What Car? says...
Is the Mazda 2 suffering from an identity crisis? We don't blame it if it is. After all, there it was minding its own business as Mazda’s go-to small car offering – then along came the Mazda 2 Hybrid.
So, just to be clear, this review is about the Mazda 2, not the 2 Hybrid (which – sowing more confusion – is almost identical to the Toyota Yaris). The two 2s are sold side by side, but are completely different inside and out.
Even more confusingly, some of this Mazda 2's 1.5-litre petrol engines have hybrid tech, but it's of the mild-hybrid variety, so while energy is recovered during braking to improve efficiency, it can't run on electricity alone. All cars come with a six-speed manual gearbox.
While the discontinuation of the Ford Fiesta means that famous big-seller is no longer counted among the Mazda 2’s rivals, there’s still plenty of quality competition to compare it with. You might be considering the Dacia Sandero, the Hyundai i20, the Skoda Fabia and the VW Polo to name a few.
In this review we'll cover everything you need to know, from how the Mazda 2 performs and handles to what the interior quality and boot space are like. We'll also tell you which engine and trim combination is best if you do decide to get one.
When you're ready to buy a new car of any make and model, we could help you save thousands off the list price if you search our free What Car? New Car Buying service. It has lots of new small car deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
You can have your Mazda 2 (as opposed to Mazda 2 Hybrid) with a straightforward petrol engine, the Skyactiv G, or have the same engine but with mild-hybrid tech and a slightly different name: e-Skyactiv G. None of the engines has a turbocharger, which is very unusual these days.
The entry-level option is the Skyactiv G 75, which feels really underpowered. The 0-62mph time of 11.3sec gives a good hint of its leisurely pace, but what it doesn’t tell you is how weak the engine feels when you meet a slight incline in sixth gear on the motorway. You have to work hard with the six-speed manual gearbox to inject life into the engine. The lack of pulling power means it even feels slow at low speeds around town.
The next engine up is the Skyactiv G 90, which becomes the e-Skyactiv G 90 when you opt for mild-hybrid tech. The 'e' version is more fuel-efficient, and we think it's the best engine option. It will get you up to motorway speeds fairly comfortably, and responds quickly enough if you need a burst of acceleration, but still needs to be revved hard to make swift progress.
The most powerful version is the e-Skyactiv G 115, which doesn’t feel as lethargic as the other options, but is only available in the range-topping trim – and that has a bearing on ride comfort as well as cost.
How so? Well, the entry-level trim (Centre-Line) comes with 15in wheels, which have deeper tyre sidewalls and smooth the edges off larger bumps in the road better than the 16in ones you get higher up the range. Even so, there’s no getting away from the fact that the Mazda 2 is still a little on the firm side, jostling you around when you encounter potholes and broken Tarmac. For the best ride comfort among small cars, try the Peugeot 208 and the VW Polo.
The Mazda 2’s steering is well-weighted, feeling lighter at lower speeds but becoming slightly heavier when the speeds increases and you take a corner. Unfortunately, the steering wheel never really gives you much information about what the front wheels are doing or how much grip they have. The ultimate grip levels aren’t especially high, either.
The firmer ride means body lean is relatively well controlled, but if you fancy something capable and entertaining on a twisty road, we’d steer you towards the Seat Ibiza.
Small cars are not always very adept at isolating wind and road noise, and although Mazda has fitted the 2 with additional interior sound-deadening material over the years, it still lags behind the 208 and the Polo when it comes to quietness and relaxation on a long journey.
The engines send vibrations through the steering wheel and pedals, and often sound coarse when revved, comparing unfavourably with many rivals. The standard six-speed manual gearbox is a real plus, though – it has a snappy, slick throw and is generally a joy to use.
The interior layout, fit and finish
You get a good range of adjustment for the seat and steering wheel of the Mazda 2, and with height adjustment on all versions, even tall drivers should be able to find a comfy position.
