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Mazda2 1.3 TS2 5-door

Click to view picture galleryThe Mazda2 is the World Car
  of the Year 2008 and does well for
  performance, driveability, fuel
  economy and attractive pricing.
  Although a relatively small car,
  it is ideal for singles, young and
  older couples without children
  or as a second car...”

HAVING FEATURED IN THE FINAL SELECTION FOR THE EUROPEAN CAR OF THE YEAR and been voted Car of the Year in Japan plus other similar awards in other countries around the world, perhaps we shouldn't have been surprised when the Mazda2 won the 2008 World Car of the Year Award.

From an initial entry list of 39 new vehicles, 47 international automotive journalists from all over the world nominated the Mazda as their choice for this award, which was announced in March. The Mazda2 even edged out the new Ford Mondeo and Mercedes-Benz C-Class to take the title.

Initially available from September 2007 as a five-door hatchback, the Mazda2 range will shortly be joined by three-door models, as premiered in March at the Geneva Motor Show.

Mazda UK says because of their attractive price, high levels of specification, good fuel economy and relatively low CO2 emissions they expect to see their small car sales triple
in the UK this year, to around 12,000 units.

Mazda overall continues to flourish in the UK, generally increasing their sales year-on-year both to retail customers and, increasingly, to the business and fleet users. In 2007, Mazda UK sold 51,000 new cars (an increase of 2.6 per cent). But driven by demand for Mazda2, their overall sales for the first three months of 2008 are already up by 5.9 per cent — to over 16,000 registrations.

As Mazda is part of the Ford family, the all-new Fiesta, due to go on sale in the UK later this year, shares the same body architecture as the Mazda2. So as the Mazda2 has impressed the motoring media and customers, you can expect the Fiesta to do the same.

So what makes the Mazda2 the World Car of the Year? I've no idea and I find it impossible that motoring writers from so many different markets and cultures around the world
could agree on the subject. As the car of 2008 appealing to world markets, I would have expected the Audi R8 or the Mondeo or C-Class to drive off with the title.

Being 'fit for purpose' — whether it's a small car, medium or large car; sports car or 4x4 — should always be the criterion on which these awards are based. With the public move to smaller, more fuel-efficient, lower-emission cars designed and packaged for the modern family, the Mazda2 makes a strong case for itself. It sells in what has become known as the 'supermini' sector against the likes of the Peugeot 207, Vauxhall Corsa, VW Polo, Fiat Grande Punto, Toyota Yaris, Renault Clio and the Honda Jazz. However, at 3,885mm long, 1,695mm wide and 1,475mm wide it is not as large, and hence not as roomy as, for instance, the 207, Corsa or Grande Punto.

Whilst the Mazda2 does well for performance, driveability, fuel economy and attractive pricing, it is a relatively small car. While ideal for singles, young and older couples without children or as a second car, it is not really roomy enough as a family car. Bear in mind that bit is young people and families who are most feeling the financial pressures of high fuel prices, high mortgage costs and rampant food prices, so whilst the Mazda2 is relatively well-priced to buy and run it doesn't stack-up for size as realistic family transport.

Currently the Mazda2 is available as a five-door hatchback with two 1.3-litre (74/85bhp) and 1.5-litre (102bhp) petrol engines plus a 1.4-litre 67bhp diesel unit. Prices start at 8,499 and rise to 11,799 and there are three levels of specification: TS, TS2 and Sport. As always there is a list of extra-cost options which push the price higher. Included in these options for TS and TS2 (but standard for the Sport variants) is a 395 Stability Control Programme. Being a potential family car, this should be standard. After all, the Mazda2 has been given a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating so this option should be standard fit. For the record, anti-lock braking is fitted as standard across the range.

My test car was the potential best-selling model, the Mazda2 1.3 TS2 priced at 9,999. But with metallic paint and the stability programme, it costs 10,349 on-the-road. The
TS2 specification has 15-inch alloy wheels, remote audio controls on the steering wheel, heated and folding door mirrors, side and curtain airbags, 60:40 split rear seats, leather steering wheel and gear knob and manual air conditioning. All Mazda2 models have electric front windows but only the Sport has rear electric windows. All models also have a stereo radio/CD and MP3 player, electric power steering, driver and front passenger airbags, remote locking and an alarm and immobiliser.

Like the outside, the interior is modern and bright, well laid out and, thanks to its low waistline, with good visibility — the slim rear quarter pillars allow for good rear side vision. The interior plastics and upholstery are best described as durable — the plastics are bland and hard but Mazda has a reputation for build quality so expect everything to be long-lasting. The driving position is just about perfect, with plenty of seat adjustment to meet the demands of both short and tall drivers.

The rear doors are quite narrow, so access for the long-legged is not easy. However,
both leg and head room is reasonable although not as good as others in this sector. The minimum boot space is a modest 250 litres but this can be increased to a maximum of
787-litres with the rear seats folded and the five-door hatchback loaded to the roof. Access to the load area through the hatch is restricted by its width.

The suspension is set up on the firm side and this provides for plenty of front-wheel drive grip with little body roll. The hatchback feels well balanced but over poor road surfaces the ride is not so comfortable — though still better than some others in this class. The road noise intrusion is also high over poorer surfaces. As always, I would suggest staying away from the Sport version with its larger wheels because the ride performance will be worse. The steering is light for parking but lacks feedback on the open road. The brakes seem fine but twice during my week-long test drive, due to incidents not of my making, the front wheels locked-up under heavy breaking — something that is not supposed to happen with ABS fitted as standard.

My test car had what I think is the best option from the range: the 86PS 1.3-litre unit. Forget the 74bhp version of the same engine size: it will need to be worked harder in real-life and the supposedly better fuel consumption will be worse. Likewise, the 1.5-litre petrol unit will give better performance but in a car of this size why spend more? Again, the same applies to the diesel unit. Unless you are a high-mileage user why pay the extra 1,000 for this unit — especially with diesel fuel currently priced higher than petrol.

The 85bhp 1.3-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine is just about perfect for most people buying into owning this size of car. The unit is flexible enough (90lb ft from 3,500rpm) for in-town driving, yet it can cope with fast motorway journeys as well without too much stress. It is quiet and generally responsive but that does depend on the car's load. Officially, the average fuel consumption is 52.3mpg but in reality, for day-to-driving, my test car returned 43.4mpg. The CO2 rating of 129g/km will now mean an annual road tax bill of 120 but this will reduce to 90 from April 2009. The insurance group rating for this model is group 4E, so generally in this specification the Mazda2 will be cheap to run.

Despite an unsettled ride, road noise intrusion, narrow access to a small boot and the fact that it's not as roomy as some competitors and the stability programme is not standard, overall the Mazda2 five-door hatchback is 'fit for purpose'. Other plus points include smart modern styling, good build quality and good residual values and safe and secure handling, plus it's also pleasing to drive, reasonably priced and offers reasonable running costs. Yes, it performs well enough for most people buying in the 'supermini' sector. But worthy of the World Car of the Year 2008 title? I don't think so. — David Miles

Mazda2 1.3 TS2 5-door
| 10,349
Maximum speed: 107mph | 0-62mph: 12.9 seconds
Overall test MPG: 43.4mpg | Power: 85bhp | Torque: 90lb ft
CO2 129g/km | VED Band C 120 | Insurance group 4E