We find out if this baby can ‘Zoom-Zoom’ like the rest of the Mazda lineup
Economy cars aren’t made to be fun.
This is a sad truth in the motoring world. Indeed, technologies like low-rolling-resistance tires, hybrid powertrains and continuously variable transmissions have helped immensely in getting people from A to B while using as little fuel as possible, but these have also made most cars less fun to drive than one of those red-and-yellow Little Tikes coupes.
Mazda, however, purports that its cars can achieve low fuel consumption without compromising driving pleasure through its SkyActiv Technology. In a nutshell, SkyActiv is an evolution of traditional chassis and powertrain technologies with features like high-compression-ratio, direct-injection petrol engines, multi-speed torque-converter transmissions, regenerative braking and a lightweight body and frame.
In other words, Mazdas sound like vehicles that have very few compromises, especially for avid performance drivers like me. These sound like cars I’d really like. As Fast Times is still running its test drive series on subcompact cars, we borrowed the Japanese carmaker’s littlest car, the Mazda2, for five days to see if this SkyActiv stuff is more than just marketing mumbo-jumbo.
Before we look under the hood, let’s have a gander at that body. To keep its baby in line with the company’s signature styling cues, Mazda seems to have taken a larger Mazda3 sedan and stuck it into a photocopier set to a 20 percent size reduction. The result is an egg-like profile – signified by the tall roofline and short front and rear overhangs – that still has the racy attitude that modern Mazdas are renowned for.
This attitude is most noticeable up front, where the swept-back bi-xenon headlights seem to stare intently at what’s ahead, while the chrome surrounding the large, gloss-black front grill gives the Mazda2 a distinct yet classy face. Lower down are seashell-shaped fog light surrounds in gloss black, while the lower-bumper opening is slightly concave at the top, giving the car a light scowl.
Down the side, Mazda did an excellent job of getting rid of the slab-sidedness that many subcompacts are afflicted with by making by beltline and window line swoop down from the fenders, then curve up to the rear-quarter section. This curvaceous look is aided by the rear door handles that are set higher than the front handles, along with the upward-flowing character line at the bottom of the doors.
The rear is a touch more conservative, although the large taillights and trapezoid-shaped license-plate surround not only define the car’s width, but also balance out the pert lower bumper. Overall, I think the Mazda2 looks great, particularly in our test unit’s fetching Soul Red body color (a pricey P16,800 option that is exclusive to this top-of-the-line R variant).
Plush but impractical interior
Inside, the Mazda2 punches a class or two above with its beautifully crafted interior. There is nice black leather abound in this R model, lining everything from the seats to the steering wheel and gear knob. The use of leather on the dashboard and the lower part of the center console – along with the contrasting red stitching, circular air-con vents and brushed-aluminum-effect trim around the gear knob – really makes it feel like you’re in a premium performance car.
However, my biggest gripe with the Mazda2 is the lack of interior space, such that even a smaller Mitsubishi Mirage G4 offers a more spacious cabin. This is particularly apparent in the back, where the seat cushion isn’t long enough to support adult-sized thighs comfortably on long trips. In addition, the intrusive central tunnel (essential for rigidity) and the car’s narrowness mean seating three people back there will be a challenge. And although the glove compartment is big, there aren’t as many drinks holders and cubby holes as in the Mazda2’s rivals.
In addition, the trunk isn’t as voluminous as the one in a Toyota Vios or Suzuki Ciaz, the trunk lid doesn’t have an interior release (although it can be opened from the key fob) and the trunk opening, although wide, isn’t very tall so putting large boxes in could be a challenge. The Mazda2 does come standard with 60:40 split-folding rear seats, which I got to use as soon as I got the car because I had to carry a six-inch-thick, foam double mattress. However, I wish the seatbacks folded flat so that the mattress would have fit in more easily.
