied with a well-sorted chassis, for a direct, balanced and grin-bringing steer on faster roads. Its skinny tyres don’t enjoy bumpy corners when really punting along – you’ll feel the hits – and the steering’s a bit too light and lifeless.
You soon learn little steering inputs bring most reward.
On the highway it’s tolerable as a 110km/h cruiser. Bumps are generally well dealt with, but tyre noise is noticeable.
If, like me, you can’t imagine life without radar cruise control, you must buy the range-topping GT.
Hop in the Mazda 2 after being in the runaway segment leading MG3, and you’ll see why it’s worth spending a few extra grand on the Japanese car.
The entry-level Pure may be short on luxe, but the bones feel good, it’s well put together and the fundamental controls are well-placed and easy to use. A trio of round air vents on the curving dash offer a stylish view.
Its 7.0-inch infotainment screen is range-wide and feels aged. Mazda persists on only allowing it to be touchscreen operated when the handbrake’s on, meaning you must navigate everything using a central rotary dial when on the move.
Apparently this is for safety reasons, but I’d argue it’d be safer and quicker prodding the screen to navigate the controls and menus.
It’s at its most frustrating when using (wired) Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. These have such slick and familiar user interfaces that it feels incredibly foreign navigating them with a dial and not your finger.
Seats are quite firm, and the material in the Pure grades live up to their budget billing. Hard plastics are also omnipresent, especially the centre console and door cards in the rear.
Key touch points are better, especially for the quite large steering wheel, gear shifter and handbrake. Air con controls on Pures could have been lifted from the 1990s, but their action is far easier to operate than going through a screen (looking at you, Volkswagen).
What Pures do score is a funky dash fascia, coloured depending on the exterior paint. Once again, Air Stream Blue buyers come out winners, with a cool mint colour for this dash panel.
It’s only when you hop in the mid-spec Evolve that the 2 starts to feel a bit more premium.
You now have climate control with better-finished knurled controls, while the seat trim’s livened up with red stitching. Sat nav and Mazda’s quite stick-on head-up display plastic panel arrive here too, so the local product planners expect this grade to account for over 40 per cent of all 2 sales.
I’d suggest – if you can dig out that extra $1500 – the flagship GT may be a better choice.
Its leather and suede trim make a big difference to cabin class, and the 360-degree monitor, radar cruise control and advanced keyless entry help it feel much more 2023. Unique, very cool alloys for this GT too.
It’s cosy inside, but that’s expected for the class. The rear seat is a proper squeeze, with head and leg room not good for six-footers. No bottle storage, air vents or USBs in the back show it’s not aimed at anyone regularly carrying more than one passenger.
The boot’s a tiddler in the 2 hatch, although it’s quite deep and the opening means you can slot in larger items. Rear seats fold 60:40 to accommodate.
There’s 250L of boot space in the hatch – 100L less than a VW Polo – while the sedan trumps that with 440L. There’s a skinny 15-inch space saver spare beneath the boot floor.
Here’s the sticking point. ANCAP’s testing criteria has become far stricter since this generation Mazda 2’s 2015 test, when it scored a maximum five stars.
ANCAP deems that 2015 safety test too old now, so this facelifted Mazda 2 goes without a safety rating, and Mazda Australia’s not going to submit a current car for re-evaluation.
It wouldn’t be able to achieve five stars as it lacks the required central airbag and more advanced auto emergency braking demanded of 2023 tests.
Such things would no doubt be introduced in an all-new generation Mazda 2 (as happened with the new generation Toyota Yaris), but the re-engineering in this ageing model would be too costly.
While a lack of ANCAP safety rating isn’t a good look, we can’t dismiss that 2015 test when this 2 crashed reasonably well. Positively, the high level of driver assist technology seen on 2023 cars – even on the entry level – is notable.
That includes the really useful stuff drivers actually want in the real world. Front and rear auto emergency braking, blind spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert are found on all variants.
Standard safety inclusions are:
G15 Evolve grade adds:
G15 GT grade adds:
Not having radar cruise control in anything but the range topper is a shame.
Positively, the calibration of the lane keep assist wasn’t overly intrusive, and thankfully not any annoying bongs and warnings came from the Mazda 2 to chastise less than perfect driving.
Fuel use on our test was good, especially as it involved some back road shenanigans.
We returned 5.4L/100km with the auto gearbox, and 5.7L/100km the manual. That’s against official figures of 5.0L/100km and 5.4L/100km respectively.
Services are annual or every 15,000km, with the first five adding up to $2114. Over the same period, a Toyota Yaris is $1225 to service at the main dealer. Ergo, it’s not cheap running these little 2s.
As with all Mazdas, there’s an average-for-the-industry five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty.
While the updates for 2023 are minor, the Mazda 2’s facelift has breathed fresh life into the model. The attractive and distinctive front grille panel on the entry-level Pure grades adds serious aesthetic appeal; it’s mystifying why it’s not across all the models.
Pair it with a lively body colour and first and last car buyers alike will be drawn to the little 2. It’s got serious exterior charm, and backs it up with a basic but classy interior and the same fun-to-drive feel it’s had for years.
Now nine years old, the engine and some interior elements are dated, while no ANCAP rating’s a poor look.
But it remains a highlight in the city car class, and worth spending a few thousand more on than just settling for the inferior, cheaper but much better selling MG3.
While the GT is the real peach, the entry-level manual G15 Pure is absolutely the pick for cheap thrills and charming style.
Key specs (as tested)
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