The Nation's Kingsley Wijayasinha takes Mazda's diesel Skyactiv-equipped eco-car for an exciting spin in Japan and is impressed not only with its interior functions, in particular its "brilliant hot hatch" performance, which leaves the current model sniff
Fasten your seatbelt: the new Mazda2 is going to hit the road early next year and it will be the first diesel-powered car in the Thai subcompact segment.
Mazda’s latest car, which was launched in Japan earlier this year, is the third vehicle in the automaker’s stable after the CX-5 crossover and Mazda3 compact sedan to feature full Skyactiv technology that promises “Zoom-Zoom” performance while minimizing fuel consumption and emissions.
The figures obtained by the Skyactiv technology are so good that Mazda has applied for Eco-Car Phase 2 privileges. In order to be included in this project, a vehicle must have a fuel economy of 23.25km/litre (4.3 litres/100km) and carbon dioxide emissions of 100g/km or lower. These requirements are tougher than those for the first eco-car scheme (20km/litre and 120g/km). The amount of investment required is also higher – a minimum Bt6.5 billion compared to Bt5 billion, while production must reach 100,000 vehicles per year within the fourth year of production.
While many will compare the Mazda2 with other eco-cars on the market, this is not what Mazda wants. Its new car will not be dirt cheap, and its inclusion in the eco-car scheme is simply to help it compete against other cars in the B-segment. The Skyactiv technology comes with added cost, and without the privileges it would easily be priced higher than its rivals.
Also, industry insiders say that while the new model is scheduled to be launched next year, it could actually be taxed under Eco-Car Phase 1 rules once sales commence, since Phase 2 actually takes off only in 2016.
Currently, only the 5-door hatchback is available, while the sedan will be making its global debut in Thailand at the end of the year, most likely at the Thailand International Motor Expo.
But let’s get behind the wheel for some real action. Last week I was invited to try out the new Mazda2 in Japan in a preview event and I must say this model is an enormous improvement over the current one.
In terms of design, you can just imagine a baby version of the Mazda3, although from the side it still maintains its original profile. It’s like a baby born from parents consisting of the old Mazda2 and new Mazda3.
Mazda designers compare the profile of the Mazda2 with a pouncing cat. It’s basically the automaker’s “Kodo: Soul of Motion” design theme that’s again being incorporated into a mass-selling model.
The wheels have been positioned further into the front and rear corners, leaving shorter overhangs, and the test cars came with 16-inch wheels.
While the interior boasts significantly improved styling and materials, it just reminds you of the Mazda3. There’s a similar head-up display feature and a centre commander for adjusting various car settings displayed on the 7-inch screen on top of the centre console. There’s also voice control and smartphone connection capability (MZD Connect), allowing you to play Internet radio and stream audio via Bluetooth, as well as check Facebook and Twitter messages.
The suspension has been totally redone, with the front strut and rear torsion beam offering solid performance. Brakes are vented discs up front and rear drums or discs depending on the model. The car I whizzed about in in Japan came with rear drums.
The Mazda2 is powered by a 1.5-litre Skyactiv diesel engine that features a low compression ratio (14.8:1) capable of producing 105 horsepower and a whopping 250Nm of torque. Japanese test figures put the car’s fuel economy at 26.4km/l, which is far better than Eco-Car Phase 2 requirements.
The subcompact comes with “i-stop” (auto engine start-stop) and i-ELoop (regenerative braking) systems that help save energy.
Power is driven to the front wheels via a Skyactiv Drive 6-speed automatic transmission featuring steering-wheel shift paddles. The gearbox is smaller and lighter, but offers better efficiency, resulting in lower fuel consumption.
Thanks to the high torque output from the diesel, the Mazda2 delivers chilling performance that qualifies it as a hot hatch. And believe me, there’s plenty of pulling power even when charging uphill. Furthermore, you can actually slingshot out of corners leaving gasoline-powered rivals way behind.
The Mazda2 performed brilliantly with easy-to-control understeer and excellent dynamics on the winding up-and-down test track in Japan. The car held on to the corners very well, and its composure during consecutive weight-changing left-right corners left me nothing short of impressed.
However, the steering wheel is pretty large, and it doesn’t feel as sharp as I would have preferred.
The Mazda2 is also equipped with a Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) system as well as ABS brakes as standard equipment for every model.
Prices for the new Mazda2 have not been revealed yet, but don’t expect eco-car pricing for this car. The fully equipped top model could cost well over Bt700,000 and be positioned above affordable eco-cars here.
Still, this is definitely an award-winning subcompact that’s going to make big waves once it is launched in the country.