Honda City VS Mazda 2
- Roomy enough to fit four adults
- Huge boot
- Handsome looks
- Underdone engine
- Average CVT performance
- Multimedia system is a disaster
- Big boot
- Good safety spec
- Smarter looks
- Not very comfy
- Engine not terrific
- Annoying mirrors
Honda built its four-wheeled automotive empire on the back of small cars, flying in the face of 1970s convention that bigger was better. As the ubiquitous Civic grew larger and larger, a niche for a smaller car appeared, and that niche was subsequently filled by the City in sedan guise, and the Jazz hatch that sits alongside it.
The buying public, however, is simply not as interested as it once was in small hatches and sedans, and Honda, along with other importers, is feeling the pinch when it comes to slumping sales for its smaller models.
We’re trying the range-topping, $21,590 VTi-L to see what we may have been missing.
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
The Mazda2 range has recently seen some big changes, with the facelifted model aiming to offer customers a different sort of car to what it was before.
It’s more expensive - prices are up by as much as 25 per cent! - but there’s a lot more standard equipment, some new trim levels, and all of them also get the G15 alphanumeric label… but it’s a carryover engine for this facelift, the first major update since 2015.
It’s an intriguing move from Mazda Australia to increase the entry price point by such a big amount because it’s essentially still the same old Mazda2 sedan underneath it all. And it’s not like this part of the market is flush with competitor offerings - there’s no more Hyundai Accent, the Kia Rio sedan is dead, there’s no Ford Fiesta sedan, Honda isn’t going to sell the new City model, you can’t get an MG 3 sedan, or a Kia Picanto sedan… in fact, there’s no other light sedan on the market anymore.
But there are some slightly larger sedans that are close on size, and in some grades even undercut the updated Mazda2 sedan when it comes to price.
So, does the most urban-friendly sedan on the Australian new car market still make sense?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Small sedan sales are on the wane, and as a result, the cars that remain in the market often aren’t the best in a brand’s lineup.
The underdone steering, too, makes the car uncomfortable for passengers more often than not, while the buggy, hard-to-use multimedia system is unforgivable in an almost-$22,000 car.
Are small sedans off your shopping list, or does the Honda City still hold appeal?
If you need a brand-new city-sized light sedan, your only choice is the Mazda2.
But if you can deal with a slightly larger car, you’ll get a more comfortable, enjoyable and spacious experience by choosing a Kia Cerato or Hyundai Elantra, both of which you’ll probably get for less money than this base model Mazda2 G15 Pure.
The City does a good job of disguising the fact that it’s a micro-sized sedan; at first glance, the revised front bar and grille that’s meant to mimic the one on the new Civic does such a good job that some people will need to look at the bootlid badge to find out it’s not a Civic.
A high waistline and a solid yet stylish sweep over the roof keep the City from looking overly twee, and even though the 16-inch wheels look a bit narrow, the overall impression is one of a larger car.
The interior, too, is spacious and airy, while the controls and steering wheel give the City an upmarket feel. There’s a little too much grey plastic inside, and hard plastics aren’t difficult to spot, but the City presents well, on the whole.
The Mazda2 sedan has always been one of those cars that packs more in than you’d think - especially the boot. We’ll get to that in the next section.
But let’s cover off what has changed from the pre-facelift model to this one, because you may have noticed it looks a little different.
That’s because it has revised front and rear bumpers, which are cleaner and simpler than before, and the grille now has a mesh finish rather than the plastic beam section of its predecessor.
The rear does, too, with the new back bumper design and tail-light finish making it appear a little more contemporary.
It carries off its size pretty well. The Mazda2 sedan is 4340mm long (on a 2570mm wheelbase), 1695mm wide and 1495mm tall.
The cabin of the Pure model has seen some cosmetic adjustments, but the overall design remains the same. Check out the interior pictures to see what we’re talking about.
Up front, the City is a great fit even for taller drivers, and its height-adjustable seat also means that the, err, less vertically inclined pilot can find a comfortable position behind the tilt-and-reach adjustable wheel.
A regular gear shifter and manual handbrake means the two cupholders are squashed under the centre console, but there are bottle holders in all four doors, as well as two more cupholders in the rear centre armrest in the VTi-L.
