By Jarryd Neves, Motoring correspondent
The Volkswagen Polo is undoubtedly the darling of South African roads. To call the compact and classy B-segment hatchback popular would be an understatement. It’s got far-reaching appeal, attracting buyers from all age groups and income brackets. Drive one and you’ll understand; the little German is exceptionally competent and, aside from the tasteful styling, offers a host of safety features and unrivalled build quality.
A total of 1,221 examples were sold in November and therein lies the problem. With a starting price of R311,800, it’s not a particularly cheap car. So what do you do if you are in the market for a compact hatch stuffed with safety equipment and myriad luxuries, but want to stand out from the Polo-driving crowd?
Perhaps the Mazda2 will appeal. It certainly does to me, the littlest offering from Hiroshima is one of my favourite B-segment hatchbacks. First seen in 2015, a recent facelift has updated the styling, brought more tech and features and added a dollop more power.
The test unit was painted in a lovely shade of white, rather sweetly called Snowflake White Pearl. In the shade, it appears to be as demure as any other white car. Park it in the sun, however, and the metal flakes in the lacquer come alive, sparkling beautifully; just on the right side of tasteful. Paired with upmarket-looking 16-inch alloy wheels, the 2 is a chic-looking hatch.
A revised grille, LED headlamps and redesigned taillamps all play their part, culminating in a restrained yet attractive supermini. Step inside and, being the range-topping Hazumi model, you’re bombarded by an array of standard features. Prod the starter button (the Hazumi features keyless entry and go) and a head-up display rises from the dashboard. As with the CX-30 reviewed a few weeks back, the 2’s infotainment system is controlled via a central scroller. Tech-obsessed consumers may scoff at this but the reality is that Mazda’s MZD Connect infotainment system is intuitive and the least distracting.
Elsewhere in the interior, you will find climate control, electric windows and side mirrors, satellite navigation and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay connectivity. The seat design is to be commended. Trimmed in a gorgeous French Blue, the leather and suede pews enliven the interior and lend a sense of occasion to the cabin. They fall short of perfection, though, as extra thigh support would be appreciated.
Something the Mazda cannot be critiqued for is standard safety equipment. The usual suspects (ABS, brake assist, stability control) are all present, but the 2 boasts luxury car features such as blind spot assist and lane departure warning. Six airbags are included while a reverse camera and rear parking sensors round off the extensive equipment list. As expected from Mazda, interior quality is stellar; the fit and finish of the 2’s cabin is almost class leading.
Where it does falls short is on rear passenger space. The rear bench feels pokey and adults taller than 1.8 m will want for headroom. Knee room is acceptable, though, but things can feel a touch cramped if those up front are lanky. The boot, measuring 280 litres, trails behind rivals such as the Polo, which possesses a voluminous 351 litres of packing luggage space.
Perhaps the biggest attraction is in the way it drives. The 1.5-litre petrol engine produces 85 kW and 148 Nm and, while that may sound middling, shoves the Mazda2 down the road with gusto. Paired with a six-speed automatic gearbox, the hatchback from Hiroshima shifts smoothly and without hesitancy, while paddle shifters give the driver manual control over the cogs. The naturally aspirated powertrain pulls strongly, with plenty of punch from standstill.
You can take the Mazda by the scruff of its neck and hustle the hatch through bends, and it shows no signs of complaining. Instead, it welcomes enthusiastic driving, the well-sorted chassis and perfectly judged steering make it an absolute hoot to chuck around corners. Despite the compact dimensions, the 2 has a longer wheelbase than both the Polo and Citroën C3, two of the most comfortable cars in this class. Yet, it doesn’t ride quite as well as either. That is not to say the Mazda is uncomfortable, far from it. But over bumps and potholes, it is not as composed as the Polo or quite as supple as the C3.
While competitors draw on small capacity, turbocharged engines to better fuel consumption, Mazda’s Skyactiv-G technology uses a high compression ratio (14.0:1) that allows for improved engine efficiency. This, says the brand, provides a 15% improvement in economy when compared to Mazda’s previous petrol engines. The 2’s fuel consumption is rated at 6.0 litres/100 km. I managed to almost match that, averaging 6.3 over my week of commuting in traffic.
Aside from a compact boot and diminutive rear quarters, the Mazda2 is an incredibly appealing car. What’s not to like? It looks fantastic, drives even better and is blessed with equipment levels that wouldn’t look out of place in a Mercedes-Benz. Yet, at the end of the day, it is still a B-segment hatchback and R376,300 is a hefty sum to pay for a car of this size. You could argue similarly equipped rivals retail for around the same price, but when you look at what else is on offer (such as Mazda’s larger CX-3) it becomes difficult to justify.
The 2 is an excellent little car but the pricing of the Hazumi model is tough to ignore. If you require a classy, compact hatch that isn’t a Polo, I would recommend the 2 in a heartbeat … but with a caveat. Forego some luxuries and opt for the cheaper (albeit less well-equipped) Individual model at R350,400.
Spending time behind the wheel of one of my favourite small hatches, the @Mazda_SA. Very frugal, well-built and comprehensively specced. This R376 300 Hazumi model has a head-up display, satellite navigation and gorgeous blue leather seats. Currently averaging 5.7L/100 km. pic.twitter.com/zDxEybgaGh
— Jarryd Neves (@JarrydNeves) December 6, 2021
Mazda2 1.5 Hazumi
Power: 85 kW/148 Nm
Fuel consumption: 6.0 L/100km (claimed)
Top speed: 184 km/h
Rivals: Volkswagen Polo 1.0 TSI 70 kW Life, Citroën C3 1.2T Shine
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