Such is the relentless march of technical development, four years represents an eon in the automotive business. With the ongoing development of most cars spanning five years between the release o each new generation model, the fourth year in the cycle represents a critical time in the soon-to-be-replaced model's shelf- life. Manufacturers often introduce a freshen-up at this point to keep their existing car looking new and desirable to consumers over what is usually its last year on sale. However, Mazda has declined to do any cosmetic surgery on the award- winning Mazda2 four years after its launch on the New Zealand market late in 2007, opting for an upgrade to the car's equipment instead. It's entirely debatable whether the Two needed any lift to its visual appeal as this car looks like it has been garaged in the fountain of youth. Somehow the appeal of its design has managed to defy time like Sir Cliff Richard and Jane Fonda.
So its hard to identify this latest Mazda2 from the 2007 version, the best clue being the colour-match of the grille to the rest of the exterior of the car. If the car is coloured like the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean, that's another way of telling the latest two from the previous, as the Aquatic Blue of the Sport model on test is a new exterior colour introduced for the spruce-up. Meanwhile, the extra standard equipment comes in the form of cruise control, climate air- conditioning, rain-sensing wipers, a trip computer, and headlights that now automatically switch themselves on and off. All are convenience/comfort enhancements, and the Mazda2 already had the safety base well- covered with its standard fitment of stability control and ABS/EBD- equipped brakes, along with six airbags. It was one of the first cars of its size and stature to receive a five-star crash test rating from new car assessment programmes (NCAP) shortly after its release in 2007.
The most obvious lost opportunity in the upgrade is that the Two's drum rear brakes remain in situ, spoiling the view between the spokes of the attractive 16 alloy wheels of the Sport version and offering proof of Mazda's willingness to cut costs with its supermini. A Chinese- made Chery J3 costs nearly 10 grand less than the top Mazda2 Sport automatic model, yet it comes with proper discs to brake all four wheels. The Mazda2's brakes function well enough in most driving conditions, but drums are notorious for retaining heat during repeated use, and a 20km descent of say, Takaka Hill, would see the Electronic Brake force Distribution system having a lot more work to do than with an all-disc system.
However, it's definitely worth paying more than a Chinese cheapie for the Mazda2 to access the perky driving persona the car has always displayed. It's this that encouraged car reviewers to cover the car with glorious accolades immediately after its release in 2007. Back then, I remember being more than impressed by the performance of the first two whilst driving it around Taupo racetrack in comparison with nine far more expensive finalists for a magazine's Car of the Year award. Four years on, only one other supermini has come close to challenging the Mazda2's claim to be the real Mini Cooper S of the 21st century - its half-sibling, the Ford Fiesta. Honda's enlarged Jazz is a more rewarding car to drive than previous versions these days, but size matters when it comes to cornering agility, and the Two is as willing to lock on to corner apexes as an MX-5. It makes both the Fiesta and Jazz - not to mention BMW's interpretation of a modern Mini - feel like heavier cars from a larger-sized segment of the market with its more enthusiastic handling.
At 1045kg, an automatic dual- pedal Two is more than 100kg lighter than some of the cars mentioned above, and this gives it quite a head-start with its performance. Mazda's 1.5-litre four might make less power and torque than the 1.6-litre rivals that the Two is mostly compared with; however, it's still a willing unit with less metal to haul. Expect it to punt the car from 0-100kmh in 9.5 seconds when hooked up to the five-speed manual gearbox that enhances both its sprinting ability and efficiency.
However, only the lethargic should opt for the four-speed auto of test vehicle. Its deficit of forward ratios is another area where the Two shows its true age along with the drum rear brakes.
Mazda's pricing continues to include a three-year free servicing contract (worth about $1600) and is unchanged for base Classic version of the Two.
The Sport model sampled here rises $160 to $25,155 for the manual version, and $26,555 for the automatic, an agreeable increase given the expanded equipment of the car. Not only has the Two seemingly defied time, but also the effects of a soaring yen.
AT A GLANCE
MAZDA 2 SPORT AUTOMATIC
* Engine: 1498cc dohc 16v inline four stoked by electronic fuel injection to develop 76kW (103bhp) at 6000rpm and 137Nm or torque at 4000rpm.
* Transmission: 4-speed automatic gearbox, front wheel drive.
* Performance: 0-100kmh: 11.5 seconds, fuel consumption over EC city/highway drive cycle: 6.4litres/100km, CO2 output: 148g/km.
* Price: $26,555
* Hot: Perkiest affordable supermini gets a lot more kit for a modest price increase.
* Not: Still retains drum rear brakes and an old-school four- speed auto.