The pedals line up well with the seat, but the hard seat cushions are not ideal for long journeys. As with most small cars none of the seat adjustments are electric.
Your view forwards and to the side is pretty clear, thanks to relatively slim window pillars. Rear visibility is less generous because the sloping roofline and the rear styling leave you with a smaller-than-average rear screen. Mazda gives you rear parking sensors on all trim levels, while Homura spec and up adds a rear-view camera.
All versions of the Mazda 2 come with an 8in colour touchscreen infotainment system and DAB radio, along with wireless Apple CarPlay and wired Android Auto smartphone mirroring. The touchscreen is responsive, but when the car is moving it doesn't react to your prods – you have to use the rotary controller between the front seats to control it. That's a good thing, though, because it's less distracting than using a touchscreen-only system when you're driving.
The interior is a pleasant place to be, with soft-touch materials that feel quite classy on top of the dashboard. Adding to that feel, all versions of the 2 come with a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearknob, both of which are pleasant to hold.
Accompanying those trim pieces are a fair amount of lower-rent scratchy plastics, especially in the cheaper trims. Those hard plastics aren’t as well hidden as they are in the Peugeot 208.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
Despite its small dimensions, the Mazda 2 offers plenty of space for two adults in the front. There’s enough leg and elbow room, and even six-footers won’t find their heads against the roof-lining.
Mazda gives you a couple of cupholders that are big enough for a large takeaway cup, as well as a cubbyhole ahead of the gearlever for throwing small items into. The cubby isn't wide enough to take a smartphone, though – you’ll have to put that in one of the door bins.
Adults in the back will find rear leg room a little tight, and taller rear-seats passengers could find their knees resting on the front seat backs. Head room isn’t especially generous, either.
The rear seat is more comfortable for two adults than three – shoulder room is tight and the middle passenger has a raised transmission tunnel to contend with.
The sweeping rear windows restrict the view out, making it feel slightly dark and claustrophobic. There are plenty of cars that offer more rear space – including the Seat Ibiza and the VW Polo – and the Dacia Sandero is in another league entirely.
The driver and front passenger seats both have manual backrest and fore-and-aft adjustment, and all trims offer a height-adjustable passenger seat. The rear seats don’t offer any sliding or reclining ability, but they can be split and folded in a 60/40 configuration.
The 2’s boot is not the car's greatest asset. It's smaller than the boots of the Ibiza and Polo, and especially the Skoda Fabia. It doesn’t have a particularly big opening, either. Its curved corners make loading bigger items awkward and there’s an inconveniently high lip to lift things over.
If you fold down the rear seats, the extended space is smaller than rivals can muster. The boot floor isn’t height-adjustable, and there's a big difference in height between the boot floor and the backs of the folded down seats, making it tricky to slide in heavy items.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
When it comes to fuel economy, the mild-hybrid e-Skyactiv G engines are more frugal than the regular Skyactiv G alternatives, and are also a little more economical than the turbocharged engines offered by rivals.
The cheapest trim, Centre-Line, is very well equipped for an entry-level model. It comes with 15in alloys, automatic LED headlights, cruise control, climate control, automatic wipers and a touchscreen infotainment system. The higher trim levels mainly just bring cosmetic changes, so we recommend sticking with Centre-Line.
All Mazda 2s get automatic emergency braking (AEB), lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assistance. The model was given four stars out of five when it was crash-tested by Euro NCAP in 2015, beating the Sandero's disappointing two stars, but falling short of the Fabia and the Polo, which scored five stars in tougher, more recent tests.
The Mazda 2 itself finished in joint 12th place in the small car class in the same reliability survey, above the Sandero, the Fabia and the Polo. For added peace of mind, all new Mazdas come with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which is par for the course in the small car class. You can extend the warranty for a fee.
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|RRP price range||£18,615 - £23,835|
|Number of trims (see all)||4|
|Number of engines (see all)||3|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||52.3 - 60.1|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£919 / £1,267|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£1,838 / £2,534|