By on May 28, 2015

2016 Mazda2 European Spec

The Mazda2 is another car whose absence in the US market will bring tears to the eyes of driving enthusiasts – and rightly so, because it’s a great little car. At the same time, it was probably the right call by Mazda not to import it to the States. This car can truly shine, but wide open American roads are not the right place for it, no matter how much canyon carving petrolheads would like them to be.

Ask a typical automotive enthusiast or petrolhead about modern cars and you’ll probably hear they are rubbish and the older cars are “just right”. You’ll hear modern cars are too full of electronics. They’re too bloated. The driver is isolated too much from the task of driving. With everything being focused on comfort, safety and economy, the joy of driving suffers.

Try to explain this to the typical car buyer and you get a blank stare in return, which is why the Mazda2 won’t be a sales hit in Europe, and would be a flop in America. It’s is a shame, really, because it’s a wonderful little car.

So, why won’t people buy one over, say, the Citroën C4 Cactus or Škoda Fabia? Or some tiny little crossover, which is actually less practical, but more expensive? Let’s explain it on the Fabia, which I tested recently, and which is a direct competitor to the 2 on European market.

2016 Mazda2 European Spec

As I mentioned several times in the review, sitting in the Fabia feels like you’re in a bigger car than its dimensions suggest. It uses the architecture and interior design language of bigger Volkswagen products and drives in a very “grown up” and confident manner. While a decade or two ago, a supermini was something you bought only to drive around town, the Fabia is a perfectly capable highway cruiser – or it would be, if it had more power.

The Mazda, on the other hand, feels and drives like a small car. Truth be told, the 2 I borrowed for this review was a poverty-spec example with the base 75 hp 1.5L four-cylinder engine while the Fabia esd equipped with its available top-of-the-line 110 hp 1.2 turbo plant, but that doesn’t change much about the way both cars feel.

The first difference is obvious: the Fabia is just larger inside. This is to be expected, as Fabia plays the “half a class above the competitors” game that’s typical for Škodas. However, the Mazda is a bit small even when compared to the average of its class, with cramped rear quarters and a relatively small boot. If you want to use your supermini as a family car, this will not work as well as the Fabia.

2016 Mazda2 European Spec

Then there’s the interior ambiance. The Mazda’s cabin is quite pretty to look at and everything feels slender, smooth and stylish. The Mazda’s “sports car feel” is in contrast to the Fabia and its direct competitors offering up their “big car” interior atmosphere. It’s in the details: a tiny rev counter in the corner of the dash instead of proper dial. Radio or infotainment system sticking out of the dash like a sore thumb. And, of course, the slightly tinny sound made by closing doors.

Don’t get me wrong – the Mazda’s interior doesn’t feel cheap or ugly. It’s just a tad too obvious  the main concern was saving weight and not creating a luxurious experience for those inside. Today’s customers want to be pampered.

What they do not appreciate are the finer things in automobile that we as enthusiasts hold supreme, like sublime suspension tuning or a lovely, naturally aspirated engine paired with a precise, delicate manual transmission. Which is sad, because those count among the main reasons for buying a Mazda2.

2016 Mazda2 European Spec

Let’s start with the engine first. As I already mentioned, my press loaner was powered with the least powerful, least sophisticated version of the 1.5 SKYACTIV four-cylinder. It lacks the trick 4-2-1 headers, crazy compression ratio and – on paper – it looks seriously underpowered. Compared to both superminis I drove before and after the Mazda2 (the aforementioned Fabia 1.2 TSI and Corsa 1.0 Turbo), its 75 hp seems almost like a joke.

Trust me, it isn’t. Having driven a few cars with N/A engines neutered by EU5 emission standards lately, I started to think that turbocharging is the only remaining way to go. Mazda proved me (and probably many others) wrong. There is nothing neutered about this engine. Thanks to its large displacement (for a base engine in an EU-market supermini), it’s not lacking torque in the low range, and it somehow keeps the rev-happy characteristics of a classic Japanese four-pot. I’ve never been a great fan of revvy four-cylinders and I actually like the diesel version of Mazda6 more than the gasoline one, but the four-banger in the Mazda2 is a delight. I found myself revving it right to the redline just for fun and, of course, sometimes out of necessity because 75 hp isn’t really much. That’s not to say the 2 is unbearably slow. On the contrary, it was much quicker than I expected and at normal pace it was perfectly fine. I was surprised by its ability to overtake at A-road speeds (around 60-65 mph in CZ), as well as its relative stability and bearability near the top speed of about 110 mph.

