Hyundai i20 VS Mazda 2
- Cracking exhaust
- Fun rather than ferocious
- A hoot on a track or (we expect) a winding road
- Too soon to properly judge it
- Manual only will deter shoppers
- Lacks the out-and-out punch of bigger hatches
- Big boot
- Good safety spec
- Smarter looks
- Not very comfy
- Engine not terrific
- Annoying mirrors
After we spent what felt like an eternity with the Hyundai i30 N being an only child in Australia, the lauded hot hatch is finally getting a smaller sibling, with the Korean brand confirming the i20 N will debut in Australia next year, likely in the first six months of 2021.
On paper, at least, the city-sized hot hatch promises to deliver the performance thrills of the N brand to a whole new demographic, given its utterly family-proof dimensions and what will obviously be a more affordable price point.
But is it truly worthy of the N badge? We put an early prototype version to the test on the track to find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium 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|
We'll reserve full judgement until we've lived with a production version of the i20 N, but after our short, track-based taste test? We like it a lot.
Fun rather than ferocious, it's the kind of hot hatch you can have an absolute blast in without feeling like you're going to kill yourself or your licence, and you can't help but climb out smiling..
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.
Again, this more an arbitrary score here, as the only i20 N we've seen to date was dropped in camouflage inside and out.
That said, you can tell from its silhouette that this a wide, hunkered-down hatch, with bulging arches and 18-inch blacked-out alloys, a domed bonnet, and little roof spoiler jutting out from above the rear windscreen.
Hyundai tells us the i20 N will also serve up a new air intake on front bumper, unique side sills, a new radiator grille, and a new rear bumper with a diffuser, as well as new rear lights. You can get the i20 N in seven colours, one of which will be the Performance Blue that's become the signature of the brand.
Inside, Hyundai says you'll find a "high-performance driving space" (whatever that means) with a host of N stuff, like a sports steering wheel and shifter, metal pedals, sport seats up front and blue highlights throughout the interior trimmings.
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.
Not particularly practical, to be fair. While Hyundai is yet to confirm the specification details of the i20 N, it is based on the brand's existing city car, so expect similar dimensions here.
It does, though, have four doors, which puts it ahead of some of its hot-hatch competition, and means climbing into the backseat isn't as hard as it could be. Once there, though, you won't be spoiled for space.
For reference, the regular i20 serves up twin cupholders up front, and bottle storage in each of the doors.
That car also stretches some 4035mm in length, 1734mm in width and 1474mm in height. That's enough to squeeze 326 litres (VDA) into the boot, or 1042 litres with the 60:40 split rear seat folded flat.
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
This is a tough one to answer, without yet knowing the pricing details. But Hyundai has told us that it will be priced on or around the money for the segment, which should see it land around the early $30k mark.
In terms of exactly what you get for that money, well, that remains to be seen. But here's what we know so far.
Expect 18-inch alloys wrapped in Pirelli rubber, a digital driver's display and a second, central touchscreen that will deliver both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, remote unlocking with push-button start, power windows, and...
Well, that's about all we could glean from our very camouflaged car. But you will also get a whole heap of performance kit, which we'll touch on under the Engine and Transmission section.
For everything else, though, you'll just have to watch this space.
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
I like the engine. A lot. Not the most powerful in the class, sure, but not underpowered in my opinion, either.
That's enough grunt, Hyundai says, to deliver a "class-leading" power to weight ratio of 126kW per tonne.
So how does it stack up? It puts the i20 N about a touch under segment standard, power-wise, with cars like the Polo GTI making 147kW and 320Nm, while the Fiesta ST makes 147 and 290kW. Unsurprisingly, it’s also comprehensively shaded by the Toyota GR Yaris, which makes a whopping 200kW and 370Nm.
We have managed to extract some other key details surrounding Hyundai’s newest hot hatch, too. We know, for example, that there’s torsion-beam rear suspension, a mechanical LSD, Sachs dampers, dual-mode exhaust and, like it’s i30 N big brother, the i20 N should get Pirelli rubber wrapped around its 18-inch wheels. It also weights just 1250kg.
More? Well there's rev matching for the manual gearbox, launch control and the brand's N Grin Control System which allows you to dial through Normal, Eco, Sport, N and N Custom drive modes.
The chassis and suspension have been overhauled, too, and there's bigger performance brakes fitted.
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.
That I can't tell you, at least not yet. We were driving pre-production cars exclusively on a race track, and so taking an computer reading would have been grossly unfair, and Hyundai hasn't dropped an official figure on us yet.
We do know that the i20, in regular guise, is fitted with a 50-litre tank.
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.
How should the success of a city-sized hatch truly be measured? Raw power and out-and-out pace? I don’t think so. There are bigger, more powerful vehicles for that.
Price? Well, at least a little. This segment forms the stepping stone to the performance vehicle world, and so they really can’t be too inaccessible, right?
If you ask me, the biggest - and possible only - criteria a car has to hit in this segment is that it’s fun. Plain and simple. Does it make you want to take the longer, twister way home, emerging at the other end of a winding road with a face-splitting grin and fighting the urge to turn around and do it again in the other direction? Or does it make you want to stick to the freeway?
Well, it’s safe to say that in the i20 N - in prototype form at least - the answer is definitely the former.
Yes, the light hot hatch segment has been in something a power arms race of late - one now won by the GR Yaris - but the i20 N doesn’t really step into that ring. Its 150kW and 275Nm puts it at the lower end of the spectrum in terms of pure outputs.
But damn if it ain’t fun. The numbers on the page only really tell half the hot hatch story. The rest of it is how it feels, or how big a smile it paints on your face, and I can tell you this car painted a plenty big grin on mine.
One of the things I like about the i20 N is that it feels a little Mazda MX-5-like, in that you don’t need to be traveling at warp speed to feel like you’re having a good time behind the wheel. It means you can unleash it on any twisting road you come across, and have a whale of a time, without risking your entire driver's licence.
There are some cars where you really need to be travelling at pace to feel like you’re having a good time in them, but this isn’t one of them. It feels fun all the time.
It feels really connected to the track, too, like you’re in control of the vehicle, And I think the mark of a hot hatch is one that makes you feel like a better driver, and this does that. It forgives you mistakes, it urges you to push a little bit faster, a little bit further, and all of which results in a pretty good time behind the wheel.
Now a caveat, of course. This is a pre-prod car, and this test also took place on a race rack, so how this thing drives on the streets near your place, and what it's like to live with, is anyone’s guess, but as a taste test, it certainly seems to continue the N legacy of building cars that are simply a ton of fun.
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.
More mysteries here, I'm afraid. Hyundai is yet to confirm full safety specification for the i20 N, but we would expect it to get most of the brand's advanced safety kit.
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).
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.