WHAT other Yaris rival boasts a relatively cab-backward profile, like some mini muscle-car wannabe? The last time Mazda thought this far outside of the B-segment box was with the iconic 1990s 121 ‘Bubble’.
And, as with that sedan which fearlessly/ foolishly swam against the tide of bland hatches, it’s the 2’s depth of engineering that shines brightest.
Leading the way is the outstanding flexibility of the Neo’s V-P5 79kW/139Nm 1.5-litre four-pot petrol unit. Even without the slightly stronger 81kW/141Nm F-P5 version with four-into-two-into-one exhaust, the base powerplant snarls into life, sprints away smartly from standstill and pulls hard all the way to 6800rpm.
Making the most of the equally sweet six-speed automatic, there’s a new-to-themarque ‘Sport’ toggle, which will hold on to the appropriate gear when necessary without the endless ratio to-ing and fro-ing that afflicts many baby autos. The upshot is a podium finish for both performance and fuel economy, reflecting the Thai-built Japanese hatchback’s impressive efficiency.
Sharing a modified version of the larger 3’s platform (but with a segment-norm torsion beam instead of a multi-link rear end), the smallest Mazda also pleases as far as handling and roadholding capabilities go, being planted and secure at speed like a car from the next class up.
That’s the good news dynamically. Not so hot is steering that, though light and breezy, lacks bite at either side of the straight-ahead position. As with its bigger brother, the helm only comes alive once past the point of initial turn-in, finally connecting the driver to the action up front. Such a sporty runabout craves crisper directional control.
Additionally, some rack rattle is evident over rougher roads, where the ride can also get a bit bumpy, while – and no surprises here – road noise is an ever-present companion. Yes, the 2 is considerably better than before, graduating from ‘loud’ to ‘drone’, but there’s still a way to go before it can match its quieter rivals.
Maybe the harder-compound Dunlop Enasave eco rubber can take some of the blame, for the Mazda was also one of the trailing trio in braking performance.
That long-bonnet silhouette means the 2 is a tad tighter for space than in its previous iteration, despite a sizeable body and wheelbase stretch, resulting in an interior of two distinct halves.
Seated in the comfy and well-bolstered front buckets, everything is pretty much hunky dory, from the elegant simplicity of the dashboard with its telescopic steering column to the excellent driving position, stylish vents and abundance of storage.
It isn’t all zoom with a view, though, for the tacho is miserably small, and neither cruise control nor a reversing camera are available in Neo. And the audio/multimedia interface can be fiddly to operate.
Rear-seat passengers benefit from more shoulder and legroom than before and the cushion itself isn’t bad, but the rising window line and large front headrests limit vision, and there are no cupholders. At least the 2’s boot is reasonably big – thanks in part to a space-saver spare – though the floor isn’t flat when the split/fold rear backrest is dropped.
Striking design, sparkling performance, capable and engaging dynamics, muted steering, adequate interior space, road noise intrusion… the latest Neo looks and feels like a thoroughly modern Mazda.
On paper, its $16,990 asking price is almost as alluring as its bolshie attitude, but the Neo’s equipment shortfall, combined with the unresolved road noise and ride issues – and, it must be said, hyper-feminised TV ads – means Mazda’s stylish cab-backward newcomer falls agonisingly short of taking gold in this Megatest. – BM
$17,390* Engine 1496cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v Power 79kW @ 6000rpm Torque 139Nm @ 4000rpm Transmission 6-speed automatic Dimensions (L/W/H/W-B) 4060/1695/1495/2570mm Weight 1045kg Cargo capacity 250 litres Tyres Dunlop Enasave EC300 185/65R15 88T Economy 7.1L/100km 0-60km/h 4.6sec 0-100km/h 10.7sec 0-400m 17.5sec @ 127.7km/h 80-120km/h 8.0sec 100-0m 41.5m 3yr resale 74% . Handling, cabin, resale . Noisy ride, spec shortfall * Includes Smart City Brake Support ($400)
MAZDA has thought hard about the little things. For instance, the A-pillars are narrower and pushed back some 100mm to improve forward vision.
Similarly, while the exterior mirrors mounted on plinths rather than within the window assembly to further reduce blind spots, their new position also makes for a quieter rear-seat area, since the air that passes over them does not subsequently swirl by the back doors as they did previously.
And a new organtype accelerator pedal means there is no wheelarch intrusion, so your right foot won’t ache after a few hours wedged down there. Clever.
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