2016 Mazda2 European Spec

Which neatly brings us back to the suspension. The example I tested is probably the least sporty Mazda2 that can be ordered. Small, 15 inch steel wheels with plastic hubcaps and narrow, tall tires. Couple that with a relatively soft suspension and light, city-biased steering with almost no feel or weight whatsoever, it doesn’t sound like a “sporty” small hatchback. As you’ve probably guessed, though, the opposite is true. The 2 represents what I would call the “English school of suspension tuning”. It isn’t low and stiff like German sports cars, designed for impeccable Teutonic roadways. Instead, it uses its suppleness and light weight to be quick and nimble even on broken surfaces – and to be comfortable enough that you don’t get scared off a “spirited drive” by the jolts and jittering.

If I were to distill the previous paragraphs into one sentence, it would sound like this: Unlike the Fabia, which tries hard to feel like an Octavia or Passat (and succeeds to a remarkable degree), the Mazda2 tries really hard to feel as much like a Miata as possible (and succeeds as well). It’s a pretty, lightweight little hatchback with a lovely engine that’s a hoot to drive. The problem for you, our readers from US, is the typical American buyer has precious little appreciation for things like balanced handling or a sweet, revvy, naturally aspirated engine. It’s nice that it gets great fuel mileage (over 30 mpg even in a bit of a rush), but it probably won’t really shine when coupled with its available automatic transmission. Also, the great, nimble suspension will be of little use during typical American commute.

2016 Mazda2 European Spec

The good news? The CX-3 crossover shares a platform with this car. The first CX-3 reviews promise that it may provide much of the things that are great about the 2 while looking large and substantial enough to allure a typical American customer. Considering the base CX-3 with 120 hp 2.0L SKYACTIV engine costs about the same money on the Czech market as the Mazda2 with a 90 hp SKYACTIV 1.5 and only marginally better equipment is probably the real (and quite understandable) reason why Mazda is pulling the plug on the Mazda2’s U.S. sales. Both cars probably cost roughly the same money to build, with the CX-3 being much more interesting to a typical American and only marginally worse for a driving enthusiast.

@VojtaDobes is motoring journalist from Czech Republic who previously worked for local editions of Autocar and TopGear magazines. Today, he runs his own website, www.Autickar.cz. After a failed adventure with importing classic American cars to Europe, he is utterly broke, so he drives an Alfa 164 Diesel he got for free. His previous cars included a 1988 Caprice in NYC Taxi livery, a hot-rodded Opel Diplomat, two Dodge Coronets, a Simca, a Fiat 600 and Austin Maestro. He has never owned a diesel, manual wagon.

Photography: David Marek

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35 Comments on “2016 Mazda2 European Review...”


  • avatar
    319583076

    I really enjoyed this review, thanks.

  • avatar
    mike978

    Agreed, great review and gives hope for the CX3, which seems to be the right business decision.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Good review, and good explanation for why it’s not in the US.

  • avatar
    Fred

    You sit low in a Mazda 3 and 6 and most want to sit up high. Even in Europe apparently which explains why folks like the Fabia. I also found them to a bit noisy. Not sure how the 2 is on those points.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      I have a ’14 2 – you sit fairly upright, like most subcompacts (expanding up instead of out for space), and the ’16 I sat in at the auto show this year felt about the same. And yes, it’s definitely noisy – can’t really say if it’s any better on the new one.

  • avatar
    Fordson

    “It lacks the trick 4-2-1 headers, crazy compression ratio and – on paper – it looks seriously underpowered.”

    Huh? Is this even a multivalve engine, much less VVT? 50 hp/liter does not even sound as though it has a modern valvetrain.

    But at 1.5 liters, it’s not going to give great fuel economy in exchange for having low hp, because you have to fill those cylinders with a fuel/air mix.

    I’m glad it likes to rev and has torque and all, due to the displacement, but…a modern 1.5L engine with less than say 110 hp is an anachronism.

    • 0 avatar
      Vojta Dobeš

      I have no idea how they did it, but this thing’s got better fuel economy than the 1.2 TSI in Fabia.

      • 0 avatar
        Fordson

        But that’s the trade-off, no? If you drive it hard, it has 110 hp and gets worse mpg, but if you stay out of the boost, it’s only 1.2 liters and will get better mpg, since it has less swept volume to fill within the combustion chambers.

        You say you drove as though you were in a bit of a rush…so under those circumstances, all other things being equal, the car with 110 hp rather than 75 will get worse fuel economy. No mystery there. If you took both of them up to 100 km/hr for 100 km on the motorway, the one with 1.2L of displacement will get better fuel economy – no mystery there, either.

        • 0 avatar
          Vojta Dobeš

          I drove both of them under variety of conditions, since I spent a week with each. The 2 was slightly better on gas under most circumstances.

          You generalize too much – there are situations when a 1.2 three cylinder can get worse fuel economy than a 4.0 V8, in a heavier car, driving in the same manner on same roads.

          Don’t forget the revs, the fuel/air ratio and lots of other stuff.

