Mazda2 Neo remains a top small car choice, especially with new drivers
What is it?
It’s the 2017 Mazda2 Neo six-speed manual hatch – the entry-level offering from the booming Japanese marque that along with its sedan sibling, goes up against a raft of micro- and light-passenger cars in the segment.
VFACTS figures for March show the baby Mazda was second-only to Hyundai’s Accent for that month’s sales race and ahead of the Toyota Yaris.
For 2017, Mazda has added a fourth variant to “2” hatch-and-sedan light-car range and blessed the new line-up with more standard equipment, added safety, better ride and handling and importantly, more on-road refinement.
In terms of interior and exterior styling changes, they are few and far between but there are new colour choices, newly positioned side indicators, a new steering-wheel treatment and some interior-trim tweaks.
In recent months, the Japanese marque has given its growing band of buyers more choices by adding one more variant to the CX-9, CX-5 and now the Mazda2 families.
What does the Neo cost?
The Neo kicks things off at $14,990 (plus on-road costs) for the six-speed manual then, going up the pecking order, comes the Maxx ($17,690 in manual guise), then the hatch-only manual Genki ($20,690) and the new flagship GT that sits at the top at $21,680 for the six-speed manual.
Automatic adds $2000 across the range and all pricing remains unchanged from the outgoing three-variant line-up.
Needless to say for an entry-level model, the Neo has nothing like the suite of goodies found in the range-topping GT but that said, its standard-kit inventory ain’t all that thread-bare.
Sure, there are steel wheels with not-too-convincing alloy-look plastic hubcaps but inside and, in the technical and safety department, the list is quite impressive.
For their $14,990, Neo manual buyers can look forward to the likes of air conditioning, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, cruise control (at last), power windows, an AM/FM tuner with four speakers, Aux and USB inputs, power (and folding) exterior mirrors, a trip computer and push-button start/stop.
In terms of standard safety kit, The Mazda2 beats just about all its competitors, coming as it does with electronic stability control, smart-city brake support (forward), G-Vectoring control, ABS brakes, dynamic stability control, an emergency stop signal, hill-launch assist and rear parking sensors.
Like its siblings, Neo buyers will not transfer their favourite CDs to their new car. The reason? Mazda has dropped the CD player.
In the airbag department, there are front bags for the driver and passenger, front side and front-and-rear curtains.
Mazda believes that 74 per cent of buyers will opt for a hatch and that the Neo hatch will command 36 per cent of all “2” sales with the Maxx expected to continue its reign as the sales king of the range.
What’s it go like?
The entry-level Neo is powered by a 1.5-litre double-over-head-cam 16-valve “four” that is good for 79kW at 6000rpm and 139Nm of peak torque that arrives at 4000rpm.
Mazda claims a combined-fuel-consumption figure of 5.4L/100km for the manual and 5.5L for the six-speed automatic.
The Maxx, the Genki and new GT have a slightly beefier, higher-compression engine with the same 1.5-litre capacity but it boasts 81kW at 6000rpm and 141Nm at 4000rpm. The fuel figures are 5.2L/100km for the manual and 4.9L for the auto.
The outgoing Mazda2 was awarded a five-star ANCAP safety rating back in 2015 but as already mentioned, one of the big news stories about the new “2” range is that Mazda has added two important electronic driver aids that add significantly to the car’s safety credentials.
The first is “smart-city brake support” – a low-speed emergency-braking system – and the other is the marque’s G-vectoring-control system.
At speeds between 4km/h and 30km/h and using a near-infrared sensor mounted in the windscreen, the brake-support system automatically applies the brakes to prevent the car rear-ending the car in front.
The flip side of the system is that when the “2” is reversing between 2km/h and 8km/h, rear-bumper-mounted ultrasound sensors are used to detect obstacles and apply the brake if a collision is imminent.
While this is certainly better than nothing, the car’s beefy C-pillar made me wish a reversing camera was part of the standard-kit.
What G-vectoring does, the instant it detects the steering wheel has been turned, is cleverly adjust front-wheel torque to transfer load to the front wheels, thus increasing tyre grip and turn-in performance.
When a constant steering angle is maintained, the system immediately uses torque to transfer load to the rear wheels for better overall stability.
Behind the wheel, the Neo’s 79kW/139Nm motor is perfectly adequate around town although during overtaking and hill climbing can become breathless unless you keep the revs up to it.
That said, like all Mazdas, the “2’s” six-speed manual gearbox is one of the good ones – blessed as it is with well-sorted ratios, snappy changing and a stick that falls perfectly to hand.
The steering (unfortunately via a leather-less plastic wheel) is beautifully weighted and precise and zipping around town and parking in tight spots is a breeze.
Inside, the test car’s overall ambience was rather sombre. There’s acres of hard black plastic with few metal-look highlights to break the monotony.
There is however some fabric on the doors and the cloth seats also had a bit of contrasting, lighter-tone colouring.
The front seats are some of the best-in-class with plenty of hip-and-thigh bolstering for good support even during enthusiastic cornering.
Rear seats are what you’d expect from a car in this class but legroom is not up there with the best and seven-foot basketballers certainly wouldn’t enjoy a Melbourne-Sydney trip.
Cargo space also is not one of the Neo hatch’s strong points, offering as it does just 250 litres of capacity. The sedan on the other hand boasts 440 litres.
Other storage cubby holes include a glove box, front door pockets, two front cup holders, a console-mounted open bin in front of the gear stick, a small open bin at the rear of the console and a map pocket behind the left-front seat-back. Would one behind the driver’s seat have broken the bank?
Unfortunately there is no roof-mounted sunglasses holder.
In terms of warranty, Mazda continues to be pretty stingy, offering as it does just 3 years, albeit with unlimited kilometres.
In this department it doesn’t hold a candle to the likes of Hyundai’s 5 years, let alone Kia’s industry-leading 7.
What we like
- Still perky styling
- Standard cruise control
- Fun-to-drive handling
- Snappy gearbox
- Bluetooth connectivity
- Electric folding mirrors
- Safety credentials
What we don’t
- Limited rear-seat room
- Limited cargo space
- No reversing camera
- Tiny hard-to-read tacho
- Rear drum brakes
- Space-saver spare
- Plastic steering wheel
What are the alternatives?
Hyundai Accent 1.4 Active, from $14,990
The segment leader and by a sizeable margin. But the new and improved Mazda2 is set to make some inroads here.
Toyota Yaris 1.3 Ascent, from $15,290
At this end of the market every dollar counts and even a $300 margin will make a big difference to some buyers.
Honda Jazz 1.5 VTi $14,990, from $14,990
It’s got the largest engine of the lot. If it wasn’t for that styling . . . still it’s a personal thing.
Deal or no deal?
The new Mazda2 in all its guises continues a tried-and-tested design and performance formula but adds much-improved NVH and a couple of important electronic safety/driver aids.
Even the one-with-not-much Neo remains a nimble, value-for-money, fun-to-drive little city car that should be high on the shopping list of buyers in this segment – especially the younger set.