Home » The Mazda 2 Is The Perfect Starter Car, But It’s Not For Me

The Mazda 2 Is The Perfect Starter Car, But It’s Not For Me

Mazda 2 Topshot 2

As enthusiasts, we often spend our time daydreaming about high-powered sports cars and steroid-pumped off-roaders with enough torque to peel the crust off the Earth itself. And yet, so often, we make our lives happen with simple workhorses that go about their business quietly in plain sight. These everyday vehicles may rarely grace magazine covers, but they dutifully serve their owners with fair attitude and faithful reliability. The 2023 Mazda 2 is one of those cars. Not a rockstar, but faithful and willing to serve.

Today, I’m giving you a tour of the Mazda 2’s latest facelift, as delivered to Australia for the 2023 model year. Americans may recall its doppelgänger, the Toyota Yaris iA (née Scion iA), with the model leaving the U.S. market after 2020. The Mazda now stands alone, having received a healthy refresh for the global markets in which it is sold.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

[Editor’s note: Americans could actually buy the third-generation Mazda 2 hatchback for several years, albeit only in Puerto Rico. Still, nothing’s stopping residents of the contiguous 48 from bringing a Puerto Rican example to the mainland by boat, seeing as models sold there are fully federalized. -TH]

If you’re hunting for a rush of adrenaline, look elsewhere. That’s not what the Mazda 2 is for. Instead, it presents itself as a dependable option for regular transport that looks more fashionable than some of the competition. It’s designed for those just starting their driving journey, or those who simply want a reliable companion for their daily commute. It’s a textbook example of a starter car. While it may be the lowest-ranking Mazda currently on sale in Australia, it still does the brand proud with its clean, modern aesthetic.

Mazda 2 Low Qtr


Mazda 2 Rear Qtr



The Mazda 2 is key to the company’s lineup, serving as a budget option in a market rapidly flooding with cheap Chinese compacts. In these bleak economic times, many simply desire a car that starts every morning, handles well in traffic, and doesn’t break the bank. Mazda manages to deliver this in an affordable, well-appointed package that never feels cheap.   

For $26,361 Australian dollarydoos (~$17,300 USD), you get a 1.5-liter four cylinder good for 109 horsepower and 104 foot-pounds of torque. It’s available paired to a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic gearbox. I found myself behind the wheel of the Pure automatic trim, which retailed a little higher, at $28,441 (~$18,700 USD). It seats five, weighs 2445 pounds, and is amusingly rated to tow up to 1984 pounds if you have a braked trailer. As a sub-compact, storage is limited, at 8.8 cubic feet.


So far, so typical. The humble engine and light weight will naturally net you good fuel economy. By Australia’s fuel economy standards (ADR 79/04), the Mazda 2 is rated to get 36 mpg in urban driving, and 51.1 mpg in extra urban driving. You know, like, in the countryside and stuff. It’s rated at 44.4 mpg combined.  

Mazda 2 Badge

Mazda 2 Front Side Low


But let’s look past stats. What’s the Mazda 2 really like? Well, it’s a rather elegant thing, hewing to the fine fundamentals of Mazda’s current design language. A limited number of curves do a great deal to make a smooth, attractive form, without being excessively rounded or eggy. It’s undeniably an improvement over the Toyota Yaris iA, because the facelifted Mazda front end is far more appealing than the gaping maw of the Toyota version.  


The car’s compact footprint is evident, but smart design choices ensure it doesn’t come across as tiny or cramped. Today, many cars scream for attention with bold design choices, stacking lines upon creases and stashing vents everywhere the eye can see. The Mazda  opts for a more understated charm, doing more with less. 

Inside, the Mazda 2 is pretty straightforward. You know how it is. It’s a car, and everything is where you’d expect to find it. Materials, while not lavish, feel durable and fit for purpose. For the price, you wouldn’t find much to complain about with the seats or interior plastics. 

Mazda 2 Wheel

Mazda 2 Console

Mazda 2 Hvac


Mazda 2 Dash

Mazda 2 Selector



Despite the car’s outer dimensions, Mazda has done well to maximize the space inside, making it feel more open than one might expect. It largely gets the simple storage matters right, too. You’ll easily find a spot for your Monster energy drink or your Friday night takeaway. 


