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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Updated Mazda2 Brings Sedan

The addition of stability control across the Mazda2 range is a big step forward, although the full complement of airbags is still optional on the competitively priced entry-level model.

Mazda has used a switch to a cheaper production source to introduce a better-value version of its 2 city car, though the vehicle's upgraded safety features are set to be short-lived as the segment benchmark.

The Japanese brand has taken advantage of a zero import tariff enabled by a free trade agreement to lower prices by up to $505 and fit stability control as standard across the range that is now built in Thailand rather than Japan. Side and curtain airbags, however, remain optional on the best-selling Neo base model.

Volkswagen's rival Polo, which goes on sale this weekend in next-generation form, is expected to set the safety benchmark for the light-car segment with six airbags and stability control standard on every model - albeit with a price premium for the European-sourced hatch. Hyundai's new i20, due in July, is tipped to follow suit.
Mazda, however, says its base model Mazda2 is simply responding to customer demand.

"Our customers tell us they want some options; they don't want to be told what to buy. They want to make the choice themselves," says Mazda Australia boss Doug Dickson. "We've always offered that [safety] choice on the base model.

"We started many, many years ago with a program [where we would] make optional safety equipment standard. We started with ABS, and then over the years there's been airbags, stability control...

"At this entry price level, everything makes a difference because buyers are on a budget. We're in the business of selling cars not making safety statements."

Mazda also argues that the $400 cost of the side and curtain airbags is only as expensive as metallic paint that's optional on rival cars but standard on the Mazda2.

Other key rivals such as the Toyota Yaris and Honda Jazz offer front airbags only on their base models, while stability control is not available on the latter. Ford includes two airbags only for both base and mid-spec Fiestas, with curtain airbags not available even as an option - despite being available on Ford's first 'global car' overseas.

Entry to the revised Mazda2 range is $470 more expensive after the deletion of the three-door variant, though prices have been reduced for the five-door models, which accounted for the majority of sales.

Mazda claims the value of the base Neo, mid-spec Maxx and range-topping Genki have all improved by just over $1000, though in money terms the savings are $505 (to $16,500), $25 (to $19,090) and $355 (to $20,940) respectively.

The Neo is being offered with a "promotional" $16,990 driveaway price, though Mazda refuses to confirm how long the offer will last. Given the competitiveness of the market and similar moves by other manufacturers, don't be surprised if it's here for a while.

A sedan variant of the Mazda2 Maxx also costs $19,990 and introduces a Mazda four-door to the segment for the first time in 13 years.

The introduction of stability control across the Mazda2 range as well as side and curtain airbags for the mid-range Maxx are the key feature additions. Equipment grades remain unchanged, though there are new seat trims.

Minor tweaks to the 2's exterior include the 'five-point' grille that brings the car's front-end design in line with other models in the company's line-up.

The 1.5-litre four-cylinder engine carries over with a minor tweak. Power remains at 76kW and torque drops by 2Nm to 135Nm, though Mazda claims torque delivery is more consistent across the rev range.

Fuel consumption is unchanged at 6.4 litres per 100km for the five-speed manual and 6.8L/100km for the optional ($1650) auto.

Mazda says the sedan is likely to account for 20 per cent of Mazda2 sales, which are currently running at about 1100 per month.

The company says the 2's production move from Japan to Thailand will have no impact on sales, using the Thai-built Toyota Hilux's popularity with Australian buyers as an example. Many other cars sold in Australia - including various Hondas and most dual-cab utes - are sourced from Thailand.

Mazda says it expects the revised model to boost sales to about 1250 per month, contributing to the company's forecasted 2010 total sales figure of 80,000 that would be a new record for the brand.

Mazda has sold more than 36,000 Mazda2s since the second-generation model went on sale in 2007.