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Road test: Car of the Year

2008-03-19 07:56

Wilmer Muller

What's it about

It makes a lot of sense for Mazda to enter the small hatchback segment as the Japanese carmaker originally built its local reputation on entry-level vehicles. It had huge success with its 323 and Midge models in South Africa in the 1980s and '90s.

Therefore the new entry-level Mazda2 is a welcome addition - although not quite as "budget" as the entry-level Mazdas of yesteryear.

But the Mazda2 is indeed impressive and more than capable to turn its segment upside down.

Although the Mazda brand perception might not be as strong as that of Toyota or VW, this smart-looking small hatchback has what it takes to turn up the heat.

So, if you're in the market for a small good-quality hatchback, you'd better take a look at the 2.

The Mazda2 takes it sporty styling cues from the 2005 Sassou concept car.

Its overall shape is about the same as its archrival the Toyota Yaris but the Mazda2 appears funkier and more youthful.

Five derivatives are available and we tested the range-topping 1.5-litre Individual, featuring some impressive spec.

The Sport Appearance pack on the Individual version adds extra zest such as fog lights, snazzy 16-inch alloy wheels and a rear spoiler to the already sporty appearance.

On the inside

The use of hard plastics is plentiful and a car such as the Renault Clio offers a plusher ambiance. However, the overall build quality appears good and on par with that of the Yaris.

Thanks to a rigid bodyshell our test unit had a solid feel to it without any rattles.

The interior is designed to be straightforward and fuss-free while it seems as if Mazda went through a lot of effort to ensure that everything is accurately put together. It is also easy on the eye with a trendy appearance.

Ergonomics are excellent too with all controls simple to use, within easy reach, and the driver also benefits from audio controls on the steering. The dials are clear (except for the small rev counter) and a trip computer gives you all the usual information about fuel usage.

The central hangdown, where the 6-disc audio system and climate control are housed, is neat and symmetrical.

A nifty standard features on the Individual model is Mazda's Smart Start keyless entry where you keep the key in your pocket or bag and just touch a button on the door handle to unlock the car.

It also comes with rain sensing wipers as well as side and curtain airbags.

An obvious issue with some small cars with cramped interiors is the placement of the gearlever, which could knock against a taller driver's left knee or even that of his passenger.

To avoid this, Mazda has raised the gearlever without it looking awkward. Furthermore the steering wheel and pedals are well positioned too. The driver's seat is height adjustable, but the steering wheel is unfortunately fixed.

One never feels claustrophobic in the Mazda2 as it has an airy feel, thanks to a high-domed roof, and in fact offers plenty of space for four adults. The 250-litre boot might not swallow loads of luggage, but it is adequate and you could always drop the rear seats if in need of more space.

Under the skin

The Mazda2's 1.5-litre petrol engine churns out 76 kW at 6 000 r/min and 136 Nm at 4 000 r/min.

It rides on a McPherson strut and torsion beam arrangement. On the active safety side, the car has ABS brakes with EBD.

Driving it

Since the Mazda2 is so light, tipping the scale at just above 1 000 kg, it is quite swift and energetic. The 1.5-litre unit feels right at home doing an excellent job at getting the Mazda2 moving.

The engine pulls happily through the rev range and the overall ride is smooth and composed. There's also little engine noise, even when worked hard, but some road noise comes through.

The ride is firm but the Mazda2 shows great body control and agility. It loves hugging corners too and it is a nimble number.

Of course the Mazda2 is quite happy in town and with its compact size it makes mincemeat of city driving. At a length of 3 885cm and with the help of power steering, parking is a breeze with a tight turning circle of only 4.9m.

As an everyday car the Mazda2 is a pleasure since the overall the ride is enjoyable and it is just great fun to drive.


The Mazda2 can make waves in its segment.

Its athletic styling ensures that the car doesn't go unnoticed either. During our test period the Mazda2 received quite a bit of attention with flattering commentary from bystanders.

It isn't only the styling that catches the eye either. The Mazda2 deserves credit for its clever interior and good perceivable fit and finish, while its drivability is particularly impressive.

The only real drawback is that the Mazda2 isn't cheap, although you do get a decent car for your money.

This is fun small hatchback with credentials that will make the competition worry.

With the new Opel Corsa, which has just arrived here too, the battle is on to capture the heart and soul of the small hatchback segment.


  • Design
  • Ergonomics
  • Ride


  • Pricey
  • Intrusive road noise

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