Australia is a big place, and sometimes little hatchbacks have to move outside their comfort zone.
You might think of the little Mazda2 as a 'city car'. This conjures up visions of boxy things with grey interiors, budget adornments and out-of-town performance that can be... lacking.
The reality is though, Australia is a big place and at some point, this little Mazda is going to have to stretch beyond its comfort zone. Onto the freeway, and up hills. Especially as it's heavily marketed towards younger buyers. Who do, y'know, young people stuff... like going on road trips.
With that in mind, I thought it would only be fair to take this little blue Mazda2 Maxx on a road trip of its very own: A 210km round trip from Sydney to Blackheath in the Blue Mountains over the course of a weekend.
The question was, can a 'city car' do more? Can it really be versatile enough for two passengers and their luggage on such a trip? Will compromises be made along the way?
With the sun out, one thing becomes immediately evident: This car looks great. Mazda's Kodo design approach is consistent, but different across the whole model range and it benefits each car, especially the Mazda2, which looks like it's punching into a segment above.
The 2 forgoes the boxy, upright shapes typified in the segment by the Honda Jazz and instead shoots for a sleeker, more traditional hatchback shape. It looks like somebody simply shrunk a Mazda 3, complete with the elaborate grinning grille. I also really like the way the lines swoop from the front across the sides and are nicely resolved into the rear lights.
Inside, the 2 is just as impressive. Switchgear, including the dash elements, steering wheel and any button you'll realistically touch are dropped directly out of the Mazda3. It all feels fantastic, like you're not missing out on anything by driving a car in a size class below.
Perched on the dashboard is the 7.0-inch touchscreen with Mazda's 'MZD Connect' multimedia system. It looks great and functions without fuss. You might not get much use out of the touchscreen, though, as it's intentionally disabled while the car is moving and is a bit hard to reach by any occupant anyway – annoying for passengers. The system is best used with the intuitive dial control that sits on the centre console.
There's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, but honestly, you'll only miss CarPlay if you've used it before, as Mazda's in-house software is responsive and has a no-nonsense approach to menu items.
Connecting a phone (iPhone 6S in this case) is relatively easy, and dialing in and out presented no problems. Plus we discovered that it will mute the stereo if you want to talk to Siri, a neat touch.
There are some downsides to the otherwise great-looking and feature-packed interior. Mazda has very carefully chosen where to fit the glitzy bits to distract you from the thin built-to-a-price door panels that have a nasty fake carbon fibre trim on them. Unlike the VW Polo, there's no centre console for storage.
"Once the engine was in its sweet spot, there was plenty of power on tap for overtaking, even at highway speeds."
We also discovered the front seats are pretty average for support (I'm around 183cm/six-foot, for reference) and there's no height adjust for the passenger. This isn't unusual for a car this size, but it might get annoying on long trips for taller passengers.
The thin plastics are indicative of another, problematic, Mazda trope – this car is loud. While Mazda claims that NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) has been reduced by 15 per cent over the last generation, it's hard to tell in the real world. On all but the smoothest surfaces road noise infiltrated the cabin. To be fair, the six-speaker stereo system was fantastic, even at higher volumes, and could be used to drown out the noise.
The Maxx' 1.5-litre 'SKYACTIV-G' four-cylinder petrol produces 81kW/141Nm. That's not much, but I found once the engine was in its sweet spot, there was plenty of power on tap for overtaking, even at highway speeds. Our largely freeway and uphill journey didn't really faze it.
I applaud Mazda's decision to stick with a torque-converter six-speed auto over the potentially cheaper CVT alternative. It really makes all the difference as, with a sub-2.0-litre, you never want to feel as though the transmission is holding the engine back. CVTs, for example, often create the impression they're slipping, whereas this Mazda's transmission can more easily lock into a lower gear.
At night, we went for a drive to find a spot for dinner. It was in the pitch-dark and the standard headlights were really only satisfactory, even on high-beam. If you're living in a rural or bush area, or were raised on Aussie sedans, it might be worth seeing if the LEDs headlamps available only on the Genki and GT model grades are more suited to your needs.
After an overnight stay, we threw our luggage back into the Mazda's boot. Luggage capacity is rated at 250 litres (VDA) which swallowed our weekend bags with ease. Thankfully, the wheel-arches don't eat into the space and there's a handy switchable light on the left-hand side of the cargo compartment.
Space balloons out to 852 litres (VDA) with the 60/40 rear seats folded down. If room is a big concern for you, the Honda Jazz is much smarter (354/1314 litres VDA) and the Hyundai Accent hatch is much bigger, although not with the seats folded flat (370/600 litres VDA).
Under the floor there's a space-saver spare which isn't the safest for Australia, but also not unusual in this class.
I took some time to sit on the back seat behind my driving position which left me impressed with the legroom for such a small car. Peter Anderson tells us that the Honda Jazz is more impressive, however.
Inexplicably, only the passenger side front seat has a pouch on the back for storage...
Front passengers get two cupholders in the centre (which are shallow, your bottles might tip over...) plus one, more practical one, in each door. The Mazda2 has two ISOFIX child seat points in the rear.
Driving around an unfamiliar area, we found that a super-useful feature of the MZD's sat nav system is the bar at the top that constantly informs you of the next adjacent street or exit. A sensible use of an otherwise-idle GPS system.
Whoever designed Mazda's 'i-stop' system deserves a damn medal. Where most start-stop systems range from irritating to infuriating, I found I didn't need to turn i-stop off once. It won't deactivate the engine until well after you've stopped and turns on so quickly you'll forget it's there. I'm not really sure how much fuel it actually saves you, though, particularly on road trips like ours.
Mazda's official claim for combined fuel usage on this car is an optimistic 4.9L/100km. At the end of our weekend, the trip computer was displaying a bit of a miss at 6.6L/100km. Thankfully, it'll drink any fuel grade from regular 91 upwards.
"A spirited drive around Katoomba and surrounds on the way home proved you really can have fun in a pint-sized hatch."
Safety is seriously impressive on the Maxx with ‘Smart City Brake Support' (Mazda for AEB) that works in both directions, which is complimented by front, side and rear curtain airbags and the standard suite of electronic stability aids. It only misses out on Rear Cross Traffic Alert and Blind Spot Monitoring available on Genki and GT model grades.
A reversing camera is standard, too, but weirdly, is extremely bright. Even when adjusted, the glare makes it difficult to peer into the passenger-side mirror to see how close you are to the kerb at night. This Mazda has a maximum five ANCAP stars across the range (awarded September 2015).
A spirited drive around Katoomba and surrounds on the way home (that may have contributed to said fuel-usage figure...) proved you really can have fun in a pint-sized hatch. Minimal bodyroll and tight suspension, combined with Mazda's G-Vectoring control never let me unsettle the wheels at pace on the twisty decently sealed back roads and it easily dispatched any corner I threw at it.
The steering is weighted just-right. The downside of all this is that, when you're not having fun, the suspension can be jarring (and subsequently, relatively noisy) on the rest of Australia's less-than-ideal road surfaces.
The Mazda2 Maxx is a tough act to follow. It's not the biggest, the most powerful, or the cheapest car in the segment, but it's fun, sensible, safe and Mazda has gone to lengths not to patronize buyers in the segment with sub-standard fittings where it counts. At a list price of $19,690 for the automatic version it's getting close to a base-model Mazda3, but unless you need the space, this 2 is a better equipped package.
This article originally appeared on CarsGuide.