The VTi-L also gains two extra 12-volt accessory power points in the rear to complement the USB and a third 12V point up front, while the keyless entry system is not something you’d usually find on a car at this price point.
Sadly, the City’s multimedia system lets the side down - big time. Try as we might, we couldn’t connect a phone to our tester, no matter what we did, and it’s just utterly unintuitive to use in most situations.
It’s a bit of a rude shock, actually; most manufacturers have media systems sorted, but there’s simply not a even a half-decent one in any Honda that’s currently on sale. And there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, though you can find those mirroring systems in the larger Civic.
Rear seating has adequate headroom – just – for taller teens, and there isn’t a lot of compromise required from front seaters to comfortably accommodate four people. Five? That’s getting crowded, but it can be done.
Two ISOFIX baby seat fixtures are present, along with three top-tether mounts. Boot space measures 536 litres - which is actually 12 litres bigger than that of the new Camry - while both rear seats fold flat(ish) to increase load capacity further.
A good point; the seats can be unlatched via boot-mounted buttons. A bad point; you still have to reach in and push the seats down by hand. A space saver spare nestles under the boot floor, as well.
If you’re choosing the Mazda2 sedan over the hatch, you’re effectively stating that your prioritise boot space in your life. And good for you, because the Mazda2 sedan has 440 litres (VDA) of cargo capacity. The luggage capacity can be expanded by way of 60:40 split-fold rear seats, too.
It’s easily large enough for the CarsGuide pram, and also managed to fit all three of our suitcases (124-litre, 95-litre and 36-litre) in though any more than that and the gooseneck hinges for the boot-lid could make for some issues actually closing the boot. The aperture is a very good size, and it’s not hard to load things in because it’s a nice low opening, too.
The seat trim of the Pure model is brown cloth, which will either tickle your fancy… or not. The trim is fine, and so is the perceived quality of the fit and finish. There are simple ergonomic instruments like manual dials.
There’s a nice leather steering wheel, but there is no digital speedometer, no head-up display, and no centre console bin or armrest. There is a pair of cupholders, a small centre bin in front of the shifter, and a small cubby at the back of the console which could be used as a cup holder for rear seat passengers.
The 7.0-inch media screen is looking small by today’s standards, and while I applaud the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, I had issues with it every time I drove the car. It wouldn’t connect first time, requiring me to: a) wait the 10-20 seconds for the screen to load; b) plug the USB in; c) wait for it to say “Apple CarPlay failed”; d) unplug and reinsert the USB. Then it was fine. But sheesh I’d get sick of that quick.
The interface - using the rotary dial - is annoying. Touchscreens should be touch-capacitive when using smartphone mirroring. The reversing camera is also a bit low-res in its display.
The back seat isn’t overly spacious. With the driver’s seat set in my position (I’m 182cm tall), my knees were hard up against the seat in front, and my head was brushing the ceiling. That’s despite good toe room and decent cabin width.
Rear occupants don’t get bottle holders, there’s only one map pocket, and there’s no centre armrest. Unlike up front, where the door arm-rest pads are soft, they’re hard in the back. There’s no rear seat air-vents, and the transmission tunnel eats into space more than it probably should in a car of this size.
Price and features
The top shelf VTi-L is the best of a two-model lineup, and costs $21,590 plus on-road costs. It comes with an 88kW 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine and a continuously variable transmission driving the front wheels, as well as LED daytime lamps, a part-leather interior, push-button start and smart key, climate control air conditioning, 16-inch alloys and a 7.0-inch touchscreen multimedia system with sat nav and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming.
It also has a leather-bound steering wheel and gear shifter, and map pockets on both seat backs.
It does miss out on a lot of other stuff, though, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, automatic lights (remember when a car last beeped at you to turn off the lights? Me neither...) and automatic wipers, and it also misses out on driver aids like auto emergency braking (AEB).
It starts to look a bit dear when you look at similarly priced cars - even from the next size sector up - that do offer inclusions like AEB and automatic headlights, though the small sedan is a bit of a rarity in the Aussie market now.
