HALF a century ago, Mazda was an unknown in the motoring world except Japan, where it dominated the Kei-car market for microcars that help limit urban congestion.
Then came its adventure with the Wankel rotary engine, the very device that killed NSU but indirectly saved Volkswagen. How might that be? Well, the NSU Ro80 suffered so many warranty claims that NSU went bust. VW saved it and inherited the next generation of NSU’s cars, a front drive hatch that led VW away from reliance on its rear-engined cars that were too yesterday even for VW fans to carry on loving them except as quirky classics. The K70, for that was the car, led to the Golf and the rest, as they say, is history!
Mazda, on the other hand, got the measure of the Wankel and the wear issues on its oil seals that killed NSU. It carried on down a route that even Rolls-Royce looked at but was not brave enough to follow. As teenage entrants to the world of car journalism we spent a month in 1972 driving rotary-engined Mazdas as the brand tried to establish in the UK. The fact that it’s still here shows how well it did, helped by the MX-5 two seater sports car, another brave move to re-establish a market that seemed to have died thanks to American safety rules.
All this history explains why we found the 1.5 litre petrol engine in the current Mazda 2 supermini a bit disappointing. But, then again, that depends on your reasons for buying a small family car – as opposed to a car for a small family when you may be economically more fortunate and want something tastier. There is a difference.
At first sight, the presence of a 1.5 litre petrol engine in such a small car holds great promise. The performance figures, particularly the 9.4 second 0-62 mph time, tend to support this. But the reality is a bit different, maybe because the car only has a five speed gearbox.
On main road hills, even with a fair head of steam at the bottom, the car is running out of puff by the time it gets towards the top. The gearshift indicator calls for a move down from fifth to fourth even travelling two up when most other cars would carry on regardless. It’s a symptom of having a high top ratio, too high in this case.
On the other hand, carefully selected lower ratios ensure the car has a good and vigorous take off, perfect for those who engage daily in the traffic lights grand prix. The downside is that there’s quite a bit of gear whine and road rumble on the chipping surfaces favoured for so many of our routes.
As an early editor once said when reviewing a column, for every bad point there has to be a good one, too. And for the Mazda 2 1.5, and the people who buy it, the good news is that the extra stirring of the gearstick results in an outstanding 53 mpg average fuel consumption. It makes everything else worthwhile, that’s for sure, and the 105 g/km CO2 output is a real bonus for those who care for their environment (we all should).
It’s difficult to argue with the list price of the 1.5 Sport Nav test car, too. At £15,595 it’s pretty good value. The test car also wore bright soul red metallic paint, a £660 extra, and had seats clothed in light stone leather for another £600. Leather seats might not suit vegan motorists but they’re pretty good for the rest of us, more durable than cloth and OK in cold weather if you have heated chairs, as this model does up front.
Compact dimensions make the ‘2’ a handy car in tight spaces, and that doesn’t just mean urban car parks although some of them are impossibly mean. It’s also a real bonus on narrow country roads when you meet one of those drivers who can’t go backwards to the passing space just behind them. The Mazda 2 is narrow enough to squeeze through in most circumstances.
There’s still sufficient width for two roomy chairs while in the rear three children or two adults could fit provided none of them were too tall. The deep boot is also a bonus, providing plenty of stowage space. Fold the seats and there’s 950 litres, great if you’re making the trip to the dump that comes with the start of spring gardening.
Maurice and Annette Hardy
Car: Mazda 2 1.5 90PS Sport Nav
Does it fit your ego…
0-62 mph: 9.4 secs
Top speed: 114 mph
PS: 90 @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 148 Nm @ 4000 rpm
…and your wallet…
Combined: 62.8 mpg
CO2 emissions: 105 g/km
Best bits: cheap to run