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The Mazda 2's raging success since its release last September is down to chucking desirability and driveability into the mix; it goes as sweetly as it looks and it does look awfully sweet.
The first-gen model 2 went almost as well, but was something of a caravan aesthetically. That you can't shove as much stuff into the sharply sculpted newcomer has affected sales not at all adversely. Indeed it's proved a fillip to the extent Mazda this week released an even less practical and even prettier 2, one that out of sheer personality as much as performance removes the grimness from the daily grind of a city where traffic is in perennial gridlock.
“It's the sporty-looking alternative to the five door, for people who really don't see the need for the extra doors,” Mazda's Glenn Butler says.
“The previous Mazda2 headroom was in the realm of ridiculous; you had enough to wear two top hats. So how much do you really need? We were able to pare back the dimensions and the three-door is simply the next logical extension of ramping up the visual appeal.”
And as we say, that appeal marries blissfully to dynamics and handling that are clearly at the fore of a class that in addition to the usual appliances from Toyota and Nissan, also includes such game offerings as Ford's Fiesta and Suzuki's Swift.
The stipulation — stumbling block for too many punters - is that 2's ability is best unlocked with a five-speed manual; the four cog auto pushes the curb over the tonne and denudes the sense of involvement and sheer fun.
The current carryover 1.5-litre DOHC petrol four does enough to get the manual to 100km/h from standing in about 10 seconds and is sufficiently tractable to avoid constant cog swapping.
Well behaved and compliant over Sydney's conspicuously deteriorating roads, the 2 comes into its own through the tight and curly stuff, enormously agile and rewarding for something so modest.
The electrically assisted steering, though slightly numb, is direct and accurate. So capable is the 2 that, in typical Mazda fashion, it could easily handle more urge. Indeed a turbo-charged version is inevitable.
“The Mazda2 three-door would make a great basis for an MPS, wouldn't it?” Butler asks.
And with the world having been cruelly denied a hot 6, he adds with emphasis that Mazda Australia “are certainly agitating” for just such a super-mini.
At $15,750 for the entry-level manual Neo, the Mazda2 three-door slides in $750 under the least expensive five-door. The $17,960 Maxx saves the same amount on its five-door sibling.
Nice prices, made only slightly less so by the $1100 required for the comprehensive safety packs that add side and curtain SRS airbags, Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) and Traction Control system. Do please tick this box.
The five-door Maxx that scored high last year in Carsguide Car Of The Year judging was considered only with this potentially life-saving addition. The fully-equipped version won the maximum crash-safety rating of five stars at the latest round of Euro NCAP testing.
For that alone, the 2 justifies the hefty premium over the $13,990 drive away Holden Barina, that little re-badged Daewoo with its two-star safety rating. Even at a gnat's chuff over $19K plus on roads (and another $1500 if you must have an auto) the Maxx with safety pack, in which we've spent the past week, is outstanding value, especially as it is the best car in the class.
The captivating exterior statement continues within, with styling that's distinctive but subtle next to, say, Fiat's fetishist 500. The white dials light up in orange at night and are at all times pleasant and easy to the eye. Visibility from the driver's seat isn't brilliant in the rear three quarters, what with the 2's high and flat bum (“Looks kind of like Beyonce,” says a young female colleague) and small wing mirrors. Neither that, or the lack of telescopic steering-wheel adjustment, seriously compromise the driving position.
The forward seats are firm but supportive; the back ones are easily accessible through the elongated doors and accommodate we burly types comfortably enough. And speaking of size, Butler notes: “The first quarter of this year is the first time that I can recall when light cars have outsold large cars. Large cars used to be number one, now they're number three, so Australians are voting with their coin.”
And given the 2 now comes in slightly cheaper still, you can get two new fully-equipped Mazdas for the price of one locally made land barge that costs twice the money to run.
It's difficult to see the Mazda2, in either form, as anything other than the car of the moment.