26 October 2023

Facelifted Mazda 2 proves basic doesn't have to mean boring

| James Coleman
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Mazda 2

The 2023 Mazda 2 only just fits in the underground car parks at South.Point Tuggeranong. What does that say? Photo: James Coleman.

My calendar tells me there are only 26 fortnights in a year, and we’re getting close to the end of them. Time is running out to fit in all the cars I wanted to test this year.

It’s true the highly anticipated Toyota BZ4X electric car has faced several delays, but there’s still the Alfa Romeo Tonale because … well, it’s an Alfa Romeo. And the GWM Tank from China, and the Hyundai Kona EV. Slightly less relevantly, I’m also still itching to get into the Nissan Z.

On this front, the Mazda 2 seems like a waste of time.

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Yes, they’ve given it an “extensive refresh” for 2023, but as far as I can tell, this stretches to a new grille with a little red insert, and a strip of glossy trim on the rear bumper. There’s also a new model at the top called the GT. The rest is the same – admittedly very fetching – package from 2014.

I’m still very glad I borrowed one, though.

Even if it’s not exactly a family-friendly car, which I discovered on Sunday, when all four members of the Coleman family crammed in for church.

The boot is surprisingly deep, but because the slimmest of modern prams is still the size of a forklift, that was immediately out. Then it was the turn of the newborn’s car seat, which was very much touch and go. In the end, I wrangled it in, but at the cost of my driving position. I was left perched right in front of the steering wheel like my mother, with my left knee resting against the centre console, which is not soft.

And this is before you add in the optional centre armrest for $520.

So you use a micro-car like this expressly for commuting. You’re not here for the luxury, or the edgy handling, or the sonorous note of the engine. You’re a young public servant who needs to get to the office before the soy milk in the cafe runs out due to all the other young public servants rushing to the office for the same thing.

For such a basic mission, the Mazda 2 almost overdelivers.

I’m in the Evolve model, second from the top and the one attracting most of the local buyers. There are LED lights, cloth seats with red stitching, climate-controlled air conditioning, satellite navigation, a reverse camera, parking sensors, cruise control and lane-keeping assistance – so it’s well stocked.

The engine is the same as the outgoing model – 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol – and Mazda is clearly so excited by it they haven’t bothered to make a plastic cover. Mine has a six-speed automatic, because only the base Pure model comes with a manual gearbox option for $2000 less.

Mazda 2 cabin

Cabin is pleasant, if compact. Photo: James Coleman.

The result is exuberant, if not fast. But because it’s also light – and the engine sounds like an angry bee – you feel compelled to throw it around like it were, in fact, a Lotus Exige. I caught myself smirking.

I did try to take on a pimped-up Holden Commodore at a set of traffic lights, and for a few brief seconds, while he recovered from the shock that a dinky little hatchback was actually doing what he suspected it was doing, we were ahead.

Normally, at this point, my daughter Elise in the back seat would be saying “Daddy fast” on repeat, but not this time. She was laughing though.

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When you’re not doing this, and are driving more like a normal person, the 2 is also very comfortable. It can be hard to track down the sweet spot between taking off like a stuck rabbit and a drunk sloth due to the automatic transmission’s gearing, but it is there.

Mazda also claims an impressive fuel consumption figure of 5.4 litres per 100 km on a combined highway/city cycle. Needless to say, mine was a little higher, but not by all that much.

However, there is the initial cost.

I remember in 2008, when an auntie bought a brand-new base model Toyota Corolla for a a smidgeon over $20,000. These days are no longer.

A smaller car, the driveaway price for the Mazda 2 starts at $25,654 in the ACT, and goes up to $30,854 for the top-of-the-range GT. This seems like a lot for a car that prides itself on being just a car.

On the plus side, you are getting a very good just-a-car.

Still a good-looking shape nearly 10 years on. Photo: James Coleman.

2023 Mazda 2 Evolve

  • $29,154 driveaway
  • 1.5-litre four-cylinder, 81 kW / 142 Nm
  • 6-speed automatic, front-wheel drive (FWD)
  • 5.4 litres / 100 km estimated fuel usage
  • 0-100 km/h sometime this century
  • 1109 kg

This car was provided for testing by Phillip Mazda. Region has no commercial arrangement with Philip Mazda.

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