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Mazda 2 2018 review: GT

EXPERT RATING
7.5
Despite widespread acclaim, the Mazda2 is still an underappreciated car. Because even though it performs admirably against its fellow small-car competitors, the Mazda2 is still overlooked by its bigger, more expensive, and (arguably) less fun to drive small-SUV cousin: the Mazda CX-3.

Despite widespread acclaim, the Mazda2 is still an underappreciated car.

Because even though it performs admirably against its fellow small-car competitors, the Mazda2 is still overlooked by its heavier, more expensive, and (arguably) less fun to drive small-SUV cousin: the Mazda CX-3.

Yet despite this correlation, most buyers will still swing towards the SUV. In fact, there’s almost no discussing this with potential customers; some people are just set on a funky, small-SUV. And nothing will change their mind.

But what the odd person might pick up is that while the Mazda2 might not be the high-riding, small-SUV they were considering, the top-of-the-range $22,890 Mazda2 GT is only $500 more than the base-spec $22,385 Mazda CX-3 Neo.

That’s not a lot of change needed to jump from base-spec to top-spec.

And so, the argument goes: could a fully-loaded Mazda2 be enough car to persuade potential Mazda CX-3 buyers?

Saturday:

As I started to prepare for my 330km drive up to the seaside town of Harrington, I was glad to be testing the luxury-oriented GT-spec. Speaking as someone who currently owns a late-model Hyundai Getz, I can tell you that highway road trips can be quite the effort in small cars. The first two hours are usually okay, but after that? Say hello to sore back, sore bum, and sore ears. Cheap seats, short gear ratios, and a lack of sound insulation are not what you want on a four-hour drive. 

But, I was excited for this drive. Really excited! I was keen to see if 10 years of small-car development would change my perception of using smaller cars for road trips. And, of course, to see Harrington - home of the best fish and chips in the state.

If there's a reason to be persuaded towards the 2, it’s unlikely going to be the design of the exterior.

I know a few people have been complimenting the aesthetics of Mazda’s ‘KODO’ design language, but to my simplistic country-boy eyes the look of the Mazda2 is just too busy: a crease here, a hump there. Subjectively speaking, it looks like they couldn’t stop working on it.

  • Genki and GT-grade Mazda2's get auto-LED headlights as standard. (image credit: James Lisle) Genki and GT-grade Mazda2's get auto-LED headlights as standard. (image credit: James Lisle)
  • The rear lights help spice up an otherwise boring rear-end. (image credit: James Lisle) The rear lights help spice up an otherwise boring rear-end. (image credit: James Lisle)
  • The majority of the design seems to be used up front... (image credit: James Lisle) The majority of the design seems to be used up front... (image credit: James Lisle)
  • ... leaving the rear-end a little bit bare. (image credit: James Lisle) ... leaving the rear-end a little bit bare. (image credit: James Lisle)

Oh but how the Mazda2's other qualities make up for it...

First off, there’s all the kit. Apart from the new Volkswagen Polo - for which you will need to fork out $27,063 for the DSG-equipped 85TSI Comfortline (with the optional 'Driver Assistance Package') - the Mazda2 GT is one of the best equipped small cars on sale.

It has leather-trimmed seats and dash, a head-up display, push-button start, climate control, Mazda’s 'MZD' multimedia interface with sat nav, a digital radio and Bluetooth, reversing camera, auto headlights and wipers, auto emergency braking, traction and stability controls, blind-spot monitoring - and on and on it goes.

The cabin feels great, with crisp ergonomics and clearly defined gauges and dials. (image credit: James Lisle) The cabin feels great, with crisp ergonomics and clearly defined gauges and dials. (image credit: James Lisle)

There are some wee hard plastics here-and-there, but the cabin of the GT wears its trim well and doesn’t come off as cheap or nasty. It is $22,980 after all, and that’s not much.

Like all Mazda2s made after November 2014, the GT-spec has a five-star ANCAP safety rating.

The Mazda2 had been in my driveway for a couple of days now, yet the novelty of a seeing a head-up display rise out of the dash on start-up still hadn’t worn off. It’s a feature I’ve typically seen restricted to executive cars, and even then as a pricey optional extra.

The head-up display is darn useful too, showing not just your speed, but also the speed limit and rear-proximity sensors. The latter seems to work in conjunction with the blind-spot monitoring, so while the wide C-pillar restricts rear three-quarter visibility, there’s a huge electronic safety net to compensate.

  • The front is a comfortable place to be, with space and gadgets all over. (image credit: James Lisle) The front is a comfortable place to be, with space and gadgets all over. (image credit: James Lisle)
  • While the rear seat experience is probably the weakest part of the car, it's more than big enough for children. (image credit: James Lisle) While the rear seat experience is probably the weakest part of the car, it's more than big enough for children. (image credit: James Lisle)

On the road, the Mazda2 dishes up even more tricks. The 81kW/141Nm 1.5-litre, four-cylinder, direct-injection petrol engine isn’t an ultra-small turbocharged unit (like we’re becoming more and more used to) but it does feature an "impressive" compression ratio of 13.0:1 (very high) and low friction engine technology, the combination of which Mazda dubs ‘SkyActiv’.

Long story short, it’s an engineering philosophy that promises higher engine outputs without sacrificing all the eco-friendly stuff that makes owning a smaller car so appealing in the first place.

While we can’t accurately comment (yet) on whether this affects the engine’s reliability or longevity, it does result in a 10,000km servicing schedule that ranges from $289-$317 per service. After 50,000km, expect to hand over a costly $1501.

A Suzuki Swift Turbo and Volkswagen Polo 85TSI Comfortline will cost $1129 and $1213 after roughly the same mileage.

