Fun handling, comfortable driving position, sensible interior
Weedy engines, limited tech, crying out for a proper update
What is it?
The forgotten supermini. Or maybe the last one standing? Rivals like the Vauxhall Corsa soldier on of course, although the immensely popular Ford Fiesta has fallen on the battlefield. Anyway, the Mazda 2 has never been on par with those two, as evidenced by the latest top 10 UK sellers list. Just ask yourselves this, when did you last see one on the roads?
We’ll admit, mind, that we could ask you the same question of any car and you’ll likely be unable to answer. Not without taking yourself away for half an hour and having a really long think about it. Doesn’t help that the 2 is hardly the most eye-catching of cars, either; if you’re looking to blend in, then this is an astute choice. But the 2 does have its merits, even if it’s not as rounded as some of its rivals.
Where does the 2 excel, then?
By not pretending to be something else. We like honest, unpretentious cars at Top Gear. And they don’t come much more uncomplicated than the 2. The only engine (now diesel has been exorcised from the range) is a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol unit with either 74bhp, 89bhp, or 113bhp. The latter pair can be had as mild hybrids, hitting up to 60mpg on paper.
Said engine drives the front wheels through a six-speed ‘box; manual or auto depends on trim choice. You can’t get the supercharged SkyActiv-X engine out of the Mazda 3 and CX-30. No hot hatch version either, which is a bit of a pity, given what a great launchpad this chassis would be for a pocket rocket. Come on Mazda, give the Hyundai i20N a run for its money.
Is that it? Just the one mild hybrid?
No, actually. You can also get a more complex hybrid 2, inventively named… the 2 Hybrid. Although we don’t reckon it’s a real 2 as it’s basically a Toyota Yaris with the badges swapped. We’ve not driven it in Mazda form, so if you want to know what it’s like to drive we suggest you read our Toyota review…
Sorry, where were we? Ah yes. It’s a five-door only. There are four trim levels. And, seemingly as with every Mazda these days, it comes generously equipped. All models in the range feature navigation, cruise control, integrated Bluetooth and air conditioning, while upper trims get a colour head-up display, reversing camera, heated front seats and a heated steering wheel. Above all, though, it’s very competitively priced, starting from just £18,615. That’s pretty cheap these days.
Where does it fall short?
Ah. While we approve of the simplicity of the engine range, Mazda insists on continuing its naturally aspirated fight. Meaning no turbocharger. And as much as we love naturally aspirated engines for their responsiveness and smooth power delivery, the 1.5-litre unit offered here is so meagre it’s almost painful.
You just don’t get the immediate torque that you get from the 1.0-litre turbos we’ve been spoiled with over the years, which means acceleration is pitiful. The tiny 74bhp version only manages 0-62mph in 11.3 seconds and the 89bhp unit can only do 9.8s, which means progress is slow and motorway driving needs maximum concentration to keep the revs up.
The 113bhp version was brought back from the abyss a couple of years ago and only this feels remotely cut out for A roads and dual carriageways. Get your 2 with this one at all costs.
That’s a fairly damning verdict…
Don’t get us wrong, we still like the Mazda 2. A facelift in 2019 addressed some issues with the styling so it no longer looks like a buck-toothed beaver from the front. And nicer alloys and fancier headlights moved the game along too. But that was several years ago now and given this third-gen car first arrived in 2014 it’s long overdue a thorough update, if not entire replacement. We suspect the market’s shift towards crossovers means neither will happen…
Why, what has the market got against superminis?
You’re asking the wrong people. But the supermini market is undoubtedly up against it. With the Fiesta exiting stage right it’s left to the Mini hatch, Renault Clio, Volkswagen Polo, Skoda Fabia, Seat Ibiza, Peugeot 208, Hyundai i20 and a couple of others to show that small cars still belong on our roads.
What's the verdict?
The Mazda 2 is a very rounded car, and the fact it’s still here is a credit to a strong original design. The cabin is sensibly laid out and bucks that trend of sticking every function in the third sub-menu of a touchscreen; plus the handling is fabulous too.
It’s a pity the engine has the gusto of an empty crisp packet compared to the turbocharged units you’ll get in most rivals. And as much as we’d like to say ‘hurrah for having to wring a car’s neck for once’, to a great many folk, this will not be a selling point. You want a supermini to make your life easier, and having to manically downshift to keep pace with traffic is not what you need on a long journey.
And at nearly a decade old the 2 is beyond the pension threshold, in car terms. The limited tech is just one area that should’ve been refreshed and minor updates in 2023 haven’t hidden that neglect. We suspect that’s because it’s on the way out: get one now while you can still proudly claim to be defending one of the last bastions of natural aspiration.