Its only like-for-like rivals in the space are the Mazda2 sedan and the Hyundai Accent sedan. Other potential competitors like the Ford Fiesta sedan and, more recently, the Toyota Yaris sedan have been deleted from local line-ups after years of declining sales, while the subsequent rise of the compact SUV will continue to have an impact on the so-called 'light car' market.
As referenced above, the Mazda2 entry price point is up considerably compared to the pre-update version, thanks to the ditching of the entry-level Neo model.
How much has the price gone up? $5500. That’s a huge price hike for a vehicle in the most coin-conscious segment of the market.
The result is a base model G15 Pure version of the Mazda2 - in both sedan and hatch body-styles - for $20,990 plus on-road costs (also known as RRP / MRSP). And that means it’d be about $24,000 drive-away. It’s essentially the equivalent of the old mid-spec Maxx model, but more expensive.
Oh, and that’s for the six-speed manual, which only a few per cent of people buy. The six-speed automatic - as tested here - is $22,990 plus on-road costs. Or about $26,000 drive-away. For the base model. Eep. However, if you’re in the market, check Autotrader and you’ll probably find decent deals.
If you want the top-spec G15 GT sedan, it’s $25,990 plus on-roads (pushing $30k on-the-road).
There are some pretty impressive inclusions to justify the increases. There are new 15-inch alloy wheels, a system called G-Vectoring Plus (a torque vectoring system designed to improve cornering behaviour), plus there’s LED headlights, hill start assist, a reversing camera and rear parking sensors.
The Pure model misses out on a few things compared to the GT sedan, which has traffic sign recognition, a surround view camera, front parking sensors and adaptive cruise control.
Instead, the Pure has regular cruise control, and a lot of the new additions are safety-focused: it has auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
It also debuts the aforementioned smartphone streaming tech of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which the Mazda2 hasn’t had up until now. The media screen - which is touch capacitive at a standstill and has a rotary controller to use at speed - also has six speakers, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, digital radio and optional sat nav.
Just to add a little bit of context to the value equation here, if you can deal with a slightly larger car, you could get into a Kia Cerato or Hyundai Elantra for similar or less money. And that’s what I’d suggest you do.
Engine & trans
The i-VTEC four-cylinder 1.5-litre single cam engine is naturally aspirated, and it makes its 88kW at a high 6600rpm, while its modest 145Nm of torque peaks at 4600rpm.
It means the CVT gearbox needs to work pretty hard to get the best from the engine, which has been superseded by a twin-cam version in other markets.
Under the bonnet of the Mazda2 - no matter which model you choose - there’s the brand’s newly monikered G15 SkyActiv engine. It’s a 1.5-litre gasoline (hence the G15) four-cylinder unit, with 82kW of power (at 6000rpm) and 144Nm of torque (at 4000rpm). Those outputs are up 1kW/3Nm over the pre-facelift car.
There’s no hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, turbo-petrol or LPG version of the Mazda2 sold in Australia… or anywhere else, for that matter. You can get it as a diesel in some markets, but not Australia.
A 320km test loop netted us a dash-indicated figure of 6.3 litres per 100km, which is impressively close.
The 40-litre fuel tank is happy to accept standard unleaded petrol, too.
The claimed fuel consumption for the Mazda2 G15 auto sedan we drove is 5.3 litres per 100 kilometres.
On our test, which included a range of driving with plenty of traffic snarls, some arterial road cruising, and a short stint of 110km/h freeway motoring, we saw an indicated 7.0L/100km on the car’s trip computer, while our at-the-pump calculation was higher than that, at 7.4L/100km.
The fuel tank capacity for the Mazda 2 sedan is 44 litres.
Weighing just 1100kg, you’d expect the 1.5-litre powered City to have a bit of get up and go… but unfortunately it’s already gotten up and left by the time you drive off.
The 1.5-litre naturally aspirated engine is a carryover unit from the previous generation, and it feels like it, too. It’s also teamed with a CVT gearbox that isn’t a patch on more up-to-date trannies from the likes of Subaru and Toyota.
On any sort of incline, the CVT ups the revs of the engine to a point between bloody annoying and mildly painful, too. The VTi can be ordered with a manual gearbox, which has to be better than the CVT in this example.
