Mazda2: Little beaut packs in big-car benefits
Buyers will be lining up for the smartest small car in the country
Mazda NZ celebrated the end of 2014 with such a plethora of awards that the company must have broken out the champagne at its staff Christmas party.
The Mazda3 was Driven's Car of the Year and our compact category winner, plus it took out the Automobile Association-NZ Motoring Writers' Guild Car of the Year and the AA's People Choice.
But Mazda NZ isn't slacking this year, with three outstanding products on sale. The Mazda2 hatchback was launched late last year with a list of standard features that you'd find in a luxury car four times its price and at least twice its size.
This first quarter of the year should see the CX-3 compact SUV on sale here - a vehicle that impressed Driven at the international reveal at the LA Motor Show.
The brand's halo sports car, the iconic MX-5, heads here late this year.
With those three vehicles arriving in our market, Mazda NZ should have more champagne chilling at its Mt Wellington, Auckland headquarters.
Although the MX-5 will have limited sales here, as it is more of a luxury purchase than a practical runabout, it's hard to pick whether the Mazda2 or CX-3 will be the bigger seller. Both are bound to make a big impact on our market, but the Mazda2 hatch has already impressed.
Available only with a 1.5-litre petrol engine with a six-speed manual or automatic transmission, the price starts from $21,745 for the GLX and tops off at $28,595 for the Limited (pictured).
The Mazda2 inherits the company's Kodo (translation: Soul of Motion) design found in the Mazda6, CX-5 and Mazda3. That "smiling" large front grille gives the hatch a strong road presence and sets it apart from its direct competition - the Toyota Yaris and Suzuki's dominating Swift.
Mazda has been smart to have the 1.5-litre engine only; it's powerful enough not to be limited to being a city slicker and can take on road trips.
Mazda's SkyActiv fuel economy technology means you don't have big petrol bills (and with fuel prices the way they are you can afford quite a few road trips at the moment).
While the hatch wins for looks inside and out, plus an extremely capable engine, it's the raft of safety features that will woo Kiwi buyers.
The Mazda2 has impressive passive and active features starting with the high-rigidity SkyActiv-Body found in the Mazda6, Mazda3 and CX-5.
That's a structural system that absorbs and disperses force in a collision, and when you add front, side and curtain airbags plus rear crushable zones the Mazda2 becomes a hatch that sets a benchmark for safety in small cars.
Once you move up the Mazda2 range you get safety features found in vehicles four times its price and twice its size. The Mazda2 GSX and Limited models have standard blind-spot monitoring (lights that illuminate in the side mirrors when there is a vehicle in the car's blind spot) and Rear Cross Traffic Alert that detects if a vehicle, person or cyclist are at the side or rear of the car.
This feature is ideal when reversing out of driveways or busy carparks as it picks up objects at a distance rather than immediately behind you. The Limited adds extra safety features such as Lane Departure Warning (a warning if you cross the central line) and Smart City Brake Support (a warning system at low speed if you're driving too close to a car in front).
During Driven's week-long test of the Mazda2 Limited, with additional features such as leather seats and heads-up display, the hatch was taken for a combination of trips - motorway journeys, inner-city commutes, and scary trips to packed supermarkets and malls during pre-Christmas family outings.
The Mazda2's dash (top) with heads-up display (below) and stylish interior detail (above).
I was impressed with the vehicle's handling, large boot room, interior space and that perky engine.
So what did I think about the Mazda2 after the test period? I'd buy one - and I don't mean as in "when I win Lotto it'll be my runabout". My teenage daughter is threatening to get her driver's licence and I want her to drive a vehicle that has all the safety features I've seen in a European luxury car. The Mazda2 has those plus it's small enough to mean she won't be intimidated on packed city roads.
Luckily for me my daughter is still thinking about sitting her theory so I won't have to grovel to the bank manager any time soon for a loan to buy a Mazda2.