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Mazda2 1.4D TS 3-door

Click to view picture galleryNow lighter and leaner in its sporty
  new three-door guise, i
s Mazdas
turbodiesel supermini the car to
  drive away those economic blues?

NOW AVAILABLE AS A THREE-DOOR, the Mazda2 can also have any of the same engines that power the five-door models but in these days of ever-tightening household budgets it will be the 1.4-litre turbodiesel that buyers will be most interested in. With a combined fuel consumption figure of 65.7mpg and 114g/km emissions, the Madza2 has serious charms on both sides of the bonnet.

Mazda's 'baby' is one of those cars that has curvy lines that look good from almost every angle. Mazda has stretched the three-door body style over the same length and width platform that is to be found underpinning its five-door siblings. The three-door has a new, shapely glasshouse (with smaller rear windows) set atop a steeply sloping waistline and distinctive headlights — and the overall effect is undeniably athletic.

With fuel prices at the pumps climbing ever upwards — Do they ever move in any other direction? — this fuel-efficient Mazda2 is very definitely good news for recession-hit British motorists. The only fly in the ointment is whether a diesel powerplant will spoil the Mazda2's quick 'n' eager character?

Fire up the turbodiesel and it's relatively quiet and, despite a 0-62mph time of 15.5 seconds, it's certainly no lazybones. With 67bhp and 118lb ft of torque at 2,000rpm, it does a pretty decent job when it comes to making progress. Working in its favour is its weight: the three-door Mazda2 tips the scales at a lightweight 970kg — so a little power goes further.

And while it might not produce tyre-smokin' starts, there's enough low-down grunt to get the '2' off the line without any noticeable effort. In stop-start urban traffic, with the 118lb ft of torque available from low revs, it feels peppy; when cruising at the legal limit on motorways, the Mazda2 is quiet and refined with engine and road noise both well muted.

Go with the flow and you could see as much as 65+mpg; keeping up with the pack will still get you a worthwhile 50+mpg from every gallon of fuel. Overall — with a good mix of motorway cruising, darting around country lanes four-up, and with a good share of town driving — we averaged 56.6mpg.

Getting into the Mazda2 is easy, thanks to wider front doors than on the five-door models. First impressions are of a well thought-out cabin with good room up front. Look over your shoulder and you'll see well-cushioned rear seats able to accommodate two average-size adults in comfort. While there's enough head, leg and shoulder room in the back to take three, two is the perfect number if long distance comfort is what's required.

The 9,397 TS model comes as standard with manual air conditioning, electric door mirrors and electric front windows, electric power assisted steering, single CD player/radio with AUX jack for plugging in an MP3 player to use with the car's audio system, novel glovebox-cum-magazine/map rack, remote central locking with deadlocking and jack-knife key, alloy wheels, Isofix child seat anchorages, driver and passenger front airbags and ABS with Electronic Brake-force Distribution and Emergency Brake Assist.

As part of our Madza2's test we drove from Kent to Dorchester in Dorset. Our base for three days was an 18th century barn conversion at Wolfeton just outside of Charminster — one of the Dorset Coastal Cottages — and from where four of us set out each day in the Mazda to explore the many places of interest in the Dorset countryside such as Corfe Castle, the Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove and Chesil Beach on the Jurassic Coast. During those three days there was never a murmur of complaint from the two adults travelling in the back, although opening rear windows would have been appreciated.

Access to the rear seating is easy because the elongated doors (220mm longer than on the five-door model) open really wide, plus the front passenger's seat tilts and slides forward to make entry and exit easy for even tall adults. Folding down the one-piece rear bench increases the load bay space to 787 litres — note that when folded down it does create a shallow two-level 'step' in the load area floor. A space-saver spare lives under the boot floor and although I would prefer to have a full-size spare and less boot space, this is still better than the alternative: the 'puncture repair' kits that appear to be replacing space-savers on all classes of cars right across the market.

For a very short-tailed car, the Madza2 packs in a reasonable boot: 250 litres. For our part, we managed to pack in quite a lot of luggage too — enough for a three-day self-catering mini-break for four adults. There's also quite a bit of storage space dotted about the Mazda2's cabin, including the obligatory cup/bottle holders (in each front door pocket) and another behind the gear lever. The glovebox is interesting — and different from most — in that it's not only fairly deep, but the lid has a separate built-in magazine or map 'rack' that's accessible even when the glovebox is closed. AirCon is standard and is operated easily by rotary controls. It's also very efficient and benefits from four multi-directional air vents on the fascia.

The driving position is good — Mazda says the front seats offer best-in-class adjustability; the driver's seat adjusts for height and the three-spoke steering wheel for height, although not reach. Instrumentation is clear, with a large circular speedometer (smart black graphics on white) and a smaller rev-counter to the left in contrasting white on black. The fuel gauge uses a digital bar-graph display positioned to the right of the speedo. Front windows are electric with one-touch auto up and down operation on the driver's side. The only things missing are vanity mirrors on the sun visors and a trip computer — when the fuel consumption is this good, it's nice to be reminded of it and see the figure displayed!

Visibility out for the driver is fine — and great for spotting gaps in the traffic. The high-mounted, short-throw gear lever works the five-speed manual transmission with a fluid shift action that's great for nipping in and out of those gaps. Parking is something you just can't avoid and the Mazda2 makes this as easy on you as it can, with a small turning circle that takes the 'tight' out of parking in tight spaces. Rear visibility is helped by three rear headrests that sit low on the rear backrest when not in use.

Out on the road the sporty looks are a good indicator of the built-in agility under the Mazda's skin. Clearly the diesel installation hasn't messed up the car's ability to be driven briskly — for instance, the Mazda2 is more than willing to attack bends with gusto. The electric power steering is positive, accurate and provides more than enough 'feel' to let the driver make use of the available grip. The brake pedal is well weighted, the action progressive and the stopping power good — there are ventilated discs at the front. Add to that well-contained body roll and all the dynamic ingredients are in place for some entertaining driving. On twisty, winding roads this Mazda2 is fun to drive, easy to place and never lets you down.

Economical and enjoyable to drive, the Mazda2 has another surprise in store — its ride quality. Well configured damping yields a compliant ride that remains good even over rough surfaces — where the suspension feels firmly well-moderated but is never harsh. In other words, and almost irrespective of the road quality, it's a far better long-distance car than many people might initially think.

Overall the Mazda2 will satisfy drivers of both sexes. It's a great little (actually not so little) car to drive, and it's also practical and economical (35 annual road tax and 53.3-76.3mpg), well built and very easy to use. Even if you had never sat in one before, someone could toss you the keys and you could just jump in, turn it on and zoom-zoom away. Just like that! —

Mazda2 1.4D TS 3-door
| 9,397
Maximum speed: 101mph | 0-62mph: 15.5 seconds
Overall test MPG: 56.6mpg | Power: 67bhp | Torque: 118lb ft
CO2 114g/km | VED Band B 35 | Insurance group 3E