Forget cheap and cheerful, small cars are moving upmarket. Mazda has taken the entry-level Mazda 2 and given it a fancier makeover for 2020.
There’s more standard equipment, new trim options, and a more mature face on the outside.
Prices have risen across the board though, and the engine has been given an incredibly mild update.
Does the mid-life refresh make for a more luxurious miniature Mazda, or has the brand stretched things a bit too far?
Pricing for the base G15 Pure has risen to $20,990 before on-road costs for the manual, and $22,990 before on-roads with a six-speed automatic.
The range tops out with the GT auto, priced from $25,990 before on-roads.
Standard equipment in the base model 2 has been given a boost for 2020. The two big inclusions are a reversing camera and smartphone mirroring, both of which have been reserved for higher-end cars until now.
Both are enabled by the addition of a 7.0-inch infotainment screen, which takes the place of the old-fashioned radio unit of the old Neo. It also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, DAB radio, and is a touchscreen when the car is stationary.
Mazda has slotted in a six-speaker stereo in place of the old four-speaker unit, too.
If you need reminding the Pure is a base model, the Nav button on the rotary controller doesn’t take you to inbuilt mapping. It just tells you to visit a Mazda dealer and have the system upgraded instead, which is a bit cruel.
Finally, the set of 15-inch steel wheels of the Neo have been subbed for alloys.
The Mazda 2 has a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on testing carried out in 2015.
Active safety features include blind-spot monitoring, autonomous emergency braking (AEB, with pedestrian detection included), reversing AEB, rear cross-traffic alert, parking sensors, and lane-keeping assist.
There are six airbags and LED headlights, too.
Mazda has changed a few things for 2020, but the Pure is still – at its core – a city car that debuted in 2014. There’s no central armrest, and the dominant material is still black plastic.
The seats are now trimmed in brown and black cloth, an inadvisable colour combination in the eyes of some, but Mazda has trimmed the steering wheel, gear knob, and handbrake in what feels like leather.
Despite its diminutive footprint, the front seats of the Mazda 2 have space for gangly drivers like me. The wheel adjusts for reach and tilt, and the manually-adjusted seats slide enough to accommodate long legs. Although it’s still a small car, there are far worse places to spend time.
The lack of a central armrest is annoying though, partly because there’s nowhere to hide your garage door opener and partly because it’s nice to have somewhere to rest your left elbow.
Rear seat space is average, as you’d expect. With the driver’s seat in my position there is no space back there at all, but you’ll fit average-sized adults behind slightly smaller adults. The big windows help, creating a more welcoming atmosphere than you get from the bigger but helmet-shaped Mazda 3 hatchback, while the tall roofline means headroom is acceptable.
Boot space is 250L, down 100L on the Volkswagen Polo it now battles on price. Although the second row folds 60/40, the seats don’t fold close to flat (like the Honda Jazz and its Magic Seats) making it a less-than-ideal place to carry bigger items.
Not quite practical enough
The second row does not fold flat, and the boot lags behind the Volkswagen Polo
Although the interior is fundamentally fine, it doesn’t really live up to the (much) more expensive sticker price. The brown seat trim is different, the touch points are fine, but the driver is still faced with the same basic instrument binnacle as the outgoing model.
Mazda has sprinkled gloss black trim pieces around the cabin to lift the ambience, but the basic black weave of the older 2 carries over in some spots as well, creating an inconsistent look throughout.
Is it fair to criticise a subcompact hatch for slightly inconsistent interior trim? When it’s more than $5000 pricier than the model it replaces, we’d say yes.
MZD Connect is really showing its age now. The addition of CarPlay and Android Auto is nice, but the system takes an eternity to start up when you turn the car on, and is sluggish at best once the wheels are turning.
The setup from the new Mazda 3 is a huge improvement, while the Volkswagen Polo offers a more mature experience at the same price point. Put simply, the Mazda 2 is getting old.
Power in the Mazda 2 comes from a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine making 82kW of power and 144Nm of torque, put to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission.
There’s no turbo on hand to force-feed the engine air, but power is up 3kW and torque up 5Nm compared to the older car. Not earth-shattering changes, then.
Claimed fuel economy is 5.5L/100km, we saw 6.7L/100km in a week heavily slanted toward city driving.
The outputs don’t scream powerhouse, but the lightweight Mazda 2 packs more than enough punch for its primary role as a commuter.
It has enough pep down low to get off the mark quickly, and zings through the rev range when you bury the throttle. It doesn’t have the same mid-range pulling power as the turbo motor in the Polo or Swift, but that’s the price of sticking with a naturally-aspirated engine.
For the most part it’s smooth and quiet, but lean too hard on the throttle and it gets a bit noisy and coarse. Once again, acceptable in a compact city car, but a bit off the pace when compared to the smooth-moving Volkswagen Polo.
The six-speed torque converter is excellent. And by excellent we mean totally normal. There’s no hunting, no low-speed jerking or awkwardness on light throttle inputs, which is one of the biggest advantages to opting against a dual-clutch transmission.
Mazda’s start/stop system could use a bit of work. Some of my colleagues think it should kick in as you pull to a stop, but that’s not the biggest problem – it’s just too harsh when it cuts in, and requires a hard push on the brake pedal to activate.
There’s more than just a hint of Zoom Zoom about the way the Mazda 2 handles. It feels light on its feet, with a keen front end and quick steering. You can sling the 2 around town with reckless abandon, which is always a joy in something so small and light.
The tall windows and light steering make it a cinch to park, too, and no underground garage is too tight. Unsurprisingly, this city car does its best work in the city.
That’s not to say it isn’t a natural highway cruiser, though. The engine settles down nicely at the legal limit, and wind noise is surprisingly well suppressed on the move. There is a bit of roar from the tyres, but it’s nothing that can’t be solved by cranking up the stereo a few notches.
It feels planted in blustery conditions, although it does feel small when you’re wheel-to-wheel with a Kenworth.
Maintenance for the Mazda 2 is required every 12 months or 10,000km – whichever comes first.
The first, third, and fifth service will cost $315, while the second and fourth will set you back $345. That means five years of maintenance will set you back $1635.
As with the wider Mazda range, the 2 has a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
The Mazda 2 is too expensive. There’s no getting around it.
It’s fun to drive, and the interior upgrades are welcome, but the fundamentals still scream six-year-old economy car. That’s where they’re from, after all.
Check out the Volkswagen Polo, Kia Rio GT-Line, or even the larger Kia Cerato before you commit to paying $22,990 before on-road costs.