          • 0 avatar
            Fordson

            That’s why I say, “all other things being equal.”

            And again, what sounds like a slightly larger car, which is more powerful, driven under a variety of conditions over a week…yeah, it’s going to get slightly worse mileage.

            The beauty of the 1.2T in this case is you have either 110 hp or great fuel economy. The 1.5 liter…it is what it is.

          • 0 avatar
            Vojta Dobeš

            My point was that even if you drive the 1.2 TSI slow, the 1.5 SkyActiv (75hp) will still get better fuel economy.

            The 115 SkyActiv will probably kick the 1.2 TSI’s arse while STILL having better fuel economy.

            And I’m quite fond of the TSI, but the SkyActiv engines are just fabulous.

  • avatar
    Undefinition

    I really enjoyed the fact that this review points out the differences in taste between car enthusiasts and the general public. It’s probably a microcosm for why Mazda sales are what they are in the USA, despite them being probably the most affordable, fun-to-drive cars.

  • avatar
    1981.911.SC

    I wonder about the need for the Mazda2 My Mazda3 hatch has more power, bigger interior, is quieter, probably rides better, and it averages 33-34 MPG (75% highway driving). So unless absolute low cost or you need something that small, why bother?

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      Someone could say the same about the Mazda 3 with respect to the 6.

      People have different budgets and size and power needs. I could conceivably see buying a 2 instead of a 3, even though I could theoretically pay cash for the 3.

    • 0 avatar
      Maymar

      I had a 3 as a service loaner while my 2 was getting some work done several months ago. In my experience, the 3 used about 1 more litre per 100km (about 8.7 to my 7.7), feels like the bigger more isolated car I didn’t want (an extra 500lbs will do that), and even with the backup camera, barely fit in my parking spot with my motorcycle. I get that the 3 is an objectively better car, and fits plenty of peoples’ needs better, but it’s not better for my sake – why pay more for that?

  • avatar
    Syke

    Despite its “shortcomings” (a matter of opinion) for the American market, your reviews ensures that I can understand why we’re not getting it. And my current daily commuter drives the point home all the more.

    I’m still running a ten year old first generation xB. Buzzing around town, on the back roads, on the daily commute, the car is wonderful. In its lifetime with me, its shared the garage with a Solstice and a 924S, and I didn’t find the Scion disappointing in the slightest after getting out of one of the others.

    However . . . . I gotta go somewhere which means 70mph interstates? Or 100 miles one way on a 55mph US route? Until my recent purchase of our minivan, I invariably rented something for the trip. What is delightful on a day to day basis can be noisy torture on the long haul.

    Which means we own three cars at home. My commuter (invariably small, quick and with a manual), the wife’s (slightly bigger, still with a four pot and manual), and the long haul vehicle (at present, preferably a minivan).

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Yes, my former xB was wonderful in many respects, but more than 1 or 2 hours on the highway was torture. I once drove it 10 hours back and forth across Pennsylvania in one day, and it was awful.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “The problem for you, our readers from US, is the typical American buyer has precious little appreciation for things like balanced handling or a sweet, revvy, naturally aspirated engine.”

    Americans don’t mind such things, but they aren’t selling points and they won’t pay a price premium for them.

    In any case, it really does make more sense to sell the crossover instead of the passenger car. The car is on the losing end of the trend.

    A minor correction – Mazda’s jargon for the motor is SKYACTIV (all caps, no “e” at the end.)

  • avatar
    Spanish Inquisition

    Dear Mr. Dobes,

    It would appear you have confused hp for kW. The 2L Skyactiv does not have 120 hp, and to have 75 hp in the 1.5L would be absolutely abysmal. 120 kW for the 2L and 75 kW for the 1.5L sounds right though, at a respective 160 hp and 100 hp.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s 75 ps/55 kW, which is roughly 75 hp give or take a pony.

      • 0 avatar
        DevilsRotary86

        OK, I am stunned. My 1991 Honda Civic DX Sedan (DX/LX likely the most common sold Civic of that era) had a 1.5L 92HP engine. The base hatch got 70HP. The 1.3L base engine for Europe got 75HP.

        All this in 1991.

        • 0 avatar
          Vojta Dobeš

          Having spent some 8 years translating for Czech edition of Autocar magazine, I’m not only able to differentiate between hp and kW, I can even convert ps to hp by heart (ps = 1.013 x hp).

          And the Mazda2 really does have only 75hp in base trim, 90hp with the uprated engine and 115hp for the best one. The CX-3’s gasoline engines start with 120hp/2.0, the “better one” is 150hp/2.0.

          However strange it may seem to make a 1.5-litre engine with 75hp, the thing works bloody well.

        • 0 avatar
          SCE to AUX

          True, but the 1991 Honda didn’t have to meet 2015 emissions requirements, and its mfg cost was certainly much higher than today’s engines – when considered in constant dollars.