After arriving in Harrington, a few hours and 330-kays later, I achieved an impressive indicated fuel consumption of 5.2 L/100km. Not bad at all, considering my pace. And for good reason - the fish and chip shop was about to shut!

I was there just a few minutes before they closed, but my god did they hold up their reputation. It was sensory overload: fresh, soft, crunchy, greasy, flaky, salty fish. Why did I ever leave the Mid North Coast?

Sure, the whole town stinks come low tide, but they sure do make the BEST fish and chips. Nothing else comes close!

Oh, I also came up to see my mates for the night. But all in good time…

Sunday:

Why sleep in on an early Sunday morning when you can try to start a tired ’92 Ford Laser? In the rain, mind you. The things we do for our mates…

One of my buddies had been called up to Coffs Harbour (a further 200km up the coast) to pick up some stuff for his girlfriend, and guess who was asked to come along? After hauling back “a few things” - a fridge, lounge, bed, and a couple of granite drawers - in the Laser and a fiend’s single-cab ute, we sailed back down to Harrington where I then took off for Sydney.

Even when factoring out the appalling rain and wind, I must say driving the old Laser was a stark reminder (in more ways than one) on how far small cars have come. Unsurprisingly, the Mazda2 is leagues ahead of the Laser. Obviously. But it’s how close the 2 is to larger mid-size hatchbacks and sedans that gets your attention.. It’s not right up there with stuff like the Mazda3, but, impressively, it's not that far away either.

The little engine pulls with fervour and gusto without being too annoying at highway speeds. (image credit: James Lisle) The little engine pulls with fervour and gusto without being too annoying at highway speeds. (image credit: James Lisle)

There’s a bit of road noise on the highway, but the tune of the Mazda2’s MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension insulate road imperfections nicely, creating a reasonably compliant ride over Aussie roads. Not as comfortable as a Kia Rio, but better than a Suzuki Swift. The only difference here is that neither the Rio or Swift handles as sweetly as the Mazda2.

While the regular Swift is a properly sorted hatch in the corners, I think the Mazda2 is still more fun to drive. Rather than being sharp and direct like the Swift, the Mazda2 is a bit more meaty. The steering is quicker, the dynamism is organic, and the chassis is a bit more predictable on the limit. And I do mean “predictable” by definition – not a polite way of saying “sloppy”. The Mazda2 is a very nimble, fun and engaging car. It also feels more calibrated towards drivers who are still learning rather than established who know what they’re doing, and I think that’s the wiser choice. Drive it in the wet and it gets even better. With acres of grip all over the place, the Mazda2 provides a healthy level of confidence.

While the 2 does sport Mazda’s new 'G-Vectoring Control' – an electronic system that cuts power from wheel-to-wheel under load - I’m not sure how much it actually contributes to the Mazda2’s wet weather dynamism. I never felt any buzzing, whirring, or electromechanical feedback during my drive, so I can’t confidently comment on its effectiveness. Regardless, the security of the Mazda's handling in the wet is substantial.

Anyway, back to more relevant stuff.

  • While the boot capacity is short of the Polo's 351 litres of space, it's still a decent shape. (image credit: James Lisle) While the boot capacity is short of the Polo's 351 litres of space, it's still a decent shape. (image credit: James Lisle)
  • The rear seats are a 60/40 split. (image credit: James Lisle) The rear seats are a 60/40 split. (image credit: James Lisle)
  • When we folded down the rear seats, we found the headrest would hit the driver's seat if adjusted for a 180cm driver. (image credit: James Lisle) When we folded down the rear seats, we found the headrest would hit the driver's seat if adjusted for a 180cm driver. (image credit: James Lisle)

Compared to the Polo's 351 litres of space, the Mazda2’s boot is just 250 litres. But it’s still a decent shape and just 14 litres shy of the pricier CX-3 SUV. Get the Mazda2 GT sedan and the capacity balloons to 440 litres - far more than either the CX-3 or bigger Mazda3 sedan, and only two litres behind than the CX-5.

But it’s the rear seating position where the Mazda2 falls behind. Not everything in the GT is perfect and the rear seats are one of its biggest flaws. Not only isn’t there much space – neither my knees nor head had wiggle room behind my own 180cm driving position – there isn’t much in terms of features. You get power windows and that’s it.

Sorry rugrats - no centre fold-down armrest, centre console air-vents, or USB ports for you.

Minor niggles aside, the Mazda2 is a fantastic car. There are acres of toys that come at a reasonable price, a reasonably punchy engine that sips hardly any fuel, and a sporting chassis partnered with top-notch safety tech.

While a similarly equipped Volkswagen Polo would pip the Mazda as the 'better car' overall, the Mazda2’s sharp price point and value for money leaves that discussion in the weeds.

Verdict

Not only does the GT-spec add even more bigger-car toys to the already impressive Mazda2 line-up, it does so at a cost that won’t break the bank. On top of that, it’s fun to drive, frugal, safe, easy to park, and provides cool gadgets for the driver. What more do you want?

If you can justify the leap from the better value-for-money Mazda2 Maxx, the GT is hard to fault. Yet when compared to the bigger CX-3, the move is almost a no-brainer.

Would you prefer to pay the premium for a small car SUV alternative? Tell us in the comments below.

Pricing guides

$18,990
Based on 97 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$11,990
Highest Price
$22,995

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Genki 1.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $14,000 – 19,800 2018 Mazda 2 2018 Genki Pricing and Specs
Genki (5YR) 1.5L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $13,500 – 19,580 2018 Mazda 2 2018 Genki (5YR) Pricing and Specs
GT 1.5L, ULP, 6 SP MAN $12,400 – 17,930 2018 Mazda 2 2018 GT Pricing and Specs
GT (5YR) 1.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $14,400 – 20,240 2018 Mazda 2 2018 GT (5YR) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
7.5
James Lisle
Content producer

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