The Mazda2 is a strong option if you're looking for a quality supermini and has been usefully improved in recent times. Here, we focus on the mild hybrid version, plus if you want full-Hybrid technology, then Mazda has a re-badged version of the impressive Toyota Yaris to offer you. It's the e-SKYACTIV-G mild hybrid range we look at primarily here though, based on a third generation 'DJ/DL'-series design that dates back to 2015 but is aging well. This model packs in some big car features into a pertly-styled body and features great real-world economy. It's still a real contender to the likes of the Corsa, 208 and Polo.
The Mazda2 is still going places. The first Mazda2 sold 410,000 units between 2003 and 2007. The second generation model had a seven year run at the market, but had already eclipsed its predecessor's total midway through 2010. Both cars owed a lot to Ford's strategic partnership with Mazda, effectively being rebodied Fiestas which, as anyone who's ever driven a modern Fiesta will happily admit, is no bad thing. For the third generation version, this current car, launched in 2015, Mazda went it alone, this MK3 model '2 riding on its own SKYACTIV chassis technology, updated at the end of the decade with the mild hybrid e-SKYACTIV-G technology that features in the car today. The brand doesn't have a full-Hybrid engine in its portfolio, so has borrowed one from rivals Toyota, which is sold as the Mazda2 Hybrid but is essentially a separate product sold alongside this one. Our focus here though, is on the mild hybrid models, here usefully improved.
It should be sporty shouldn't it? After all, the Mazda2 always has been and right from the beginning, this third generation version has featured basically the same 1.5-litre SKYACTIV-G petrol unit that you'll find in entry-level versions of the brand's MX-5 sportscar. Since the end of the last decade though, certain versions of this powerplant have been embellished with electrical tech the MX-5 has never had - namely Mazda's M Hybrid mild-hybrid system, which you'll get with this engine provided you don't order it with its feeblest 75PS output or have it paired with automatic transmission. Most will choose the M Hybrid powerplant in 90PS form, but you can also have it in the uprated 115PS guise we tried. Confusingly, the Japanese maker also offers a full-Hybrid Mazda2, which isn't our focus here and is very much a separate product, based entirely on a Toyota Yaris, which means it gets that car's 1.5-litre self-charging engine mated to a 80PS electric motor, giving a total system output of 116PS. The M Hybrid set-up is very different - and of course much less efficient, storing up energy recuperated off-throttle or under braking and using it to aid acceleration and run the car's engine start/stop system. It works with 6-speed manual transmission; Mazda hasn't yet figured out a way of making it work with the alternative 6-speed auto you can have with this car in 90PS form. That adds over 2 seconds to the 90PS manual model's 9.8s 0-62mph time (en route to 114mph), figures the 115PS model improves to 9.1s and 124mph. But sportiness in a mainstream supermini doesn't usually have very much to do with outright speed. Handling's key and is aided here by the 'G-Vectoring Control Plus' system that Mazda introduced into this car a few years back, which uses the brakes to apply direct yaw movement control in addition to engine control. Basically, it helps you get grip down through the bends. It's nippy round town too, an environment where you appreciate the ease with which you can park this car and its tight 4.7-metre turning circle.
The package of 2023 updates saw the first time this third generation Mazda2 had had any significant visual changes - though they're not especially far-reaching. With this mild hybrid model, there's a re-styled grille that sees the signature Mazda wing surround pass beneath rather than below the number plate, leaving space to accentuate the now sportier lower bumper trim. Additionally, to give a sharper look, the signature wing grille surround cuts into the leading edge of the headlight rather than passing underneath, while asymmetrically placed colour accent tabs feature on the front grille and rear bumper across all models. The 'Centre-Line' and 'Exclusive-Line' variants have a front-end design that features a large coloured panel across the lower section of a grille that has a small yellow accent tab. This is something that's repeated at the back where the revised rear bumper features a now full width black lower moulding with the yellow accent tab. 'Centre-Line' cars feature 15-inch silver alloy wheels as standard, while 'Exclusive-Line' versions step up to 16-inch bright alloy wheels. Further up the range, the 'Homura' version has a black honeycomb grille with a red accent tab, matched to gloss black door mirrors, 16-inch black alloy wheels and a black shark fin roof antenna. At the back, the red accent sits on the lower right hand side of the black bumper trim strip. At the top of the range, the 'Homura Aka' model has the same black honeycomb grille with red accent and black mirrors, but features 16-inch black and silver metallic machined alloy wheels and a gloss black roof to further enhance the sporty colour contrasting look. Inside the changes are again trim-dependent. In 'Centre-Line' and 'Exclusive-Line' cars, there's a new decorative dash panel, offered in different colours according to your chosen paint finish. In the 'Homura' model's cabin, black cloth seats with red accents combine with a black gloss dash panel with contrasting red air vent surrounds. The top 'Homura Aka' variant features black half leather seats with red accents, a soft touch black dash panel with red stitching and a heated leather steering wheel with red stitching. As before, the interior has a driver-centred focus, with a seat structure that better supports the body and helps maintain a posture in which the pelvis is upright and the spine maintains a natural S-shaped curve. The centre infotainment screen has a lower rotary controller, which is unusual in segment. As before, cabin quality is a level above what most other superminis provide. Rear seat room is adequate by class standards - intended mainly for kids. Plus this mild hybrid model's boot is deep and boasts 280-litres of room with the seats in place - or 960-litres when they're folded.
