Long-striding, refined, stable and frugal at high speed: a small car with the ground-covering ability of something much bigger.
You could happily spend a lot of time in one of these, not least because the cabin is so pleasant. With its black cloth and dark plastics, our test car did reveal Mazda’s predilection for monochromatic interior design. Headline petrol versions are offered with lighter leather trim as an option, which breaks up the vast expanses of gloomy blackness, but for some reason it’s not offered on the diesel.
That apart, the fascia looks modern, uncluttered and appealing to the senses, with tactile and colourful inserts used in places and good material quality apparent on the climate controls. Cabin space is good but not great, with larger adults likely to find the back seats in particular tight on both knee and head room.
But in just about every other way, this Mazda 2 does an uncanny impression of a much larger family hatchback. That diesel engine is a little bit gravelly under initial throttle applications, but settles to a remarkably hushed cruise that really distinguishes the car. Throttle response is relatively soft, but torque comes on strongly between 2000rpm and 3000rpm, making the car feel quite brisk pulling through third and fourth gears.
That it feels less muscular in fifth and sixth has little to do with the engine and more the unusually long gear ratios that Mazda has chosen. Pulling 39mph per 1000rpm in top, the Mazda 2 diesel has longer cruising legs than most diesel hatchbacks from one or two market segments above.
Motorway overtaking is therefore best attempted with a downshift, while country road passes require a couple of them. The trade-off is outstanding, fairly effortless real-world fuel economy. Economy in the mid-60s is very easily achieved on a mixed route, and we can believe a return starting with a '7' would be possible with the right driving style.
Spritely handling, delivered with a modicum of enthusiasm, was something we liked about the last Mazda 2, and there’s verve and engagement about this new one, too, although perhaps not quite as much. Mazda’s new electromechanical power steering set-up has added directness to the rim but at the expense of some feedback.
The car is fairly moderately sprung and corners keenly with decent balance, typical grip levels and good body control, but its damper tuning could be more subtle. The twin-tube shocks fitted as standard to the car lack progressiveness and make body control become a little abrupt as the lumps and bumps you’re crossing get bigger. At other times the ride can seem hollow, allowing more road roar and surface patter into the cabin than you’d like.