2016 Mazda2 Japanese-Spec Preproduction First Drive
New Engines, a Bigger, Sexier Body and Loads of Features to Challenge Rivals
Mazda has a lot riding on its all-new 2016 Mazda2. So no wonder the revisions are so comprehensive. Boasting brand new Skyactiv technologies that encompass the chassis, powertrains, body and suspension, the totally redesigned Mazda2 is a good looker. It has four trim levels, improved materials, quality and refinement that could make European and Korean rivals take notice. But could ride and handling issues cause a few hiccups?
With the arrival of the 2016 Mazda2, the Hiroshima-based company has finally solidified its four core Skyactiv models, adding the new 2 to the CX-5, Mazda3 and Mazda6. The outgoing Mazda2 captured the World Car of the Year prize in 2008, so the new model has a lot to live up to. And from our brief test of a Japanese-spec preproduction model at the Shuzenji proving ground two hours south of Tokyo, first impressions are stellar for a hatch that has to knock horns with the likes of the Volkswagen Polo, Toyota Yaris, and Hyundai's i20.
The fourth all-Skyactiv Mazda model is totally new inside and out.
Slightly bigger all-round, the 2016 Mazda2 gains 6.3 inches in length to 160 inches, picks up 1 inch in height to 59 inches, while its wheelbase stretches 3.1 inches to 101.2 inches. Width remains unchanged. Now when you consider the new 2 is a bigger car with significant new technologies, a curb weight gain of 88 lbs (up from 2182 lbs to 2270 lbs) is more than acceptable.
The bigger body delivers more leg- and headroom, as well as all-round visibility thanks to a larger windshield and A-pillars that shift 3.9 inches further forward.
Employing Mazda's new signature 'Kodo' design language, the 2 inherits a similar grille and flowing lines as seen on the 3 and 6. However, we would argue that the 2's overall proportions, contours and angles offer the best example of Mazda's new design philosophy thus far. The Mazda2 is a good looking car.
Powering the new compact Mazda is a choice of the new 1.5-liter Skyactiv turbo diesel (unlikely to see America) or a 1.3-litre Skyactiv gasoline engine. Generating 103 hp at 4000 rpm and 162 lb-ft between 1400 and 3200 rpm (auto – 184 lb-ft between 1500 and 2500 rpm), the 1.5-litre diesel will be the main engine for Europe. Producing peak torque at around 5000 rpm, the 1.5L delivers beefy response from as low as 1500 rpm all the way up to 5000 rpm.
While the 6-speed manual is well matched to the 1.5L diesel, surprisingly the gearing of the new 6-speed automatic extracted the best performance, especially at low revs.
The 1.3L gas variant we drove produces 91 hp at 6000 rpm and 89 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm, and comes with a choice of five-speed manual (yes, a five-speed) or six-speed auto. Mazda PR tells us that European-spec models will get a different, slightly less powered petrol model.
On the road, the Mazda2 picks up where the 3 and 6 left off. Mazda2 chief engineer Ayumu Doi says that higher trailing arm mounts for the torsion-bar rear-end improve ride comfort and low- to medium-speed stability. In addition, caster angle has been laid back 1.7 degrees to improve straight-line stability. Mazda claims that, in combination with the longer wheelbase, reduces pitching under braking and flattens out the car in corners. We found however, that the 2 still delivered as much body roll as its predecessor.
Harshness at low to mid-range speeds was prevalent as the car struggled to absorb ruts and road cracks. Mazda tell us that minor adjustments will be made in the production model to improve ride quality.
The old Mazda2 delivered sharp steering with plenty of feedback. The new 2 follows in those footsteps, although we wonder about Mazda's choice of Yokohama Blue Earth eco tires. Equipped with them, it turns in well at speed but does feel slow and lacks feedback. A change of rubber would likely address this. The eco tyres generate good mileage but reduce feedback and steering feel and do not allow the car to reach its full potential. The lower grip levels mean the car has a tendency to understeer when pushed. In fact, these tires left us wondering how much better the car would corner with grippier rubber. In fact, we asked whether we could test the car with different tires, but none were available. Shame really, because the 2 would likely have revealed a different personality.
Doi told us that one of his team's top priorities was to find the optimum driving position while enhancing driver comfort. Pedals were moved an inch to the right for more precise operation and an organ-style accelerator pedal (hinged at the bottom) was added. The Mazda2's footwell will now take shoe sizes up to 14! Meanwhile the front seats were given more back support and can now handle drivers from 5 feet to 6 feet 3 inches tall.
Boasting four different interior trim combinations, the car's cabin is a much nicer place to be. Apart from the entry-level bland grey cloth seat variant, the new Mazda2 offers class-leading interior trim with the top of the range being a three-tone (cream, red and black) leather seat design taking Mazda design in a direction it's never been before. Safety features have been significantly enhanced too. These include blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, radar cruise control, head-up display, rear cross-traffic alert and automatic high-beam.
Mazda has put a lot of effort into lifting the 2's dynamics, design and quality levels to bring it in line with Europe's class-leaders. With a totally new, stylish look, new engines, sporty handling and improved trim levels, Mazda has placed it in the same playing field as its competition.