KIYOSHI, Japan – Sometimes you just have to wait to see things in the metal. During his presentation at Mazda HQ in Hiroshima, Yasushi Nakamuta, the firm’s design chief, was at pains to explain how the Hazumi Concept, on which the latest Mazda2 – the newly crowned Japanese Car of the Year – was fashioned, expressed the Kodo design language in its most concentrated and emotionally charged form.
It was somewhat of a tough sell: Kodo is all about dynamic lines, distinctiveness and emotional appeal, but traditional light-hatchback proportions don’t contribute to arresting exterior designs: the cars tend to be cab-forward, short-nosed and square-ended boxes.
When seeing the (Japanese-spec) pre-production Mazda2 for the first time at the Miyoshi proving ground, however, it was satisfying to discover Nakamuta-san had been as good as his word. By shifting the 2’s proportions over the rear wheels, the newcomer has eye-catching frontal aspect replete with a “GTI-striped” solid grille, contoured fenders and a sense of muscle tension to its elevated haunches.
The interior of the Japanese-spec vehicle certainly had a sense of occasion, too, with a plush soft-touch section above the minimalistic horizontal dashboard, a slick infotainment screen controlled by circular dial in the centre console, and the view from behind the three-spoke multifunction steering wheel is dominated by the racy central rev counter and a head-up display.
As opposed to its bigger siblings, the 2 feels overtly sporty and that notion is underscored by the tractability of the 1,5-litre four-cylinder turbodiesel that seems well calibrated with its six-speed automatic transmission (appended with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles). Equipped with the carmaker’s fuel-saving i-Stop idle-stop and i-Eloop brake energy regeneration systems, the Mazda2 is believed to return "the best fuel economy of any combustion-engine powered vehicle available in Japan".
From its engaging driving position to the pointiness of the front-end (courtesy of a quick steering action), the oil-burning 2 creates the impression of a hot hatch in gestation. Its B-segment underpinnings are somewhat betrayed by the harsh way in which the pre-production model’s suspension relayed road imperfections to the cabin and it doesn’t quite have the composed road attitude of the Mazda3, but for a product that looks, feels and performs on cue, the newcomer is instantly likeable.
Based on first impressions, Mazda2 should succeed its popular predecessor with aplomb when it arrives locally in the first quarter of 2015. The newcomer personifies the brand’s staunch individualism and, crucially, it will be supported by products that do the same (given the recent introduction of the Mazda3, Mazda6 and 2,5-litre and turbodiesel CX-5 models)...
Three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, service and roadside assistance plans are likely to be offered with Mazda2 models on the local market.