The underdamped suspension tune is adequate for light duties around town, but the electric steering feel very odd underhand, especially at the very beginning of a turn.
There’s a big initial motion at the front wheels when you start to turn which then quickly tapers off, meaning that you have to be ultra precise with your steering to prevent the City from lurching into the corner and falling over its soft suspension.
On light throttle, with no hills and few corners, though, the City is just fine…
With compact dimensions, the Mazda2 sedan is one to consider if you really need a sedan. I don’t know why you’d really need a sedan, and if you’re an urban-dweller you’re likely going to be more naturally drawn to hatchbacks because they’re generally shorter and therefore easier to park.
But if you’re a sedan fancier, then the Mazda2 is just about your only compact choice.
It needs to be said, though, that there are more comfortable cars than the Mazda 2, especially around town.
The suspension of this little car is seemingly designed to offer a sporty experience, which is at odds with the intent of the car. It’s very firm, lacks composure over repetitive lumpy bumps and the suspension is very noisy in that situation too.
It isn’t crashy, but it can lack body control and composure, and at times I felt it was skittering over pockmarks, and it didn’t instil much confidence.
It’s better at higher speeds, and if the road is smooth. And if that’s your user case - or if you simply don’t care much about ride comfort - this could be just fine for you.
There’s no doubt that stiff suspension does help the Mazda2 feel a bit more sporty than it actually is, because it handles direction changes quite well, and as we’ve come to expect of Mazdas today, the steering is direct and sporty feeling. It doesn’t suffer mismatched weighting, either, meaning it feels like when it should and gains heft when you’d expect.
The engine is eager enough, but the throttle requires a bit more management than seems necessary - and that’s actually more to do with the transmission’s logic than anything else. At times when you think you’re pressing hard enough, you might find the engine is labouring, so you press harder on the accelerator and it kicks down and pushes you away with vigour. It’s just not as easy to make smooth progress in normal driving as I’d like.
There is a ‘sport’ mode for the transmission that ultimately solves that problem because it stops the auto gearbox from shifting up to a higher gear (to save fuel), but do you really wanna be in ‘sport’ mode all the time? I know I don’t.
One of my biggest urban driving gripes is Mazda’s insistence to only fit the passenger-side mirror with a convex lens. The driver’s side mirror isn’t convex - and that means other road users can be hard to discern, and to be honest the car’s blind-spot monitoring system saved us from side-swipes a couple of times this week.
Full-length curtain airbags are offered along with dual front and front side 'bags, and there's a reversing camera. The City holds a maximum five-star ANCAP rating, which it has had since it was tested back in 2014.
The Mazda2 has been around for quite a while. It scored the maximum five-star ANCAP crash test rating back in 2015, but the criteria has evolved somewhat since then.
However, it must be stated that Mazda has been proactive in updating its safety spec levels across its entire range, and the Mazda2 is no exception.
Standard safety equipment includes auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection (but not cyclist detection), plus all models get a lane departure warning system, lane keeping assistance, blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors, a reversing camera, and even low-speed rear AEB.
The Mazda 2 - be it sedan or hatch - has six airbags (dual front, front side, full-length curtain), and it has dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points and but only two top tether points (outboard).
Honda sells the City with a five-year, unlimited kilometre warranty, while a no-catch seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty is occasionally offered with its cars, along with premium roadside assistance for the life of the longer warranty.
Both warranties are also transferable to the next owner, should you sell your car before the warranty expires.
A fixed-price servicing regime is in place for the City, too, starting at $259 and peaking at $297. But Honda asks for the City to be serviced every six months or 10,000km, which does add to the cost of running the car.
Mazda Australia has a five-year capped price servicing campaign for all of its models, too, but the service intervals are shorter than competitor brands, too - yes, the company’s cars require servicing every 12 months, but the distance interval is 10,000km - meaning if you do a lot of distance, you might find yourself heading back to the dealer well before the 12-month period is up.
Servicing costs are reasonable, with the average cost per visit working out at $312 over five years/50,000km, not including consumables.
Mazda backs its cars with five years’ roadside assistance.
Worried about Mazda2 problems, reliability, faults, engine issues, transmission problems and other common complaints? Check out our Mazda2 problems page.