REVIEW | Why the 2020 Mazda 2 deserves a look in crowded B-segment

The 2020 Mazda 2 is let down by just one choice of engine - a rather gutless naturally aspirated 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol.
The 2020 Mazda 2 is let down by just one choice of engine - a rather gutless naturally aspirated 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol.
Image: SUPPLIED

My parents are great fans of Mazda, an affair that started when they took ownership of a 2003 Garnet Red MX-5. Now parked in their driveway is a 3 sedan (2014) in range-topping 2.0 Astina specification, owned since new and well-pampered with just over 70,000km on the odometer.

Before that, was a 2 hatchback (2009) in modest 1.3 Original guise, which my mother especially regrets swapping out for a Ford Kuga 1.6 EcoBoost. It seemed like a great idea in 2013. But as you know, that very same derivative of the Blue Oval sport-utility vehicle made headlines for the wrong reasons.

They are unlikely to opt-out of the Mazda fold anytime soon. I can understand why. Not one mechanical issue has marred their ownership experience. And the local dealership appears to go out of its way to make sure they stay happy, even though their car has been out of warranty and service plan for a while now.

Last week the latest version of the popular 2 arrived for a weeklong evaluation, offering a pleasant reminder of its presence in the contested B-segment. The last time I had experienced the model was back in 2015: and the category has evolved since.

After a subtle facelift in December 2019, does it still have the substance to stay relevant? The answer is a resounding yes. But there are some gripes.

Pricing starts at R261,900 for the 1.5 Active.
Pricing starts at R261,900 for the 1.5 Active.
Image: SUPPLIED

First – and this is a minor one – the left-to-right air-circulation switch looks and functions like something out of a vehicle from the 1990s. Surely this could be operated via a simple button, as is the case with most modern cars?

Second, one forgot how cramped the cabin of the 2 feels in comparison to seemingly roomier peers in this arena. Then again, this hemmed-in, ensconced sensation is something that has been praised by some. One person’s snug is another’s claustrophobia.

And lastly, the most unfortunate thing is that the 1.5-litre diesel engine choice has been culled from the range. Buyers are left with the four-cylinder, normally-aspirated petrol of the same displacement, good for 85kW and 148Nm, which can be had either in manual or automatic, with both featuring six-forward gears.

We had the row-your-own Individual model (a snip below the flagship Hazumi grade) and found that it offered middle-of-the-road performance. It is acceptable when finessed along in most conditions, but errs on the gutless side when the rear seats are occupied and the boot is laden with luggage. 

The interior of the Mazda 2 is one of the best in the B-segment class. There's a genuine sense of quality here.
The interior of the Mazda 2 is one of the best in the B-segment class. There's a genuine sense of quality here.
Image: SUPPLIED

One dreads to think how lazy the self-shifting choice might be under such conditions. Good news is that Mazda has finally embraced mainstream turbocharging, the fruits of which we will see in forthcoming product cycles. Lacklustre performance aside, the drive of the Mazda 2 remains praiseworthy. The gearbox has a positive feel, with each gate clearly defined, the steering is direct and it handles with an assured nimbleness.

The interior simply has to be in the top three of the class, with finishes that convey a genuine sense of quality – and trimmings one would expect to see in a car of a slightly higher bracket. So, not much has changed since the initial introduction of the fourth-generation 2.

The revisions made in 2019 comprised entirely of aesthetic tweaks, where the grille has most notably been redrawn.

In summary, the limited engine choice is only one significant fly in what is otherwise still superb ointment. Then again, there are buyers who will happily put up with a sedate, uncomplicated normally-aspirated motor over the long-term course of ownership, if it serves reliably. Just ask my folks.

Pricing:

1.5L Active: R261,900

1.5L Dynamic: R286,000

1.5L Dynamic automatic: R302,300

1.5L Individual: R310,700

1.5L Individual automatic: R326,900

1.5L Hazumi (automatic only): R351,100


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