There are two kinds of Mazda2 you can choose these days: the conventional version, which features the brand's 'e-SKYACTIV G' mild hybrid petrol powerplant. And a full-Hybrid model, which is essentially just a re-badged Toyota Yaris but costs a fair bit more. It's the conventional mild hybrid variants which are our focus here. Now priced from just under £18,000, the Mazda2 e-SKYACTIV-G range features a single five-door bodystyle and four revised trim levels. 'Centre-Line' and 'Exclusive-Line' focus on a fun and casual nature, while the 'Homura' and 'Homura Aka' variants have been designed to give the Mazda2 a sportier look and character. All models feature cruise control, integrated Bluetooth and climate control. And even with base trim, you get rear parking sensors, 15-inch alloy wheels and LED headlights, plus 'Mazda Connect' navigation with a seven-inch colour touch-screen, plus 'Apple CarPlay' and 'Android Auto' smartphone-mirroring. In addition, the safety equipment tally runs to Front Smart City Brake Support, Lane Departure Warning and Lane-keep Assist. Be careful with your choice of exterior colour. With the aim of giving customers more colour combination choices, on 'Soul Red Crystal', 'Snowflake White', 'Platinum Quartz', 'Polymetal Grey' and (new) 'Air Stream Blue'-painted cars, the grille panel is body coloured, while on 'Machine Grey', 'Deep Crystal Blue', 'Ceramic Metallic' and the new 'Aero Grey' colour, the grille panel is in 'Jet Black' to give a smart contrasting look. 'Jet Black' cars also have a 'Jet Black' grille panel.
Across all mild hybrid Mazda2 models, the 1.5-litre petrol engine has been refined in recent times to offer considerable efficiency improvements. The compression ratio has increased from 13.1 to 15.1, with the exhaust upgraded from a 4-1 to a 4-2-1 manifold. As a result CO2 emissions have dropped by 11 to 14g/km depending on output and transmission. As an example the popular 90PS-spec 'Homura' manual model has dropped from 120g/km to 107g/km, while across the range the corresponding improvements in economy further enhance the Mazda2's excellent cost of ownership credentials. As for fuel consumption, well the base 75PS manual model manages up to 58.9mpg on the WLTP combined cycle; for the volume 90PS manual, it's up to 60.1mpg - or up to 52.3mpg for the auto version. For the 115PS manual variant, it's up to 56.5mpg. All manual 90 and 115PS Mazda2 models benefit from mild-hybridisation thanks to the use of the Mazda M Hybrid powerplant. Utilising an integrated start generator (B-ISG) and brake regeneration, this powerplant mobilises the B-ISG's power generation to make the most of the energy stored in the capacitor to reduce load on the engine and enable quick restart to help lower emissions and improve fuel economy with extended auto engine stop time. As for peace of mind, well given the reliability of Mazda products, you'd have thought the company might have wanted to improve upon its usual three year/60,000 mile package and take on the Korean brands. Not so. That familiar standard warranty remains in place for this car. Still, the cover provided does continue to include three years of European roadside assistance.
Good things often come in little packages. Here's one of them. It's a small car that's been developed with an extraordinarily large amount of care and as a result, remains a class act. Arguably, few other rivals offer a better all-round blend of performance and efficiency, plus this improved third generation Mazda2 in mild hybrid form delivers extra efficiency, smart looks, reasonable pricing and an interestingly-styled cabin offering premium segment features and some lovely quality touches. The bottom line is that if you thought all superminis were the same, it's well worth trying one of these. Life, you might find, is full of surprises.