First drive: Mazda 2

Mazda 2

Superminis are some of the most popular cars in the UK thanks to their small price tags and equally small, easy-to-park stature. However, as a result, this is one of the most hotly contested parts of the car market, with the Ford Fiesta taking the top spot in the overall new car sales table, closely followed by the Vauxhall Corsa.

Though the Mazda 2 has been around for more than a decade, it's not made too much of an impact on UK car buyers. While the previous model looked stylish and was fun to drive, it has been very much an also-ran in the sales charts, with many buyers opting for the Fiesta or Corsa, along with the Skoda Fabia, VW Polo and Seat Ibiza.

What is it?

Mazda has completely overhauled its range in the last few years, adding sharp styling and economical but punchy motors to its machines. The latest car to receive these is the 2 - Mazda's take on the supermini.

The new car doesn't compete with the Vauxhall Corsa or Ford Fiesta in the price stakes - with the cheapest model weighing in at a relatively expensive £11,995 - but majors on providing a long list of standard kit, a spacious interior and strong performance from its petrol and diesel motors.

What's under the bonnet?

The new 2 is available with three 1.5-litre petrol engines and one 1.5-litre diesel. Unlike rivals, the petrol engines aren't turbocharged, however the 2's lightweight means that acceleration - and economy - betters similarly powerful Skoda Fabias and Ford Fiestas, for instance.

Petrol engines come with 74bhp, 89bhp and 113bhp, while the diesel puts out 104bhp. Even the least powerful model sprints to 62mph in a nippy 12.1 seconds - compared to 14.7 seconds for the less economical 74bhp Skoda Fabia 1.0 - while returning claimed economy of 60.1mpg. The sweet spot of the range would have to be the 89bhp petrol, though, which zooms to 62mph in a mere 9.4 seconds but is still capable of 62.8mpg - beating the 108bhp Fabia for performance and the equivalent 89bhp Skoda for fuel economy.

What's the spec like?

The starting price for the 2 is higher than most superminis at £11,995, however, as a result, even the most basic model has a long list of standard kit. Entry-level SE cars include electric wing mirrors, a height adjustable driver's seat, a trip computer, remote central locking and air conditioning.

The only kit that buyers may miss are split-folding rear seats, alloy wheels, and electric rear windows, which are included on mid-spec SE-L cars, along with electric folding, heated wing mirrors, Bluetooth connectivity and cruise control, for a £1,000 premium. 1.5-litre 89bhp SE-L models also feature a standard-fit seven-inch touchscreen media system along with a digital radio.

Top-of-the-range Sport and Sport Nav cars also add automatic headlights and wipers, rear parking sensors, tinted windows and climate control, plus sat nav in Sports Nav trim.

Any rivals?

The Ford Fiesta and Vauxhall Corsa are two key rivals for the 2 as the most popular superminis in the UK. While the Corsa majors on low prices, the Fiesta offers sharp handling around corners. Skoda's new Fabia is also an important rival competing closely on price and specification.

Supermini buyers may also want to consider the VW Polo as a premium alternative and the Seat Ibiza, thought the Seat is getting a little long in the tooth now.

2015 Mazda 2

2015 Mazda 2

What's it like to drive?

We got behind the wheel of the entry-level 74bhp petrol engine in SE-L trim. Though it is the least powerful engine it offers a reasonable amount of punch, provided you work the engine. As the gears are long, being in the wrong gear can force you to change down a gear or two for swift progress, though.

Around town the 2 is easy to manoeuvre with very light steering and reasonable visibility. The gear change is slick and satisfying, while the clutch is simple enough to balance. The ride is on the firm side, but still very comfortable, as are the front seats. Head to the motorway and the 2 acquits itself equally well, with very little road, wind or engine noise coming into the cabin at speed - unless you work the engine hard, when it is a little louder than you might expect.

Overall even this basic 2 feels like a grown up machine, with more than enough performance for most supermini buyers. There's plenty of space in the front seats and a large, deep boot. However, headroom in the rear seats can't compete with some rivals - the Skoda Fabia for instance feels more spacious in the back - and access to the boot is restricted by a small opening.

The AOL Cars verdict

With big car refinement, an easy drive and plenty of equipment on offer, the Mazda 2 is a wise supermini buy - especially considering its strong but frugal engines. We were less taken by the basic design and mediocre quality materials in our car, though models with Mazda's seven-inch touchscreen media system - which includes most of the range - look much more upmarket.

If a good balance of economy, performance, equipment and value are high on your supermini shopping list, the 2 makes a good case for itself. Prices are higher than some rivals though the 2 feels like a well engineered product and looks sharp inside and out too, as long as you avoid the cheapest versions.

The knowledge

Model: Mazda 2 1.5 75 SE-L
Price: £12,995
Engine: 1.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol
Power: 74bhp
Max Speed: 106mph
0-62mph: 12.1 seconds
MPG: 60.1mpg
Emissions: 110g/km CO2