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Mazda supermini continues with appealing old-fashioned qualities

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David Cameron in Number 10 and Cheryl Cole atop the charts; Russia waging war on Ukraine and a review of the Mk3 Mazda 2 featuring on the front page of Autocar. In some ways, summer 2014 feels like ancient history; in others, it’s like nothing has changed at all.

The third-generation Mazda 2 came out almost a decade ago now, and yet it's still here. In that time, other superminis have bloated in size, gained smaller turbocharged engines and been stuffed with ever more technology. Meanwhile, the little Mazda has remained resolutely old-school.

You'll recognise the 2023 Mazda 2 by its blanked-off grille. It's not an EV, though. It sticks with a 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine.

Add to that the shaky future of some of its rivals, and rather than becoming dated, it could be argued that the Mazda 2 is now a more uniquely enticing product than ever.

For 2023, the Mazda 2 is being facelifted a second time, with new bumper and wheel designs, new colour options, and an unusual blanked-off grille on some versions. In the past few years, it's also gained an updated multimedia system to keep it fresh, and mild-hybrid powertrains to ensure it's not taxed out of existence.

Range at a glance

There's not been a diesel Mazda 2 for a while now, but there's still a good amount of choice, with four variants of Mazda's own Skyactiv-G engine, a 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol. It comes in 74bhp, 89bhp and 113bhp forms. Only the 89bhp version can be had with an automatic gearbox, and manual versions of the 89bhp and 113bhp versions get mild-hybrid assistance, called E-Skyactiv in Mazda speak.

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There are four trim levels to choose from (named Centre-Line, Exclusive-Line, Homura and Homura Aka), all of which provide a comprehensive specification list. You can expect at the minimum air conditioning, a USB port, hill-start assistance, cruise control, alloy wheels, rear parking sensors and an 8.0in touchscreen infotainment system complete with sat-nav, a DAB radio, Bluetooth and smartphone mirroring.

Skyactiv-G 75PS74bhp
E-Skyactiv-G 1.5 90PS89bhp
Skyactiv-G 1.5 90PS Automatic89bhp
E-Skyactiv-G 1.5 115PS114bhp



mazda 2 review 2023 04 tracking rear

At the crux of the third-generation 2’s look, as compared with its predecessor, is the distance between the front axle and the base of the A-pillars.

Whereas the previous model favoured something more akin to a monocab profile that apparently brought those two elements closer together, here Mazda moved the front axle 80mm forwards and the pillars 80mm back.

The Mazda 2 uses the firm's Skyactiv platform. As a result, the 2 is not only 22% stiffer than the model it replaced but also 7% lighter, despite being larger.

It uses Mazda’s Skyactiv platform, which increases the high-strength steel proportion by 12% and ultra-high-tensile steel now makes up 30% of the total structure. As a result, it's not only 22% stiffer than the old 2 but also 7% lighter, despite being larger.

The suspension is MacPherson struts at the front and a rear torsion beam, very much the supermini norm, but Mazda increased castor angle at the front wheels to improve steering response and raised the mounting of the twist beam at the rear to better handle impacts. The steering ratio was also slightly quickened and its mounts adjusted.

Great attention was paid to refinement. Among the solutions are improved floor panel beads for 5dBA less radiant cabin noise, a separation of suspension resonance from that of the body cavity, the wind noise-suppressing design of the door mirrors and wipers, and the optimisation of powertrain mounts.



mazda 2 review 2023 07 cabin

The cabin space of the new 2 is unlikely to make a dent on your first impression, especially now that rivals have grown wider and thus become more practical. Instead, how the interior looks is of far more interest than its basic proportions.

Here is a supermini cabin that avoids the pitfalls of tacky styling or unnecessary clutter, delivering in their place a real sense of imagination and savvy attention to detail. This emanates most obviously from the dashboard, a slab of space-conscious architecture.

None of its hallmarks – unbroken horizontal lines, nicely corralled switchgear, periscoped instrument cluster – are novel, but their integration is rarely so well handled. It comes as no surprise to learn that the car’s designer, the same man who penned the exterior, originally trained in interior design.

The infotainment touchscreen looks neat where it's perched on the dashboard and, better still, you won't have to actually touch it once you're driving.

The input device for the multimedia system could do with being a little further forward for optimum usability, but that's about the limit of our ergonomic complaints. You sit marginally too high, although well within the segment’s norm, and 20mm of additional elbow room helps to prevent the front of the cabin from feeling full to the brim when two adults are on board.

In the back, the 2 isn't the most spacious supermini: taller passengers will certainly feel uncomfortable after a while. It's no Fiat 500, you understand, but it's in a different league from the Seat Ibiza, for instance.

The boot is decent, with a capacity of 280 litres, if hindered a little by its miserly aperture width.

Multimedia system

Mazda 2 review 2023 09 infotainment 0

The infotainment touchscreen looks neat where it's perched on the dashboard and, better still, you won't have to actually touch it once you're driving thanks to a rotary input device and a selection of physical shortcut buttons. It has a touchscreen, but it deactivates on the move. Some testers found this worked well for them, while others found navigating Apple CarPlay with the rotary controller rather cumbersome.

