When it launched in 2014, the DJ-series Mazda 2 was an instant sales hit, largely thanks to the exceedingly pleasant 1.5-litre engine and engaging dynamics which remain intact. When the current Mazda 2 launched, it was cheap and very cheerful. Sadly, the old base-grade Neo ($16,449 list) is now gone. A round of changes to the Mazda 2 have brought a new facelift and driven this small car upmarket, with the range now kicking off with the renamed G15 Pure grade at $20,990 ($21,990 driveaway).
With that in mind – and the fact that you can buy a Volkswagen Polo from just $17,990 driveaway – the Mazda 2 is still cheerful, but no longer cheap. Why’ve Mazda done this? It’s a combination of factors. Mainly, it’s about the steep depreciation of the Australian dollar against the Thai baht in the last 24 months. The other is that Mazda has a “minimum standard” of equipment for cars they bring to Australia, in the words of boss Vinesh Bhindi.
That means Mazda won’t bring cars here unless they have some advanced safety tech on board, and while the German-built sub-$18k Polo has autonomous emergency braking, the 2020 Mazda 2 packs more on the safety front. All 2s coming into the country now include front city-speed AEB and rear AEB, blind spot monitoring, lane keep assist, and front and rear cross traffic alert. A few years ago, these were six-figure systems.
The 2 also sees some subtle changes inside, freshening up the already decent cabin with classier materials, helping to align this entry-level car with Mazda’s new ‘Premium’ philosophy. We reckon the updated 2 easily has the current Toyota Yaris licked for look and feel, with its soft seats and squidgy dashboard pad – but whether this justifies the price hike is quite subjective.
To us, the updated front end looks great, with the standard LED headlights now underscored by a flowing ribbon of chrome trim. It’s hard to miss the optional, deep Soul Red Crystal paint ($495), and classy 16-inch alloys that adorned our $27,485 driveaway range-topping GT example. Mazda-spotters will note the brand’s new typeface on the tailgate badging, echoing the on-the-whole subtle alterations. Not that we mind subtle: the ‘DJ’ shape continues to be a pleasant blend of funky and grown-up. That’s a good thing, because you still see plenty of these cars on the road.
And there’s a good reason for that: Mazda nailed the driving experience of the 2. Behind the wheel, the experience really revolves around the 1.5-litre four-cylinder Skyactiv engine. The outputs of 82kW of power and 144Nm of torque sound modest, but that little red tacho needle spins happily and rapidly to the redline. It’s surprisingly muscular down low, too. Despite the peak figure not arriving until 4,000rpm is on the clock, the featherweight 1,070kg 2 feels adequately motivated from around 2,000rpm, making it nippy to punt around town.
All this fun meant we were prodding the throttle seeking the lovely engine noise pretty often – but despite this, the Mazda 2 delivered exceptionally frugal real world economy. Our result of 6.4L/100 from a mix of freeway, backroads and city errands was impressive. A six-speed automatic is standard fit on the GT and the more affordable Evolve ($24,490, $25,985 driveaway). Only the base Pure carries a sweet six-speed manual as standard, with the auto a $2,000 option. We would have liked to have seen paddle shifters fitted to the GT auto, particularly given how quick-shifting the torque converter ‘box actually is.
The positives continue when you direct the 2 to tougher roads. Speed humps and expansion joints proved a cinch for the front end, though an occasional ‘whump’ from the rear axle reminds you there isn’t a great deal of suspension travel. The inclusion of a 360-degree camera on the range-topper means manoeuvring the 2 is an utter breeze. Some drivers will struggle with the awkwardly long A-pillar and concave driver’s side mirror, which marginally erode visibility a surprising amount for a small vehicle.
Point the short nose to some twisting blacktop and you’ll feel the Mazda grow excited at the prospect of a challenge. A positive front end and well-judged steering make guiding the 2 through a series of corners a pleasure. Turn the Mazda in with some gusto and the chassis reveals expert tuning. There’s some body roll, but the confidence this little car inspires – despite rock-hard Dunlop Enasave tyres – is incredible. The combination of its light weight and the short wheelbase mean it’s malleable: no need to fret about the 2 falling into understeer. A deft lift of the throttle rotates the little car back to where it needs to be.
Unfortunately, the coarse-chip surfaces common in Sydney show up the Mazda 2’s Achilles heel: this is one of the last Mazdas demonstrating poor noise insulation. The Volkswagen Polo is much quieter at speed, though the keen driver in us frets that should Mazda add too much weighty sound deadening, there is a danger of the 2 losing its handling advantage! Turning up the stereo is enough to drown out most of the noise, but if test-driving make sure to take the 2 over some rough surfaces to confirm that you can live with it.
The rest of the interior feels premium, both to the eyes and to the touch. Mazda has updated the seats for 2020. They’re comfortable, and softer – though not as supportive – than what you’d see from the Europeans. The passenger air vents are linked cleanly with a single strake of chrome – a touch of premium styling. The dash itself is welcomely covered with broad soft padding, too. Unfortunately, there was a conspicuous absence of a centre armrest in our test car, though you can order an accessory one from Mazda for $500. At this price, it should obviously be standard.
One personal highlight is the inclusion of soft padding on the centre console edging, allowing you to rest your leg while driving: nice one, Mazda. To the driver’s left is a floating seven-inch touchscreen running Mazda’s MZD Connect system which, although aging, is straightforward to use and can be controlled by a centrally mounted rotary dial when on the move. There’s a configurable button around the rotary dial, too, for easy access to whatever feature you’d like to set up quick access to: the wired CarPlay or Android Auto functionality, perhaps.
Expecting the back seat to be spacious in a car, this small would be pretty moot. And yet, behind my driving position, my relatively long six-foot-two frame can be just about folded in, with just enough headroom. If I splay my legs, I can achieve a near comfortable position. Unfortunately, the boot capacity is lacking somewhat at 250 litres. A high load-lip is present, and there are no boot amenities like shopping hooks or cargo netting. Mazda includes a space-saver spare tyre though, and if you need more boot space, there’s always the sedan with a comparatively capacious 440-litre boot for the same price.
As mentioned, the ubiquitous smartphone mirroring software is now standard on the Mazda 2, as are steering-wheel-mounted controls for infotainment and the trip computer. Our high-spec GT also gets front and rear parking sensors, keyless entry – not available on most of the 2’s competitors – a handy head-up display with traffic sign recognition, and a grainy 360-degree parking monitor. Active safety tech is impressive for a light car with front and rear city-speed AEB, front and rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring and lane-keep assist standard on all variants. The GT further bolsters the active tech with high-speed AEB and Mazda’s adaptive cruise control system.
The biggest challenge with the 2020 Mazda 2 is the price. A buyer walking into a dealership to look at our GT test car will notice that the similarly-sized CX-3 SUV – with a larger engine – is actually cheaper in Maxx Sport guise, at $26,490 driveaway. Given Mazda’s 2 hatch and CX-3 SUV share their underpinnings, it’s no great shock that most buyers would opt for the crossover. Still, that’s fine with us: we continue to rate the CX-3 highly.
As for whether this GT is worth the asking price, there are some touches of opulence that competitors don’t possess and any Mazda 2 will impress drivers with that enthusiastic little motor, that great suspension tune and handling to sink your teeth into. If you enjoy driving, we certainly recommend taking the 2 for a test-drive.
Key specs (as tested)
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