Mazda2: Small hatch enters the fray

  • Mazda2 joins the Parkers fleet for six months
  • 'Spirited green' metallic paint certainly stands out
  • 1.6-litre diesel engine should prove economical

Many people may be unfamiliar with the Mazda2. It's an often overlooked alternative to the default choices such as the Vauxhall Corsa and Ford Fiesta.

That doesn't mean it's a bad car, not by any stretch. It is, in fact, an engaging little hatchback with stylish looks and plenty of options.

It's obviously smaller than my previous long-term test car, a Ford Focus, and being a compact hatchback you'd assume that it's more suited to in-town driving and shorter trips. It'll be interesting to see how it withstands a daily 110 mile motorway commute over the next six months.

This version, the 1.6-litre diesel Sport, costs £15,205 including the optional metallic paint. It's a well-equipped car and comes with automatic lights, rain-sensing wipers, climate control, cruise control, a trip computer, an auxiliary connection for MP3 players, a six-speaker stereo, front fog lights, dynamic stability control and traction control.

As a result, I shouldn't suffer too many withdrawal symptoms from my tech-laden Focus. The Mazda also comes with niceties such as a sports styling kit, 16-inch alloy wheels and black interior trim and dials. This makes it look just that little bit sharper and more interesting than your conventional cost-effective hatchback.

Although the engine displaces the same 1.6-litres as my previous long termer, it's not quite as powerful. The Mazda's engine outputs 93bhp and 205Nm of pulling power, some way down on the Ford's 113bhp and 270Nm.

The Mazda does weigh 319kg less than the Focus, clocking the scales at a featherweight 1,025kg, but the performance still suffers. The 0-62mph sprint is dispatched with in an acceptable 12.5 seconds, but that's 1.6 seconds slower than the heavier Focus.

Find yourself a long enough road and you could wind the Mazda2 out to an indicated 108mph, presumably with a bit of a tailwind. That's again slower than the Focus, which could touch 120mph.

Still, top speed is an almost irrelevant factor these days. The performance from 0-62mph and 30-60mph is more relevant in the real world. I'm hoping that the Mazda2's diesel engine will prove flexible enough to make overtaking and cruising relatively effortless.

In line with its rather vivid colour, the Mazda's quite green. It emits 110g/km of CO2, meaning that it would cost you £20 to tax a year. Company car drivers would find themselves in the 13% benefit-in-kind liability band for the 2011/12 tax years.

The Mazda should also prove quite frugal, with a claimed average economy of 67.3mpg. I'll be interested to see if that's capable in real life, however. My Focus was also optimistically claimed to average an identical 67.3mpg, yet I only ever saw 50mpg at best.

I've also observed before how that these smaller 'eco' engines tend to return far lower economy figures than claimed, in general driving. It seems that you can only achieve the numbers stated in the handbook if you cruise around phenomenally gently, at a steady 55mph.

This poses an interesting challenge for the Mazda2. It's a small car, with a small engine, yet it's going to spend the majority of its time at motorway speed.

So, just how much will that harm its economy, and will it prove at all comfortable during extended motorway use? We'll find out.

Current mileage: 1,142 miles

Average mpg: 48.3mpg (ind.)