New Mazda2 sweeps you off your feet with its chic design and hip interior

The new Mazda2 looks good inside and out, with a front that resembles a beaming face.
The new Mazda2 looks good inside and out, with a front that resembles a beaming face.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
The new Mazda2 looks good inside and out, with a front that resembles a beaming face.
The new Mazda2 looks good inside and out, with a front that resembles a beaming face.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG
The new Mazda2 looks good inside and out, with a front that resembles a beaming face.
The new Mazda2 looks good inside and out, with a front that resembles a beaming face.ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

The new Mazda2 is the cutest, most cheerful little car to have arrived since Ford's cuddly Ka ambled here 18 years ago.

Its compact proportions - 4,060mm by 1,697mm by 1,495mm - seem to bring out the best in the tautly drawn hatchback.

Clean lines from its sinewy flanks converge on a front that conveys sportiness without aggression, friendliness without frivolity. It has the smiley face that modern Mazdas wear but on the Mazda2, it seems to be beaming.

While it is guaranteed to make women swoon, it is not too girly for the boys either. In jet black and with the right rims, it can look the part of a pocket rocket.

Alas, the Mazda2 is made more for breezy runs around town than ballistic bravado. Equipped with a naturally aspirated 1.5-litre engine paired with a six-speed automatic transmission, it has enough oomph to keep you contented, but not entertained.

Like all latter-day Mazdas, the engine has a high compression ratio of 14:1, which gives it some of the characteristics of a turbo. But not all.

It produces a decent 115bhp at 6,000rpm and 148Nm of torque from 4,000rpm, which seems adequate for a vehicle weight of 1,060kg. But it lacks the clean and crisp throttle response of a Volkswagen turbo engine, for instance.

The Mazda unit is relatively free- revving, but it becomes buzzy from just 3,000rpm. This mars the driving experience somewhat.

You may say a Porsche 911 rumbles, roars and reverberates too, but there are good vibrations and bland vibrations.

To liven things up, the Mazda2 comes with a Sport mode, a rarity in its segment. Flip a switch just aft of the gear lever and the hatch adopts a caffeinated disposition.

Revs pile higher before the gearbox changes up, and the car certainly feels a lot more urgent. For sure, the Mazda in this mode would be great for those who might be motivated enough to challenge a boy racer. But it would be in vain.

The hot-looking hatch has modest capabilities, clocking a 0-100kmh in 10 seconds on paper, and often feeling more leisurely on the road.

With such a handsome and sporty design, the Mazda2 deserves a more energetic drivetrain. Like a turbo.

This is not to say that the Mazda2's power plant is anaemic. As mentioned, it is reasonably lively, but seems to falter when faced with higher demands.

The one thing it does better than expected is in the efficiency department. The car averaged 6.4 litres/100km during this test-drive - quite close to its declared 5.1 litres/100km figure.

The other thing it has going for it is a trendy and comfortable interior. Nice touches include a soft, stitched, padded panel running across the dashboard, a tablet-like infotainment monitor that is operated like BMW's iDrive system (with navigation and reverse camera thrown in), aeronautical aircon vents similar to what you see in the Audi A1, multi- function steering wheel (with cruise control and phone functions) and hip dual-tone leather upholstery.

The car is firmly sprung and has a weighty steering. At the helm, it feels more European than Japanese, especially when it goes around bends. Yet, its ride comfort cannot be faulted for a subcompact.

On the safety front, it has dynamic stability control, traction control and four-wheel anti-lock braking system. All these make it one of the best-equipped among small Japanese hatchbacks.

Overall, the made-in-Japan Mazda2 is an attractive buy. It is a visual treat inside and out, has lots of premium features and is comfortable, efficient and handles well enough. The only thing it could do with is a beefier engine.

christan@sph.com.sg