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Used Mazda 2 review: 2002-2005

After a period of building solid, but less than thrilling models Mazda has undergone a transformation in the last decade and now produces cars like the Mazda 2 that have plenty of pizzazz.

Mazda has always produced nice cars, but there was often little to get excited about. There were exceptions of course, like the MX5 and RX7 to keep you thinking there just might be an exciting sedan coming, but for the most part they were staid middle of the road machines that simply didn’t get the juices flowing.

That all ended with the Mazda 6 and the Mazda 3, and the release of the small Mazda 2 in 2002 completed the transformation of the range from ho-hum to hallelujah.

MODEL WATCH

There was plenty of small car history that preceded the front-wheel-drive, five-door Mazda 2 hatch, and plenty it had to live up to. The 121 ‘bubble’ car was an adventurous design with cute styling that stood out in the rather bland small car crowd and became a favourite with some sections of the market. That was followed by the clever 121 Metro, which went in the opposite direction in terms of styling, and was bland in the extreme.

The Mazda 2’s job was to re-establish Mazda’s credentials in the small car field after the disappointing 121 Metro, and it did it well. So well, in fact, that it was hailed as the best small car of its time by many motoring scribes. It was upright in the way of the 121 Metro, but had none of the 121’s boxiness. It had style much in the way of the 121 ‘bubble’ without being too adventurous.

Its lines were clear and precise, giving it an athletic look that was the very antithesis of the rounded ‘bubble’ car and the boxy Metro. The 2 was a car with a clean shape and purposefully flowing lines. It looked good, and still does.

Inside it was a small car masterpiece, the dash was rated the best in a car on the south side of $50,000. That’s some praise and it was justified as the dash was attractively styled and practically laid out. Like the 121 Metro the interior of the 2 was roomy and flexible. The seats were comfortable and supportive; the rear seat was a 60/40 split-fold able to be slid back and forth for more room. Likewise the boot was roomy with a low floor for good storage capacity.

Ample power came from a 1.5-litre double overhead camshaft four-cylinder engine that generated 82 kW at 6000 revs and 141 Nm at 4000 revs to give the little Mazda a generous amount of zip on the road.

While it had variable valve timing it did need to be revved to around 3500 revs to get the most out of it. Under that it felt like it was lacking in torque. If asked, however, it would respond by sprinting to 100 km/h in less than 13 seconds and account for the standing 400-metre dash in a reasonable 19 seconds.

Buyers could choose between a five-speed manual gearbox and a four-speed auto, the latter a little soggy in use and not as smooth and flexible as some other small cars.

There was nothing soggy about the Mazda 2’s on-road performance; however, it was well balanced, agile and responsive. Few small cars were thrown around on the road, they were mostly conservatively driven around town by people who couldn’t care less about handling, but there was fun to be had in the little Mazda if you cared, or dared, to explore its limits. The ride was also commendable. Well controlled, it was supple and very comfortable.

All round, the Mazda 2 approached, and sometimes, exceeded similar sized European cars for its on-road sophistication. That was something few Japanese cars can claim. There were three models released at the launch of the Mazda 2: the Neo, Maxx and the Genki.

The Neo opened the range and came with plenty of equipment, including a full array of dials, halogen headlights, air, central locking, a vast assortment of pockets, bins and holders to stow just about anything you might to carry, tilt-adjustment on the steering column, AM/FM radio and CD player, rear centre lap/sash belt among a raft of features.

Step up to the Maxx and you found it also had alloy wheels, remote central locking, velour/cloth trim, in-dash six-stacker CD system and the driver’s window was powered. For more there was the oddly named Genki that added front fog lamps, ABS antiskid brakes, electronic brake force distribution and brake assist to the list.

IN THE SHOP

Mazda build quality and design integrity means the Mazda 2 really only sees the dealer when it’s time for a service. Rarely does anything that go wrong. It’s worth checking for a service record to make sure it’s had regular oil changes... The all-alloy four-cylinder engine has a timing chain, not a belt; co there’s no call for a change.

Other than that, test drive the vehicle and make sure the auto shifts smoothly, but positively. If it’s a manual make sure the clutch engages without slipping, it’s a little sharp in the take up so be aware that it’s normal. Make the usual checks for dings in the body, particularly at the extremities, which are the most vulnerable in parking lots.

IN A CRASH

Impressive primary safety performance was provided by the beaut chassis, its agility and responsiveness providing plenty of capability of getting out of trouble when faced with a crash situation. Beyond the crunch the seat belt pretensioners and load limiters, along with the front airbags came into play for the final layer of protection. An added bonus came in the knowledge that the Mazda 2 was given a five-star NCAP rating in its homeland.

AT THE PUMP

Mazda’s official fuel economy figures say the 2 will do around 6.5-7.0 L/100 km on average, which seems to be borne out by owners who report similar fuel consumption numbers.

OWNERS SAY

Kenn Sellick doesn’t plan to trade out of his 2002 Mazda 2 Neo manual any time soon. In the 145,000 km it’s done he’s only had to replace tyres, wiper blades and a wheel cover. He rates the 7.0 L/100 km he averages as disappointing, and doesn’t like the fact that it has a space-saver spare wheel.

After owning a Mazda 121, which was utterly reliable for 16 years Jennifer Harris bought a Mazda 2 three years ago. She has now done 32,000 km in it, and says it’s the perfect car for her use. The interior is versatile and has plenty of room for four adults, and the seat height means she can slide in sideways without having to lower herself into it. She also praises the performance in second and third gear, saying it has plenty of pull.

Greg Dower has done 25,000 km in his 2005 Mazda 2 Maxx and says it is great, but a little under-powered. He says the air works well in summer, and he likes the steering wheel controls for the sound system, but criticizes the wind noise around the rear view mirrors, the space-saver spare, and the odd tyre size with the alloy wheels that are expensive to replace.

Paul Rolands bought a Mazda Neo manual new in 2003. It has now done 130,000 km and he says he is more than happy with it. It copes really well with the twisty roads he regularly drives on and he says it’s head and shoulders above the 1998 Hyundai Excel it replaced, the gearshift is very good, and the fuel consumption varies between 6.3 and 6.6 L/100 km. There have been no problems apart from an erratic fuel gauge, the clutch feel, and he would like more torque at low range to improve the low-end performance.

LOOK FOR
• Stylish looks
• Roomy and flexible interior
• Good fuel economy
• Low-end performance soggy
• Brilliant handling
• Good build quality

THE BOTTOM LINE
Small wonder, this little Mazda is a gem

RATING
85/100

Pricing

Year Price From Price To
2005 $2,000 $4,950
2004 $2,000 $4,620
2003 $1,900 $4,730
2002 $1,900 $4,510

View all Mazda 2 pricing and specifications

Pricing guides

$3,205
Based on third party pricing data
Lowest Price
$1,900
Highest Price
$4,510

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Genki 1.5L, ULP, 5 SP MAN $2,500 – 4,290 2002 Mazda 2 2002 Genki Pricing and Specs
Maxx 1.5L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,300 – 3,960 2002 Mazda 2 2002 Maxx Pricing and Specs
Neo 1.5L, ULP, 4 SP AUTO $2,000 – 3,520 2002 Mazda 2 2002 Neo Pricing and Specs
Graham Smith
Contributing Journalist

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