What is it?
Early drives in the all-new Mazda 2 have revealed it to be a very fine supermini indeed, but not quite a class-leading one - the seemingly unstoppable Ford Fiesta entering a seventh year as leader of the class.
Ahead of the new 2’s imminent UK launch, we’ve now had a chance to sample another, more potent flavour of it, those earlier drives having been limited to the mid-range 89bhp 1.5-litre petrol version.
That normally aspirated engine is also offered with an entry-level output of 74bhp or the range-topping 113bhp tested here, the more powerful one promising to give the 2 the extra bit of fun factor needed to topple the Fiesta. A 1.5-litre Skyactiv diesel is also offered, but we haven't yet tried it.
What's it like?
The range-topping engine goads you to rev it to access the performance, making it entertaining if you can keep the momentum going. The engine is mated to one of the slickest manual gearboxes in the class, the six-speed unit encouraging positive shifts. Drive it at lower revs and it’s altogether much smoother and more relaxing.
The 2 is therefore a car that feels good to drive, not only because of its positive powertrain, but also because its steering is well weighted and allows the car to be accurately placed on the road. Turn-in is sharp and the ride comfortable; it gets the basics right, in other words, which is not something that can be said for all rivals.
The drivetrain suffers the same problems as the lower-powered versions, mind, namely little low-end torque and overly long gearing, which makes getting anywhere in a hurry a real effort. The flipside to that willingness to be pushed is that the engine can be surprisingly vocal, while at faster motorway speeds engine noise never settles into the background.
Mazda is keen to emphasise its strategy of "rightsizing the engine rather than downsizing", which has its benefits, with real-world economy in the early 50s, for example. However, you can’t help but miss that extra zest, charm and better low-end shove Ford's three-cylinder turbo Ecoboost provides. Stick one of these in the 2 and I’ve a sneaky suspicion the 2 would shift from good to drive to fun to drive, and really give the Fiesta something to worry about.
The 2's interior is a huge improvement over the old car’s in design and perceived quality and has an infotainment screen that is controlled by a rotary knob next to the handbrake.
The sat-nav provides some of the clearest mapping out there and clear spoken instructions that won’t leave you reaching for the mute button. More evidence of the basics being done well.
Should I buy one?
This range-topping Mazda 2 has plenty going for it, then. It’s a true all-rounder in the class and is likely to be a fine car to own, albeit pricey in this guise next to its equivalent key rivals.
The Fiesta remains the best car to drive in the class, but the 2 deserves to be at the top of your supermini shopping list.
Mazda 2 1.5 115ps Sport Nav
Price £15,995; Engine 4 cyls, 1496cc, petrol; Power 113bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 109lb ft at 4000rpm; Gearbox 5-spd manual; Kerb weight 1055kg; Top speed 124mph; 0-62mph 8.7sec; Economy 56.5mpg (combined); CO2/tax band 117g/km, 16%