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Mazda 2 NEO Test

25 September, 2004

Spacious, cheap and - with an AUD$1200 option pack - very safe.

Words by Michael Knowling, Pix by Julian Edgar

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At a glance...

  • Excellent space and flexibility
  • Well sorted chassis
  • Keenly priced
  • Six airbags, ABS and brake assist available in an AUD$1200 option pack

At AUD$16,990, the entry-level Mazda 2 NEO is one of the best all-rounders in the sub-1.6 litre hatchback class. Despite being at the bottom of the model ladder, the NEO comes equipped with power steering, air conditioning, central locking, CD player, dual airbags, immobiliser, no-extra-cost metallic paint and more.

Note that our test vehicle was also further equipped with an optional safety pack and power pack. The safety pack – costing AUD$1200 - gives a total of six airbags, ABS, EBD and brake assist. The power pack – at AUD$600 - comprises power windows and mirrors, colour-coded body features, mudflaps and retractable cargo cover. With both option packs fitted, the total price of our test vehicle amounts to AUD$18,790 – a modest 10 percent increase over the base price.

But the most impressive aspect of the Mazda 2 is its interior space and flexibility.

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Front and rear occupant space is excellent – a 185cm person can be very comfortably seated in the back. Don’t believe it? Well, much to our surprise, the little Mazda offers greater rear passenger space than a current mid-size Volvo! The rear seat slides fore-aft by 100mm and the split rear backrest has a separate reclining function to ensure maximum comfort.

Full points for passenger space.

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Behind the back seat you’ll find enough room to throw your weekly load of groceries. The load lip is extremely low and, combined with a high-lift hatch, cargo access is brilliant. A retractable cargo blind is also fitted as part of the NEO’s optional power pack.

The split backrest can be easily folded forward or, alternatively, you can “double fold” the entire back seat. By pushing the backrests forward and releasing locks at the seat base, the whole seat flips vertical behind the front seats. Note, however, the front seats must be slid partially forward for this to occur. With the seat double-folded forward, the cargo floor is flat and there’s up to 1205 litres of volume – enough to accommodate some serious size luggage (see photo).

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The Mazda 2’s basic instrumentation is easy to read, all controls fall to hand nicely and the HVAC controls are straight-forward. On the other hand, the single CD/tuner consumes a large area of the dashboard and it can take some searching for the desired function. Sound quality is also let down by the muddy sounding two speakers.

Absent features include a remote fob for the central locking, map lights, cruise control and trip computer. Curiously, the NEO also comes without driver’s seat height adjustment.

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On the road, the Mazda 2 feels fine at part throttle but it doesn’t go much harder when you press it to the floor. Mazda claims it has the highest power output of any vehicle in its class - but there's a big difference between 'power' and 'torque'... With a displacement of 1.5 litres (slightly smaller than the Ford Fiesta equivalent), the Mazda needs revs to perform at its best. The DOHC, 16-valve, variable cam timed engine generates 141Nm of torque at 4000 rpm with a healthy 82kW at 6000 rpm.

With the standard 5 speed manual fitted to our test car, it’s easy to keep the engine spinning but we were often irritated by excessive engine noise under load. The gearbox itself is typical of a current model Japanese ‘box – it’s light, positive and easy to use. Gearing is very short, which means the engine sounds pretty busy at highway cruise.

Pop the clutch and the 1068kg Mazda 2 accelerates from standstill to 100 km/h in just under 12 seconds – slightly quicker than average in the class. However, Mazda’s quoted fuel economy is very impressive – 7.6 litres per 100km in city conditions and 5.2 litres per 100 km on the highway (ADR 81/01). Interestingly, our test vehicle didn’t have a fuel type sticker inside the filler flap – some digging revealed the engine’s 10.0:1 compression ratio is happy to run on normal unleaded. Fuel tank capacity is a generous 45 litres.

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The new Mazda 2 chassis feels very stiff and secure on the road. The body has absolutely no squeaks or rattles – a factor that contributes to its refined on-road feel. The Mazda 2 is always composed regardless of road surface – its ride quality is top-notch.

With MacPherson struts at the front and a U-shaped torsion beam at the rear, the FWD Mazda 2 is an enjoyable machine to fling around. Chassis balance is similar to what we enjoyed in the Ford Fiesta cousin (see Ford Fiesta Ghia Road Test ). Note, however, the NEO’s 175/65 14 Toyos don’t offer a lot of cornering grip – up-spec versions have a sportier tyre package.

Its rpm-dependant power rack and pinion steering is light and offers good response. Turning circle is a handy 9.8 metres.

The brakes performed fine during our test, though the brake system hardware is pretty basic – ventilated discs at the front and drums at the rear. However, remember that our safety kit optioned test car also came fitted with ABS, EBD and brake assist – the latter very impressive in a vehicle under AUD$20k.

The Mazda 2 is a chic hatch that flaunts its up-to-the-minute styling. Ironically, we image some of this styling will date very quickly...

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On the inside, the Mazda 2 has intricately styled door trims and steering wheel – both are quite attractive. In the centre of the dash, however, there’s a yellow coloured lens over the CD player that is sure to look dated in a few blinks. The artistically styled interior vents also cause reflections in the side glass.

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The exterior styling of the Mazda 2 is also sure to satisfy current trends. The body is essentially the same as the first generation Mazda 2 released in late 2002, but the new model scores revised taillights. Unfortunately, we think the older taillights look better than the newies. The base model NEO rides on humble 14 inch steel wheels with plastic covers. It also comes standard with non colour-coded exterior trim, but the optional power pack sees everything coloured the same as the body.

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Safety wise, the Mazda 2 body incorporates Mazda’s Triple H safety cell, 3 point retractable seatbelts for each occupant, front seatbelt pre-tensioners and load limiters, anti-whiplash front seats and an intrusion minimising brake pedal. The optional fitment of six airbags and brake assist really sets it apart.

Build quality is impressive considering the price but our test car did have noticeable orange peel in the paint and the rear doors didn’t shut as well as the fronts.

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Entering the market at AUD$16,990, the Mazda 2 NEO offers excellent space and interior flexibility. It’s also a favourite with the fashion-conscious. Throw in the AUD$1200 safety and AUD$600 power pack as fitted to our test vehicle and the AUD$18,790 total price is still easy to swallow – especially given its class-leading safety.

On the other hand, if your budget can stretch another couple of grand, you can step into the top-line Mazda 2 Genki which gets all of the electrics and safety features plus 15 inch alloys, body kit, 6 stack CD and more. We expect its retained value will also be stronger than an optioned NEO.

Whichever way you chose to go, the Mazda 2 is a spacious and honest vehicle that’s well rounded in all areas.

The Mazda 2 NEO was provided for this test by Mazda Australia. www.mazda.com.au

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