Apple CarPlay and Android Auto didn't exist yet when the Mazda 2 was first launched, but both were added after a few years. The former works wirelessly, the latter requires a cable. Mazda's default interface feels a little dated in 2023, but is easy enough to understand.


mazda 2 review 2023 03 tracking front

When the third-generation Mazda 2 launched in 2014, a naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine wasn't such an unusual thing to find in a supermini. Ten years later, the 2's engine line-up seems almost exotic.

The 1.5-litre Skyactiv-G engine comes with a choice of three power outputs: 74bhp, 89bhp and 113bhp. All have a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, and the 89bhp version can be optioned with a six-speed automatic. The manual 89bhp variant and the 113bhp version are assisted by a 24V mild-hybrid system.

The 1.5-litre engine's willingness to rev is the key to its success here. It pulls fairly vociferously but sweetly from 4000rpm to more than 6500rpm

The Mazda 2 can feel somewhat sluggish if you drive it like you would a turbocharged competitor. Instead, it simply wants to be driven in a different way. The range-topping 113bhp petrol variant goads you to rev it to access the performance, and the 1.5-litre engine’s willingness to rev is the key to its success here. Pulling fairly vociferously but sweetly from 4000rpm to more than 6500rpm, the engine makes performance feel zesty and fairly forceful in the lower gears, as long as you hold on to them. Do that, and it feels every bit as quick as its claimed 0-62mph dash.

The company has developed something of a talent for the shift quality of its manual transmissions, and the 2 has an appealingly solid, slick and well-defined gearbox, complemented by a clutch with well-matched weight and progressive action and a well-tuned brake pedal.

Ease of use is vitally important in superminis, and although smooth and tractable enough at low revs, this one isn’t as easy to drive as some of its rivals in the strictest terms. But it makes up for that in ways that will be greatly appreciated by any interested driver.


mazda 2 review 2023 02 cornering rear

The careful tuning that’s evident in the pedal weights and shift quality also shows itself in the way the car handles and steers.

It’s apparent that better judgement and greater attention has gone into Mazda’s development effort on this car than goes into the average small car.

The Mazda 2 handles in a wonderfully transparent, uncontrived way simply by being easy to guide and going precisely where you point it.

The frequency of the 2’s gait is fairly low and its ride generally easy-going and well isolated – at higher speeds, at least.

Of far greater acclaim is the middling but constant weight and pace of the steering, the moderate but very well-balanced lateral grip levels and the gently controlled rate of body roll.

It’s rare to find a small car of such dynamic consistency, one that doesn’t jar your impression of it with at least one incongruent characteristic – a disproportionately pacy steering rack, for example. Developing cars that are so coherent to drive is expensive and not always considered important by supermini makers, but the 2 shows why it should be.

Like its bigger sibling, the Mazda 3, the 2 handles in a wonderfully transparent, uncontrived way simply by being easy to guide and going precisely where you point it.

And yet at typical British B-road speeds, the suspension hits the sweetest of strides, allowing the body to stay flat and undeterred while the struts, bushings and links below work away very harmoniously indeed. 

It has a tougher time coping with broken asphalt in town, the ride feeling pretty ragged, uncomfortably jostling its occcupants. Then again, that is not an unreasonable trade-off for the 2's handling sparkle in what is a small car with a torsion beam rear axle.



mazda 2 review 2023 01 cornering front

Being efficient, decently equipped, cheap to run and competitively priced is no automatic guarantee of success in Europe’s biggest-selling segment, but the 2 currently manages the trick of appearing to be all of these things.

Even in its most powerful (113bhp) guise, it officially doesn’t emit more than 113g/km of CO2 and achieves 56.6mpg – a claim that was borne out in the reality of a week-long test that covered all types of road. The mild-hybrid system makes a slight difference here, but even the unhybridised models should be impressive.

We saw an MPG very close to the impressive official total in the 113bhp Homura Aka on a mixed test route.


mazda 2 review 2023 15 static front

The Mazda 2 remains something of a hidden gem for supermini buyers, and in terms of driving, it now also feels like a proper throwback of the finest type.

It’s not as practical as newer, larger rivals such as the Ford Fiesta and Volkswagen Polo, but it will be far more engaging than the German car, or indeed the Hyundai i20 and certainly the Skoda Fabia.

That comes with a few compromises: some of those rivals isolate you from the road far better, and the naturally aspirated 1.5 wants revs to give its best. However, for those who appreciate an engaging character, the Mazda 2 will appeal in a way that’s now unique, through its chassis, steering, gearbox and fizzy engine. It’s a heady combination that we may not be able to savour for much longer.

And yet it offers all of that while still providing decent levels of usability, fuel economy and interior quality.

The Mazda 2 continues to be Japan’s best effort at a classic European supermini and, in more ways than one, it's a better one than most of the Europeans.

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Mazda 2 First drives