Richard Berry road tests and reviews the new Mazda 2 Neo sedan with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
You're looking for a little car (smaller than a Toyota Corolla, even) for not a lot of money, but you still want it to be safe, comfortable and easy to drive. Oh, and you're not a fan of hatchbacks, so it has to be a sedan, and it needs to look good. You don't ask much, do you?
Does such a mythical creature exist? Well, yes, it's called a Mazda2 and it should be put on the endangered species list immediately because now that Toyota has axed its Yaris sedan and Holden has done the same to the Barina sedan, the Mazda2 sedan is currently the only one of its kind in Australia.
The Mazda2 sedan is categorised as a 'Light' car, the segment below the 'Small' class where the Mazda3 lives.
We tested the (very) entry level Mazda2 Sedan variant – the Neo, with a manual gearbox. We lived with this car for a week and did things you might do, too. We picked the kids up, did the shopping, crawled in traffic to work, drove quickly down country roads in all manner of weather, from million degree days of blazing summer sun through to pouring rain.
So, is it all the things you want it to be? And what can the sedan do that the hatch can't? We found out.
Little sedans are rarely good looking. Designers and engineers are faced with the physical constraints of having to fit four doors and boot, while keeping the vehicle practical.
The story goes that the decision makers at Mazda Australia weren't planning to introduce the Mazda2 Sedan Down Under but changed their minds when they saw how pretty it was.
The cabin is stylish and very much Mazda with its refined design.
A look at the dimensions reveal that at 4320mm end-to-end, the sedan is 260mm longer than the hatch, just as wide at 1695mm, but not as tall – it's 25mm lower at the roofline's highest point.
Despite the extra length, at 1059kg the Neo sedan with the manual gearbox is only 10kg heavier than the equivalent hatch.
The cabin is stylish and very much Mazda with its refined design. The dash looks high-end and those air-vents are beautiful. The tiny media display does drop the hint that we're in budget territory, as do the cloth seats, albeit with tasteful pinstripes. The instrument cluster is well designed, clear and more grown-up looking than those on some of its little car rivals.
If you were thinking that because the Mazda2 Sedan is about a loaf of bread longer than the hatch, there must be more space in the cabin, then you're wrong. See, both cars have the same 2570mm wheelbase and that means the legroom in the back for both is identical. I'm 191cm and when I sit behind my driving position in both cars my knees are touching the front seat back.
Headroom in the back seat of the sedan is actually less than the hatch, and when I sat up straight my head touched the roof.
The luggage capacity of the Mazda2 sedan is 440 litres, while the hatch (with rear seats upright) is just 250 litres.
Somebody my height wouldn't be comfortable back there, but up front the cockpit is spacious in terms of head, shoulder and legroom.
The extra length of the car is in the boot – the luggage capacity of the Mazda2 sedan is 440 litres, while the hatch (with rear seats upright) is just 250 litres. That's a huge boot, it's also 32 litres bigger the Mazda3 Sedan's cargo area.
The size is excellent, but keep in mind that a hatch has a larger boot opening and this combined with folding the seats down creates a long, taller load space. Think of it this way, you could move an average sized coffee table in the hatch, probably not in a sedan.
Storage elsewhere in the cabin of the new Sedan isn't as impressive. There are no cup holders or bottle holders in the back seat, but there are two cup holders and bottle holders in the doors up front.
Price and features
The Mazda2 Sedan comes in two grades – the top spec is the $17,990 Maxx and the entry spec $14,990 Neo, which is the car we tested. If you'd like an automatic transmission you'll have to put down another $2000.
The Mazda2 sedan has an excellent driving position.
The hatch and sedan line-ups mirror each other in features and price, although the hatch range extends a grade higher to the Genki specification.
The Mazda2 Sedan in Neo grade comes standard with halogen headlights, cloth seats, air conditioning, cruise control, a four-speaker sound system with CD player and radio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB port and auxiliary input jack, ignition button and 15-inch steel wheels.
Engine and transmission
All Mazda2s are powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, but they're not all the same – there's the 79kW/139Nm standard spec engine in the Neo, and a more powerful 81kW/141Nm version goes into everything else.
Being the Neo, our car had the less powerful engine and it was matched to a six-speed manual gearbox. A six-speed auto is the extra-cost option.
Mazda says the Neo sedan with the manual gearbox should consume petrol at an average combined rate of 5.4L/100km. That's only 0.1L/100km less than the six-speed automatic transmission. After a week and 200km of country and city driving we recorded 7.3L/100km. The Mazda2 is happy to run on the cheaper 91RON petrol, too.
Mazda says it builds cars that are fun to drive, and generally this is true. The brand focuses on elements such as driving position and car balance which are crucial to an enjoyable driving experience. But does that extend to its most budget models? The answer is, yes.
The Mazda2 sedan has an excellent driving position – you can get the seat down low so you feel part of the car, rather than riding on top of it. The pedal position is also great. The steering wheel is made of hard plastic and is cheap feeling but it fitted my hands perfectly with better grip than I've experienced with some premium models.
The seats fitted me well and were comfortable, but support could be better, something noticed only after two hours of driving, though.
The standard spec engine is eager to please and works hard, but it really could do with more oomph, and you'll notice the lack of power when the car is loaded with people and luggage. The higher-spec engine in the Maxx has a bit more power and torque and if you're able to afford it my advice is to step up to that grade.
Apart from the engine the Mazda2 is fun to drive.
But if you'll mainly be flying solo and tend to travel lightly then the Neo grade should be fine for you. To be super sure, test drive the Neo and Maxx and take them up a steep hill if possible – that's where you'll notice it most. But it's not just about getting up hills, the more powerful engine is better for overtaking, too.
Apart from the engine the Mazda2 is fun to drive. The electric power steering is light for easy parking but heavy enough for you to feel in control at higher speeds and in corners.
Handling is impressive for a car in this price range, with MacPherson struts up front and a torsion beam axle in the rear.
Brakes are good. I simulated an emergency stop with rain bucketing down, and with discs at the front and drums at the back, the Neo pulled up straight and within a short distance, while ABS prevented any lock up.
The ride is comfortable thanks to soft suspension and comfy but grippy 185/65 R15 Dunlop Enasave tyres.
The six-speed manual shifts easily, although the clutch in our car felt a little heavy for this size of vehicle.
Forward visibility is good, with a low dash, although the A-pillars which frame the windscreen can be difficult to see around at times.
There's no reversing camera but the 2 Sedan is easy to park and the rear parking sensors are great.
The Mazda2 Sedan is fun to drive, but there are obvious signs this is Mazda's most affordable car – it's not well insulated from road noise, there's no centre armrest in the front, some of the interior surfaces are hard (such as where your leg comes in contact with the centre console) and the halogen headlights aren't the brightest I've seen.
The Mazda2 Sedan has the maximum five-star ANCAP rating. There are front and side airbags for the driver and front passenger and curtain airbags which extend to cover the back seats. Along with ABS, traction and stability control, there's a hill hold function which will stop you rolling back.
AEB is also offered in the Neo Sedan, you'll have to option it for $400 but it's advanced safety equipment well worth having.
For child seats there are three top tether anchor points and two ISOFIX mounts in the back row.
The Mazda2 Sedan is covered by a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
Servicing is recommended every 10,000km or annually. Mazda has capped price servicing and says you can expect to pay $284 at the first service, $312 for the second, then $284, $312, and finally $284 for the fifth visit.