August 5th, 2010

Mazda2 Sport: A big bag of Pick ‘n’ Mix

In the UK we are fortunate that we have a lot of small, economic and fun cars on sale. When teenagers pass their driving test there are all kinds of small cars to choose from, so many in fact it is like being a kid in a sweet shop. You can go for the retro throw back Cola Cube of a Fiat 500, the Freddo like Ford Fiesta, or the Jazzy white chocolate button known as the Alfa MiTo.

With so many sweets to choose from, some can be easily left in the jar at the bottom of the shelf. This week I tested the Mazda2 Sport to see exactly where it lines up in the sweet stakes and to try and work out what Pic ‘n’ Mix sweet it is.

When buying a car, design and style is an important feature to consider. Luckily the Mazda2 is no melted white chocolate Mouse. With sophisticated lines carved through a wedged shape it is up there with the best of the small car lookers. Following Mazda’s Zoom Zoom design style, the 2 isn’t as Smiley, Smiley, Carol Smillie as some of their latest cars – which is a good thing.

Sitting on 16” alloy wheels and having additional ‘sporty’ aerodynamic tweaks, the Sport spec looks a lot more athletic than some of its competitors at the same price point of just under £12k. But to really make it stand out you need to go for some of the larier paint options. ‘Spirited Green’ or ‘Passion Orange’ (Toxic Waste style bright green and bright orange) would be my colour of choice as it makes the car stand out a bit more and look a bit more special.

But the Mazda2 has the appealing exterior of a Floral sweet but also comes with the bad soapy aftertaste in the shape of the interior. After seeing the flowing lines outside I was expecting the same inside, unfortunately that was not the case.

With dark hard plastics on the dash and a far from inspiring centre console with an not very ergonomic placement of buttons, it is a bit of a disappointment. However there is plenty of space inside to fit proper sized adults comfortably. The boot space is good but doesn’t have the option of folding the rear seats flat, so if you want to transport a couple of boxes of Gobstoppers you will have trouble. Being the top spec model there is plenty of tech loaded up with the Sport model to keep you entertained; aux in, automatic lights and wipers, a beefy sound system and cruise control are all standard.

This is a small car with a Sport badge on the back, so its driving is key to people buying it. Having a 1.5 litre inline four up front it is a good smooth engine, what is even better is that it is as light as a sherbet flying saucer. Mazda switched engines from the previous generation 2 to an all-alloy engine to save weight. Engineers actually used the same weight saving approach to the chassis and suspension applied to the MX-5 shaving off 100kg of the 2’s mass, leaving it weighing in at Rainbow Drops worthy 960kg.

The engine fizzes like popping candy but only comes into power at around 3000 revs and is not obnoxiously noisy nearer the red line. Only having 103bhp and 101lb ft it is not going to tear through its tyres like a fat kid tearing through sweets, but that doesn’t matter. The suspension and chassis set up makes the car a lot more fun than you would expect after reading its stats.

The Mazda uses the same basic platform structure that underpins Ford’s Fiesta which isn’t a bad place to start. Being 40mm shorter and 55mm lower than the previous model its short wheel base and stiffly sprung set up makes for a very nimble car. The steering is direct but it is too lightly weighted for the set-up. If you had a bit more feedback and a weightier feel it would make the car feel more planted on the road.

I initially found the 5-speed manual transmission connected to the engine a bit notchy. It is not the quickest gear change in the world but it is a short throw which makes it a lot of fun on twisty country roads. When on the motorway a sixth gear would have been nice to bring my average mpg of 39.9 up. The only downfall to the driving experience were the brakes which felt apathetic when initially planting your foot on the middle pedal, having drums fitted on the rears didn’t help this.

So where does the Mazda2 stack up in the sweet stakes?  Being a modern, good looking car it is not one that you find in a jar, but it is £12k for the Sport model so it is far from a penny sweet. With the Mazda2 you get something which is a bit different, quite a bit of fun to drive and which is cheap to run being in a low tax band, but it does have quite a few downfalls inside. That is why I declare the Mazda2 Sport a Curly Wurly.

Rowan Horncastle

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