Despite the disappointing lack of practicality, the Mazda2 R has an exceptional list of safety features. Apart from dual front airbags and anti-lock brakes, the 2 comes standard with fully adjustable headrests and three-point seatbelts for all occupants, child-seat anchors and Dynamic Stability Control. Considering the United Nations and the World Health Organization have emphasized the importance of these features in reducing deaths and injuries in car crashes, I think all carmakers should have these as standard in all of their models.
Sublime driving experience
Now that the pragmatic stuff is done, it’s time to talk about how the Mazda2 drives. First off, it’s easy to get a good driving position with the wonderfully supportive and well-bolstered driver’s seat and the tilting and telescoping steering column (although I wish it could tilt lower for shorter drivers).
The 1.5-liter, twin-cam, 16-valve, direct-injection SkyActiv-G inline-four, producing 107 horsepower and 139 Newton-meters of torque, delivers its power smoothly through a responsive six-speed automatic gearbox with sequential-shift mode and paddle shifters, although I would have liked more torque below 2,000 revolutions per minute. In the city, the engine works with the Mazda2’s small size, good all-around visibility and light, responsive steering to make it a truly stellar urban warrior. It even got a respectable 8.25 kilometers per liter (kpl) in 62.5 kilometers of city driving, although I should mention that it is quite loud when high-idling on cold start.
However, it’s on the open road where the Mazda2 truly shines. I’ll put it this way: this is the most fun I have ever had in a car this small. The engine – which cruises at a serene 2,250 rpm at 100 kilometers per hour – pulls strongly to the redline with the accompaniment of a racy exhaust growl. What’s more incredible about it, though, is that it got 16.22 kpl on the 180-kilometer trip from Quezon City to Clark and back, even though I was revving the piston rings off it.
Meanwhile, the chassis and suspension are absolutely sensational, managing to combine eager and almost understeer-free cornering with a planted and comfortable ride. The well-weighted steering provides excellent feedback and quick turn-in, while the powerful brakes (discs all around) are easily controlled by a firm brake pedal. In fact, if other carmakers wonder what I mean when I say their cars need better driving feel, they should have a spin in this car to understand what I’m talking about. Indeed, this car’s performance is so good, I would seriously consider going into motor sports in one.
Excellent infotainment system, great air-con
Going back to the interior, the Mazda2 has a very clean-looking cabin because of the MZD Connect touchscreen infotainment system that is controlled by a knob beside the parking brake (only available in the R model), an adjustable heads-up display that enhances both safety and driving fun and the digital gauge cluster that has a centrally mounted tachometer (much like an MX-5). For the cluster, though, I would have liked a conventional temperature gauge instead of blue and red lights so that I’d have fair warning of when the engine is getting too hot.
Unlike the infotainment systems in most subcompacts, the Mazda’s fully integrated system is not only responsive, but also intuitive with easy-to-navigate menus and the choice of using the controller knob, the touchscreen or even voice command. It offers several connectivity options (USB, auxiliary input, Bluetooth and SD card) and the six-speaker system provides good sound.
This R model also comes with automatic, single-zone, climate control where you could either set the cooling settings yourself or let the car decide for you. The air-conditioning is strong, although it isn’t quite as powerful as the Himalayan-blizzard machine that you would get in a Nissan Almera (or all other Nissans, for that matter).
Overall, the Mazda2 R is a stylish and refined subcompact that manages to be both impressively economical and an absolute blast to drive. It is also very well-equipped at P925,000, especially compared to the Honda City VX+ Navi that is a smidge under P1 million. Indeed, the Mazda2 is a true standard-setter in the B-segment.
However, that lack of practicality keeps it from being a truly runaway hit because, for a little less money, you could buy a Ford Fiesta Titanium or a Suzuki Ciaz GLX. Although both of these aren’t as sharp to drive or as well-equipped as the Mazda, these provide a better balance between great handling and practicality. Also, those who are space-conscious could be swayed by compact crossovers like the Ford Ecosport and midrange C-segment sedans like the Toyota Corolla Altis and the Hyundai Elantra.
Indeed, if Mazda made its baby a little bigger, I wouldn’t hesitate to call it absolutely perfect.