Affordable city cars are a dying breed. Ford, Holden, Nissan and Hyundai have abandoned the tiddlers of the Australian market. Within a year Honda will also be out.
But Mazda has stuck with it with an updated version of its 2, albeit one that is more expensive than ever.
Struggling to contain its sub-$20K entry point against a weak Australian dollar, Mazda instead decided to throw extra gear at its most affordable model and step prices up in what is a radical repositioning of the tiny city car, available as a hatch or sedan.
This latest update delivers a big step up in active safety and more up-market finishes to justify the premium pricing.
Styling has also been tweaked; there’s a new bumper and the chrome grille surround now extends below the headlights.
The model names are different, too. The G15 stands for a petrol (G for gasoline) 1.5-litre engine and there are three models: Pure, Evolve and GT.
Five years ago the Mazda2 sold for about $16,000. That’s now leapt to $21,990 for the entry-level G15 Pure, with another $1500-odd for an auto transmission.
That will wipe it off the shopping lists of many budget buyers, in some cases pushing them to a second-hand car.
To compensate, there’s loads more equipment in the revised 2, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, reversing camera, blind-spot monitoring and auto braking in forward and reverse. Much of that tech was rare on luxury flagships a few years ago.
But it also means the 2 will have to compete on price with the more affordable versions of bigger hatchbacks.
Stretch to the G15 GT and for $26,990 the auto is standard, plus it gets partial leather, some fake suede, smart key entry, 360-degree camera and radar cruise control.
Each is available as a hatch or sedan, and it’s the former we’ve tested here.
There’s also a hatch-only G15 Evolve splitting the two.
The typical Mazda layout is given a lift with metal highlights and some leather and fake suede seat finishes.
As with all Mazdas, the compact 7.0-inch infotainment screen is only touch sensitive when stopped, otherwise directing you to the cluster of buttons and dials in front of the gear selector. The 360-degree view camera is handy but doesn’t have the clarity of newer systems.
A small head-up display projects a digital speedo above the bonnet and there’s a prominent central tachometer to ram home the sporty theme.
What it lacks in fizz it makes up for in functionality. Three circular dials are simple but effective for adjusting air flow and there’s a regular handbrake in an open centre console.
Revised seats better support the lower back, although there’s little in the way of lateral padding to keep you centred during cornering.
Similarly, the rear is a basic place. While you get the same swanky seat trim and door lining as those up front, there are no air vents, only one seat back pocket, and no central arm rest.
Space is respectable for two kids (three is a struggle) but larger adults will crave head and leg room.
At 250L the boot is noticeably smaller than that of the Mazda3.
Its diminutive size may be a handicap in a crash but there is plenty of crash avoidance tech to make sure that doesn’t happen. Blind spot warning is backed up by auto emergency braking (AEB) in both forward and reverse.
Despite the cosmetic changes elsewhere there’s little changed in the way the 2 goes about its driving business.
The 1.5-litre four-cylinder has been tweaked to make another 3kW, but good luck picking it. The 82kW peak is still modest by modern standards and the equally modest 144Nm torque peak arrives relatively high in the rev range, so response at lower revs is leisurely.
There’s a Sport button that sharpens things mainly by dropping the six-speed auto down a ratio or two; fine for punting around in traffic or on a twisty road, but ill-suited to commuting and freeways.
You’ll need to dial up the revs to unleash its (vaguely) energetic side, at which point things get vocal from under the bonnet.
At least the auto shifts decisively.
Fuel use, too, is miserly. The official figure is 5.3 litres per 100km although expect closer to 7L/100km for urban duties.
Dynamically the Mazda2 is more enticing courtesy of well-sorted suspension that adeptly deals with bumps while also scything nicely through corners. Steering is accurate and predictable and the 2 is zippy around town.
I love Mazdas and the 2 gets all the safety and much of the driving verve of bigger ones. The sassy styling and classy trim inside make it a tempting runabout.
It’s a heck of a lot of money for a city hatchback with budget genes, especially when some brands deliver more space and performance for the same money.
Honest and well-built, the updated Mazda2 is fun to drive and offers solid safety, but the engine lacks polish and is expensive for its size.
VW Polo Style from $26,990 drive-away
Attractive cabin, good road manners and a perky three-cylinder turbo but twin-clutch transmission can be jerky on takeoff.
Honda Jazz VTi-L from $26,784 drive-away
Get in quick before the Jazz disappears as part of a rejig of Honda’s Australian operations. What it lacks in active safety (including AEB) it makes up for with space and interior cleverness.
MAZDA2 GT VITALS
Price: From $26,990 drive-away
Warranty/servicing: 5 yr/unl’td km, $1717 for 5 years
Engine: 1.5-litre 4-cyl, 82kW/144Nm
Safety: 5 stars, 6 airbags, AEB, reverse auto braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, adaptive cruise
Originally published as Tested: Mazda’s up-market small car