By Neil Moore
MONTREAL, QUE. – With the long-awaited Acura NSX turning heads in Detroit and the mighty Ford GT possibly upstaging it, much of the talk this week has been about performance.
And not just at the level where these supercars play. Nameplates like Lexus and Cadillac have also trotted out some worthy contenders in their 467-hp GS-F sports sedan and 640-hp CTS-V.
This along with some brawny trucks being featured on the autoshow floor – all in an era of 82-cent petrol – would have you thinking that subcompacts are all but forgotten.
But I’ve made the trek to small-car-friendly Quebec for the Montreal Auto Show, where the big news, aside from a long list of Canadian reveals, is the North American debut of the all-new Mazda2.
Although you can purchase a fleet of these econocars for the price of one NSX, the Mazda2 will make a much bigger impact in terms of numbers sold.
Subcompact sales were up 12 per cent here in 2014, making this an important segment for Mazda. Same goes for the global market, as worldwide sales are expected to reach 200,000 units per year.
Canadians love their little hatchbacks, and Mazda’s smallest ride, which is in its second generation here and fourth in other markets, has been improved in every way.
Firstly, I’ve been assured it is now “all Mazda” and no longer a rebadged Fiesta.
Following the CX-5 compact crossover, Mazda6 and Mazda3 sedans, it’s the next vehicle in the lineup to adopt the company’s Kodo - Soul of Motion design language.
Put the old and new Mazda2 side by side and it’s immediately apparent the look has grown up. The former jellybean styling left no doubt the car was entry level. The 2016 model, like its Mazda3 sibling, wears curves, creases and details that are more about sophistication than saving dough.
A more aggressive unit replaces the wimpy upper grille, and it’s flanked by wraparound LED headlamps that front a long bonnet. Larger wheels are also pushed to the corners, which along with moving back the A pillar, give Mazda2 a more than passing resemblance to its larger sibling.
The interior too looks more upscale than its predecessor. Company reps spoke about creating a cockpit for the driver and an “open feeling” for the front passenger, and they weren’t kidding.
Instruments and controls are clean, simple and driver-focused, with a centre stack that’s not really a “stack” anymore. This leaves little for the passenger to fiddle with, other than an air vent or the tablet-style, seven-inch touchscreen on the upper dash.
Overall the look is refined, with multiple finishes – like satin chrome, piano black, faux carbon fibre and stitched leather – adding interest to the front panel and floor console.
Seating is also comfortable and attractive, with the Eurospec car on display having stitching and detailing unexpected for a car in this class.
I sat in rear, which is tight in most subcompacts. Mazda2 is no exception, but with the thinner front headrests and seatbacks, they’ve been able to carve out enough room for my five-foot-nine frame.
Suspension is MacPherson struts in front and lightweight torsion beam in rear, all given the Skyactiv treatment to strike the right balance between nimble handling and ride comfort.
Steering has also been addressed with a quicker gear ratio and a rigid mount for more responsiveness and linearity.
Thanks to more high-tensile and ultra high-tensile steel, torsional rigidity has increased by 22 per cent. Also reducing noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) are more subtle changes like repositioning the engine mounts and paying attention to the shape and hardness of the rubber.
All models are powered by Mazda’s 1.5-litre, direct injected Skyactiv-G gasoline engine, mated to a new six-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission. Horsepower, torque and fuel economy specs are not yet available, although company reps expect the latter to be nearly 20 percent better than the current powertrain.
Pricing too has not yet been released, but expect it to be in line with the current model that starts at $14,450.