THOSE in the market for a practical compact family saloon often have to make the choice between fun and practicality. Mazda is confident that its new Mazda2 4-door is capable of covering both bases, but it has tough competition from a model that has been the de-facto choice in this segment for a good few years; the Toyota Yaris. We pit the rangetopping Mazda2 1,5 Individual 4-door against the yardstick Yaris Spirit 1,3 saloon.
DESIGN & PACKAGING
Toyota Yaris 15/20
The Mazda2 4-door’s styling was bound to polarise opinion with the CAR staffers, and a quick office poll didn’t really establish a concrete level of acceptance for the new design. Some were of the opinion that the profile is too top-heavy – especially when taking in those small (but sportylooking) 16-inch alloy wheels and the exaggerated upsweep of the shoulder-line from the base of the A-pillar to the boot. Still, the familial nose lends the car a sporty air and, while the design may not be the most coherent, it is eye-catching – especially in the bold red paintwork sported by our test unit.
The Yaris has become such a familiar sight on our roads that, despite a facelift last year that tweaked the grille and bumpers, the design has almost melted into ubiquity. That’s not to say that the design isn’t effective, though: the Yaris wears the saloon body shape more gracefully than the Mazda and its proportions mean that, despite wearing 15-inch alloys, it doesn’t look top-heavy or under-wheeled. But when viewed next to its rival it does look somewhat pedestrian and austere.
While the Mazda’s appearance could be construed as somewhat ungainly, it has a couple of great upshots. The reaction to opening the Mazda’s boot was summed up by a bystander as akin to “entering a cathedral via a cat flap” – from the outside you just wouldn’t expect that the lid conceals a 376 dm³ boot (capable of expanding to a cavernous 1 016 dm³ with the 60:40 split rear seats folded) with a practical, flat floor.
You’d expect such a cavernous boot to seriously eat into cabin space, but the Tardis-like effect is repeated when you climb into the cabin. A six-footer in our test team managed to execute the sit-behind-yourself test without any yoga-esque contortions, thanks to a generous 680 mm of knee-room and 823 mm of headroom.
At 336 dm³, expanding to 896 dm³ with the rear seats folded, the Toyota’s boot and utility space are smaller than those of the Mazda but still respectable for a car of its ilk. Where the Toyota counters the Mazda is in terms of cabin space. The grey trim finishes are also sturdy, if somewhat drab, but lend the cabin an airier feel than the Mazda’s all-black affair, and those in the rear will be able to stretch out a little further thanks to the 750 mm of knee-room and 926 mm of headroom on offer.
COMFORT & FEATURES
Toyota Yaris 16/20
There’s little to fault with the Mazda’s driving position, thanks to plentiful manual adjustment for the driver’s seat (including height), but the steering column only adjusts for rake. The facia will get a nod of recognition from those familiar with the Mazda2 hatch. It still sports an ergonomically-sound layout, but the plastics are hard and prone to rattles. The glovebox features a detritus chute that allows you to fling CDs et al into the compartment on the move. It’s handy, but gets in the way when you open the glovebox normally, and can leave some of the contents in sight of less scrupulous folk peering in the window.
Being the range-topper, this Individual model comes fitted with some smart features including keyless entry and go, steering wheel-mounted audio controls for the MP3/CD sound system and climate control. On the safety front the Mazda features six airbags (dual front, side and curtains), Isofix child seat anchorage points in the rear, and ABS with EBD. The Mazda2 4-door has not yet undergone EuroNCAP testing, but, if the hatch model’s 5-star rating in a 2007 test is anything to go by, the 4-door should prove to be a safe car.
The Toyota’s facia layout is clean and intuitive, although the centrally-located instrument binnacle does take some getting used to. The front seats may not look as sporty as the Mazda’s, but they are supportive and combine on the driver’s side with a rake and reach-adjustable steering column to provide a good driving position. The Toyota doesn’t feature a trick glovebox like the Mazda, but its conventional unit does a good enough job of swallowing CDs, sweet tins and the like, while the facia-mounted drinkholders are a handy touch.
Like the Mazda, this Spirit saloon tops the model range but doesn’t feature such items as keyless entry and go or audio controls on the steering wheel. It’s got everything else you really need, though: air-conditioning, MP3/CD sound system, remote central locking and electric windows, to mention but a few. The Toyota features the same complement of airbags as the Mazda, Isofix child seat anchor points in the rear and ABS with EBD, as well as emergency brake assist (BAS).
