Live from the launch: Mazda2
With up to thirty competitors jostling for position in the supermini segment it is not surprising that many manufacturers choose to gently update their cars as often as possible in an attempt to reheat the original package for a fresh batch of curious customers.
Thus we have the updated Mazda2, a car which can only be considered new in the loosest possible sense of the word. The manufacturer has dubbed the latest model a facelift, but in truth it hasn't so much reheated the car as breathed hard on it from a distance.
Still, that isn't too much of a misfire – the current Mazda2, a sister car to the much-admired Ford Fiesta, was a very good car (good enough to win World Car of the Year 2008) and a bit of spit and polish is unlikely to do it any harm.
There is certainly no harm done to the outside, where a specially-trained dealer will be required to point out the differences on the forecourt. Fortunately, the new foglights and slightly altered grille do nothing to detract from the fact that the Mazda2 was, and is, a very pretty car indeed.
Inside some of the supermini's trim materials and finishes have been revised for a higher quality feel, but it still feels like it's only one step up the rung from bargain basement behind the wheel. That's no coincidence of course – the pricelist confirms this is more or less where the Mazda2 is positioned – and there's no doubt everything is laid out with a solid, sensible, MX-5 type vibe.
Behind the wheel the car remains much the same as before, which is to say very tidy. The Mazda2 shares its platform with the current Fiesta, and while it can't quite compete on steering accuracy or ride comfort, the car inherits a similarly neat dynamic style. The manufacturer insists it has improved rigidity and made a number of detailed suspension changes, but you'd need to drive the new model back-to-back against the old car to seize upon any significant differences.
That continues beneath the bonnet, where any improvements can be attributed to a legal requirement to make the Mazda2's engines Euro V compliant. Three powerplants are available; a 1.3-litre and 1.5-litre petrol (the former is offered in two states of tune – 74bhp and 83bhp) and a 93bhp 1.6-litre diesel.
Despite its athletic appearance, the Mazda2 doesn't have any hot hatch pretensions and all the engines (even the 100bhp 1.5-litre) lack a bit of zeal. That said, they're all pretty competitive with their rivals and keeping the EU happy has meant a slight improvement in terms of fuel economy and CO2 emissions across the board.
Most notable is the 6g/km drop for both 1.3-litre versions which sees them duck into tax band C. Coincidentally, the 83bhp variant would be our pick of the bunch for its all round versatility.
Finally, and critically, price. Well, the range starts at £9,995, but assuming you'd opt for the mid-spec five-door 1.3-litre TS2 (which adds 15-inch alloy wheels, side and curtain airbags, additional speakers and 60/40 rear split seats to the standard kit) you'll be asked to part with £11,170.
That's almost £1,500 cheaper than the equivalent Fiesta (1.25-litre Zetec), over £2k cheaper than the Clio (1.2-litre Dynamique) and a whopping £3k cheaper than Vauxhall's Corsa (1.2-litre SE).
However, a Skoda Fabia (1.2 TSI SE) is only a couple of hundred pounds more, and Hyundai's i20 (1.2-litre Comfort) is a few hundred pounds less. Both offer significant food for thought, but neither is as eye-catching as the Mazda2, and despite all of the manufacturer's tweaking, that remains the Japanese supermini's best trump card.