Alfa Romeo
Land Rover
Mazda Mazda2 Neo, Maxx and Genki
Room, room, room
December 2005

WHEN the Mazda 121 Metro was released in the late `90s it was ahead of its time. It was the car that burst the aptly nicknamed "Bubble", the curvy-but-a-bit-ridiculous little 121 sibling that then, thankfully, disappeared into Aussie folklore.

Not only was the Metro a strong performing little machine, by squaring up the corners it became a cavernous runaround that was also pretty comfortable as well. It also meant that blokes would actually be seen driving one if their life depended on it, which didn`t happen with the Bubble.

After several "freshens", the 121 became the Mazda2 in 2002 and now we have the latest "freshen" in its lifespan.

There`s no doubt that if you are looking for compact with plenty of room to move - like if you're a six-foot something florist doing home deliveries, or a mobile hairdresser - you would not be able to find a better fit.

Admittedly it`s not nearly as square as the Metro, but it still offers mind-boggling amounts of head, shoulder and legroom.

Powered by an 82 kilowatt, 1.5-litre engine and the range remains priced from $15,990 with air conditioning, so you cannot go past the price either. However, the big issue for Mazda is that there are so many players in the market now, down to as low as $12,000 for a small car, that $15K might suddenly sound expensive. You need to do your homework well, that`s for sure.

Outside, the new Mazda2 has reworked front guards, bonnet, bumper, grille and larger headlights up front, while the rear has a wider, slimmer LED high mount stop lamp and a new rear bumper that incorporates two round reflectors at each end.

Restyled 14-inch wheel trims on the Neo, a new 15-inch multi-spoke alloy wheel on mid grade Maxx models, new-look side skirts, sports grille and front bumper incorporating round driving lights on the Genki, and a range of new colors complete the exterior makeover.

Of the 11 colors on offer, four are new to the Mazda2 Carbon Grey mica, Mocha mica, Iris Blue mica and Blazing Yellow mica. The yellow is an exclusive launch colour for Genki.

Metallic or mica paint is a no-cost option on all Mazda passenger cars. Inside, the Mazda2s spacious, high quality cabin receives new trim colors and materials.

The Mazda2 remains a safety leader, being the first car in its class to offer six airbags and ABS brakes across all models. This class-leading safety pack, which is standard on the Genki, is an option on Neo and Maxx models and is priced at just $1150.

Mazda2 is the only car offering these world class safety features under $18,250.

Standard safety features include dual front airbags, front seatbelt pretensioners with load limiters, anti-whiplash front seats and an intrusion-minimising brake pedal that reduces the chance of foot, ankle and lower leg injuries.

As well as the long list of safety features, standard equipment on $15,990 Neo models includes air conditioning, a CD player, 14-inch tyres, central locking, power steering and an engine immobiliser.

Maxx and Genki get a six in-dash CD player, steering wheel mounted audio controls and drivers seat height adjustment, new retractable-type key that enables the key blade to fold out of the way when not in use. The central locking buttons are now contained within the fob.

Mechanically, engine modifications that include revised exhaust gas timing and the adoption of an electronic throttle, help boost torque delivery between 1500rpm and 3000rpm and improve linear acceleration feel.

Other mechanical upgrades include the addition of electric power steering, a system that is based on the unit found in the companys RX-8 flagship.

The Mazda2s body is also stiffer than before, improving both NVH levels and dynamics.

It must be said there are others on the market that have better drivability and refinement than the Mazda2. But if you actually need some room in the cabin and/or the ability to haul things around, this car takes some beating.



ENGINE: 1.5-litre four cylinder

POWER: 82kW at 600rpm

TORQUE: 141Nm from 4000rpm

TRANSMISSION: Five-speed manual or Activematic four-speed auto

FUEL ECONOMY: 7.0l/100km

PROS: Loads of interior space due to boxy shape - arguably the best usable space on the market

CONS: Perhaps a lack of styling, but that`s why it`s so spacious; and you can`t be too picky at this price

BOTTOM LINE: From $15,990 with air conditioning