RIDE, HANDLING & BRAKING
Toyota Yaris 16/20
We tested the Mazda2 1,5 Individual hatchback in the February ’08 issue and were thoroughly taken with its dynamic abilities – it appears that none of that zest has been lost in the transition to a 4-door layout. The car feels light with a good amount of grip at the front end and the pleasant weighting and precision of the electrically-assisted steering makes easy work of both parking and enthusiastic driving. The five-speed manual ’box has a snappy, short-throw action and is mounted high up close to the steering wheel, adding to the sporty feel. In fact, the Mazda is a fun little car to hustle along – certainly a lot more entertaining than many of its more pedestrian rivals. Although the MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension set-up keeps body roll well reined-in, the Mazda’s ride is stiff and a lot of engine and suspension noise permeates the cabin at speeds above 90 km/h. The brakes are easy to modulate and bring the Mazda to a halt from 100 km/h in an average time of 3 seconds, earning an average rating in our braking test classification.
The Toyota is a different proposition altogether. It’s not as dynamically sharp as the Mazda but the steering is precise and the brakes feel stronger, bringing the car to a halt from 100 km/h in an average time of 2,97 seconds. Although it also features a MacPherson strut front/torsion beam rear suspension set-up, the Toyota feels more geared to comfort. There is a bit of manageable body roll under swift cornering but the payoff is an excellent ride that absorbs ruts and bumps far more gracefully than the Mazda. Where the Toyota has the edge on the Mazda is in terms of refinement – you feel more insulated from road, engine and suspension noise at higher speeds, making the Yaris a relaxing car for day-to-day use.
Toyota Yaris 15/20
The Mazda is powered by a fuel injected 1,5-litre petrol engine developing 76 kW at 6 000 r/min and 135 N.m of torque at 4 000 r/min. In our test this unit propelled the car from 0-100 km/h in 11,2 seconds and on to a top speed of 188 km/h. The engine revs freely and has a sporty rasp to its exhaust, but it feels more frenetic and less refined than the Toyota’s. In-gear flexibility is good, giving the Mazda the requisite nippiness needed in gap-catching town driving and it doesn’t feel out of its depth at motorway speeds.
Displacing 200 cm³ less than the Mazda’s powerplant was always going to see the 1,3-litre unit in the Yaris’ nose come second in terms of outright performance. Still, with 63 kW at 6 000 and 121 N.m of torque at 4 400 r/min, the Toyota’s performance figures are an acceptable 0-100 km/h in 12,33 seconds and a top speed of 171 km/h – good enough to take on both town and motorway driving duties. Although it feels more leisurely than the Mazda, there is a certain appeal to the Toyota’s relatively unfussed nature.
Toyota Yaris 17/20
In terms of fuel economy there’s not much to call between these two models. The Mazda’s more urgent nature, and the greater likelihood of it being driven more aggressively than the Toyota, means that it consumes marginally more fuel (7,7 litres/ 100 km) compared with its rival’s 7,2 litres/100 km. This equates to theoretical ranges of 556 km from the Mazda’s 42,8-litre tank and 583 km from the 42-litre container in the Toyota. In terms of taxable CO2 emissions, the Mazda emits 152 g/km against the Toyota’s 141.
VALUE FOR MONEY
Toyota Yaris 16/20
Although these cars express their overall value in slightly different terms, there’s scarcely anything to separate them overall. The Mazda is better equipped than the Toyota, but its R212 000 asking price represents a premium of almost R20 000 on its R192 600 rival. This is quite substantial at this level, especially when you consider that its service plan spans the same 4 years/60 000 km as the Toyota’s. That additional outlay does get you more performance and more utility space in a “funkier” package than the Toyota, but the Yaris’ brand cachet and association with reliable motoring is likely to see it retain more of its value come resale time.
Toyota Yaris 16/20
In the end, it’s very difficult to pick a clear winner between these two models owing to their ability to counter one another’s virtues with differing, but nonetheless appealing, characteristics. The Mazda has the edge in terms of performance, utility space, standard equipment and driving dynamics. But the Toyota fights back with better refinement, a more forgiving ride, a lower sticker price and strong resale value. Basically, buying with your head will land the Yaris on your driveway while buying with your heart will see you plump for the Mazda.