          The 2 is built to an effectively lower price point and much tighter emission regulations.

        • 0 avatar
          xpistns

          I notice the SKYACTIV engines provide much more torque at a lower RPM and across a wider range than your 91 DX. This spread of engine power will affect the final hp number.

          high hp is most useful when shooting down the straights, high torque is most useful when blasting out of the turns which, in my experience, I enjoy more these days.

          I had a 90 CRX DX and I had to rev the snot out of it to move. Since you also own a rotary, you know what I’m talking about.

          • 0 avatar
            rpn453

            If you’re blasting out of the turns wouldn’t that imply you’re in the right gear; operating above the torque peak and near the power peak?

    • 0 avatar
      rpn453

      I didn’t believe it until I checked the Mazda UK site. 75 hp, 1.5L, year 2015 AD. I guess they benchmarked the 1992 Hyundai Excel and came up just a little short.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    These style of vehicles will become more popular in the US like they are in Australia and Canada.

    The reason for this as we urbanise and air fares drop you will see more people who just need a car to drive to and from work.

    Back in the days of yore when I was a kid in the US and Australia the family would road trip to travel and holiday. This was common place back then. Now we jump on a flight and pick up a rental at the other end.

    These vehicles are acceptable for a two or three hundred mile jaunt on highways traveling at 80mph.

    These types of vehicles will become more apart of the future in the US.

    Plus, it is a nice little vehicle.

    • 0 avatar
      JuniperBug

      That will depend on how the North American culture adapts. In the US especially, people generally already like to buy more car than they need, and often, can afford. The culture says that you need a big, hulking behemoth with a big engine under the hood, so that’s what the sheeple do. In the 50s and 60s this was relatively easily attainable for the average person. That has been changing, and the economics of car ownership have been moving slightly towards the European paradigm. (Canada, by comparison, has values somewhere between the US and Europe, when it comes to size and power.)

      The question in the future will be how many North Americans adapt to their new financial reality, or whether they continue to spend money they don’t have in order to have a huge car with more engine than they use.

      • 0 avatar
        RideHeight

        “The culture says that you need a big, hulking behemoth with a big engine under the hood”

        Culture, schmulture… it’s all the big, hulking behemoths *already out there* that force the issue; a lot more mid-brain than mere culture… fear!

    • 0 avatar
      derekson

      I think a car like the Fabia that feels good cruising at highway speeds would be more likely to catch on in the US than something like the Mazda 2. Personally I’d rather have something like the Fabia. It’s a small and light car; it will still handle relatively well and I can have fun with it in the twisties even if it may not be quite as fun to drive as the Mazda. But in return it is also a capable interstate/autobahn cruiser, which the Mazda is not.

      This was the major factor that lead me to choose a Jetta over a Corolla/Civic/Focus/Cruze/etc. It is massively better on the highway and for long trips, but it still handles pretty well. The Focus handled a bit better and the Cruze had a better ride, but the Jetta was the best jack of all trades for my life and driving habits.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        @derekson,
        I agree with you, it isn’t just about raw numbers, it’s about engagement with the vehicle you are in.

        When I’m in the States visiting my family my mother allows me to drive her Focus. In all honesty it drives like a limp dick compared to other small vehicles I have driven, granted these vehicles are not in the US.

        I not a Toyota fan, but the most surprising of these small vehicles I have driven was a diesel powered Yaris in France a couple of years ago.

        I’ve booked a Renault Clio for my visit in France in a few weeks. I will have my mothers Focus for a week prior and this will give me an even better idea on the Clio.

        I’ve heard they are quite spritely for what they are.

        I don’t know how the US managed to reduce their “homegrown” Focus into a soggy slice of bread with quite poor material inside.

        I’m bitterly disappointed with the US Focus. It could of been a far better vehicle. She bought it in 2013, maybe the newer ones have improved.

        • 0 avatar
          derekson

          I found the Focus to be underpowered with the standard 2.0L NA 4 cylinder, and the seats in the sub-Titanium trim model were the least comfortable I have encountered in a car in decades.

          • 0 avatar
            CoreyDL

            I thought the Focus currently was supposed to be great?!

            It interested me that seems like the car rental places when I was looking put the Cruze in a class above the Focus. Thought they’d be interchangeable.

  • avatar
    CoreyDL

    Looks like they’re mimicking Lexus and their dash designs a bit there, with the horizontal bit running full width. While this isn’t the sort of car I’d buy even if it were here, it doesn’t look bad. Except for the 2003 MP3 player they glued at the top of the dash. YUCK.

    How does this 2 compare to the 2 we got here, which looks very third-worldy when I see them driving around (usually in silly lime green or light blue)?

    Oh and great pictures, David Marek.


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