Mazda 2 VS Holden Spark
- Big boot
- Good safety spec
- Smarter looks
- Not very comfy
- Engine not terrific
- Annoying mirrors
- A cut above from behind the wheel
- Plenty of cool tech
- Not cheap for its segment
- Lacks niceties for backseat passengers
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|
Andrew Chesterton road tests and reviews the updated Holden Spark LT with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.
The micro-car segment in Australia has driven off a cliff. We are shunning our smallest cars in a way we never have before, and nobody seems to be entirely sure why.
The strength of the second-hand market is one suspected culprit, while another is the tempting price point of vehicles that are one size bigger, with city-car shoppers able to upsize for relative peanuts.
Whatever the reason, the segment is stuck in neutral and halfway along Struggle Street. It needs a spark. And Holden's hoping theirs is just the ticket.
Now you might recognise it as a Barina, but Holden dropped that part of the moniker when this new model launched in March. It is now simply known as the Holden Spark, tested here in top-spec LT guise and wearing a sticker price of $18,990. It sits above only the entry-level, bargain-basement LS ($13,990 manual, $15,690 automatic) in the two-model Spark range.
Designed and built in Korea, the Spark seems to have little to do with our unique marketplace, but Holden promises us this new model couldn't be more dinky-di if it ran on vegemite. Australia had crucial input into its design in Korea, while Holden's Aussie engineers put the new model though its paces on the company's proving ground, tweaking the suspension and steering for Australia's road surfaces.
So the question now is, is the Spark bright enough to lure buyers back to the micro-car segment?
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
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 marvels of local engineering strike again: the Spark LT definitely feels a cut above some of its budget competition from behind the wheel. It is well-equipped, too, and packed with connectivity and technology features. In short, it could be just the spark Australia's city-car segment needs.
Would you consider a small city-car like the Spark? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.
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.
There's only so much that can be done with a car in this bracket (there's hardly an abundance of surface metal to play with), but Holden's Korean design team have done an admirable job of inserting some excitement into what is traditionally a fairly bland category.
A powerful front end, with two fog lights sitting below the headlights, is dominated by a vaguely Kia-esque grille. And when viewed side on, the Spark looks to be sitting low, courtesy of standard 15-inch alloys that fill the wheel arches and tarmac-kissing side skirting that runs front to back. Two fairly heavy body creases also break up the metal monotony, running along the front and rear doors.
It's an energetic-looking package, and even more youth appeal arrives courtesy of a huge array of personalisation options, with Holden promising 33 different changes a buyer can make, including the wheel inserts, wing mirror caps and roof rails.
Inside, the focus is more on connectivity than luxury, so you can expect fake leather, hard plastics and fairly ordinary seat cushioning, but it's all nicely put together, and the basic feel is broken up by some well-placed style elements, like the coloured insert that runs the length of the dash.
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.
Nope. This is a pocket-sized car, namely because it has the same cargo capacity as your pocket.
Holden has stretched the space between the wheels to maximise passenger space, and as a result there's actually plenty of room in either row. But to add space somewhere, you need to take it from somewhere else, and that somewhere else is the boot, where you'll find a mere 185-litres of luggage space. The situation is improved by dropping the 60:40 split rear seats, but you'll be forever choosing between passengers and luggage.
Front seat passengers share a pair of cupholders, but rear seat passengers get none. They don't get room for bottles in their door pockets. Or door pockets at all, for that matter. The backseat does, however, get two ISOFIX attachment points, one in each window seat.
Price and features
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.
While the cheap and cheerful entry-level Spark, the $13,990 LS, plays smack-bang in the middle of the micro-car segment, the top-spec LT has bigger, and considerably more expensive, shoes to fill. At $18,990, the LT sails perilously close to its bigger and equally well-equipped competition.
For that money, the Spark needs to arrive wanting for little, and in most respects it does exactly that. For a start, a CVT automatic is standard, and is joined by some stand-out features in this segment, like cruise control, keyless entry with proximity unlocking, push-button start and a fake leather trim that Holden calls Sportec.
Engine & trans
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.
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.
Spring for the LT, and that's paired with a CVT automatic transmission, with Holden promising that combination will sip a claimed/combined 5.5L/100km (though we recorded a less impressive 8.0 litres on our test).
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.
Holden's Aussie engineering team say they were able to get their hands all over the new Spark pre-launch, launching lap after lap of the company's proving ground as they tweaked the steering and suspension tune to better suit local conditions. And the results are very good.
The 1.4-litre engine doesn't generate a huge amount of power (though it is good for its class), but it's delivered in a way that makes the Spark feel like it's punching well above its weight, rarely feeling underpowered in everyday situations.
The Aussie magic sprinkled over the suspension and steering transforms the way the Spark LT drives, both in the city and further afield. The ride nudges the firm side of the spectrum (but not enough to bother you over inner-city ruts and bumps) which translates to a low, flat feeling through corners.
All in all, the little Spark more than holds its own on more challenging roads. The steering, too, helps the Spark outshine the regular city commuters, with a naturally engaging set-up that always feels connected to the road below.
There is a certain skittishness to the way it drives at times, though, with the gearbox wanting to continue lurching forward for a split-second after you take your foot off the accelerator, which takes some getting used to.
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).
Standard safety fare comes courtesy of six airbags, along with hill-hold assist, ABS and ESC, but it does miss out on more advanced technologies like autonomous brakes.
Springing for the LT will add rear parking sensors, a rear-view camera and cruise control as standard fare, though the lot can be added to the entry-level LS as part of Holden's Driver Assistance Pack.
The Spark range scored the maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating when tested early this year.
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.
The Spark range is covered by a three-year, 100,000km warranty and requires servicing every 15,000kms. The Spark range falls under Holden's lifetime capped price servicing scheme, with trips to the dealership capped at $1,145 total for the first five services.