The one thing it misses is a good spot to stash your smartphone, especially given the basic models lean on Android Auto and Apple CarPlay over inbuilt navigation. Having a nice rectangular nook is always a boon, and the Mazda 2 kinda forgets to include this. Ultimately, you’ll either keep your phone in your pocket, or invest in a dangly mount somewhere on the windscreen or dash. [Editor’s note: Although there’s a tray in front of the shifter, it’s sized more for an iPhone 5 than today’s huge phones. — TH]

Driving the Mazda 2 is perfectly fine. It’s fit for purpose, if lacking anything to excite the enthusiast driver, but hey—not every car is for us. 

Mazda 2 Front Qtr

Mazda 2 Side




Mazda 2 Low Front 2

Mazda 2 Light


The Skyactiv powertrain is all about efficiency, and unlike some rivals, it doesn’t rock any hybrid support. It’s not a rev-monster, it doesn’t bark or yelp; it just gets you down the road. The automatic transmission is smooth enough and largely transparent to the driving experience, which is perfect for a car like this. The kickdown offers limited pep, but that’s largely due to the engine’s humble output more than anything else. The drivetrain offers perfectly acceptable acceleration for the class, but an exciting combination, this is not. It would be interesting to try the manual, but I suspect it wouldn’t make much difference. 


The Mazda 2 is an entirely predictable car to drive. This isn’t a car that overwhelms or overcomplicates the driving experience. It’s like slipping into a well-worn pair of average shoes that fit just right. If your friend lent you this car and you instantly wound up in a Jason Bourne-style chase, you’d be pretty confident on how to handle it. It offers a turning circle that’s appreciated in tight spaces and crowded lanes, and its steering is well-weighted, if a little uncommunicative. There’s too much body roll and too little engagement for it to be a fun handler, but people buying Mazda 2s don’t want to be entertained by their car. They just want to get where they’re going. 

Dsc06123 Scaled


On the open road, the Mazda 2 settles into a calm, steady rhythm. It maintains highway speeds with ease and exhibits admirable composure despite its short wheelbase. Wind and road noise are well excluded, allowing for easy conversation without the need to raise one’s voice. Through the curves, the vehicle’s handling remains stable and predictable, with no unexpected surprises. Overall, the driving experience of the Mazda 2 mirrors its design and intent: unpretentious, reliable, and pleasantly uncomplicated.

Fundamentally, it genuinely does a good job at being “an car.” It’s super easy to park, it’s easy to see out of, and it’s untroubled by any daily duty you could throw at it. It’s hard to imagine a better first car for a new driver, and it’s even available in a manual version for those eager to learn how to drive a stick.  It’s a great car for learning to park too, because its tiny size provides a lot more margin for error.

Mazda2 Pure Jetblack 28
It’s roomy enough for the front seat passengers, but it’s pretty short on legroom in the back. Credit: Mazda
Mazda2 Pure Jetblack 39
Yellow dash says it’s the facelift model, baby! Credit: Mazda
Mazda2 Pure Jetblack 29
It’s a bit tight. Credit: Mazda
Mazda2 Pure Jetblack 49
Groceries? Yes. Ikea furniture? More difficult. Credit: Mazda
Mazda 2 Engine
Mazda does not expect you to look under the hood at the Cthulhu-esque nightmare within. I was amazed they included this in the press pack. Credit: Mazda

Having Android Auto and Apple CarPlay as standard (albeit in wired form) is a big win, too. It’s also available as a sedan for fans of that bodystyle, something a lot of other automakers aren’t offering right now. For some reason, Mazda also put a splash of colored plastic in the middle of the front grille for reasons we can’t possibly understand. I checked, and it’s not a piece of pre-delivery packaging. It’s an intentional styling feature that shows up in the official press photos. Fun, though? Fans of leaving yellow splitter guards on Dodges will appreciate the detail.

Perhaps the biggest let down for me is that it just isn’t very fun. Automakers like Ford and VW have done a great job building exciting, enjoyable econoboxes in years past, even outside of the more bonkydonk hot haches. A good Fiesta, Focus or Polo really has some spunk to it, even if you’re not looking at the sports models. 

Mazda’s effort here simply doesn’t light up the joy receptors. The engine is yawn-inducing when the pedal is matted to the floor, even in the unjustified “Sport” mode. Nor does the diminutive car dart or dance with any verve. It’s just a commuter, through and through.  

Mazda 2 Rear Offset

Mazda 2 Dutch


Mazda 2 Rear Qtr 3






As a subcompact, the Mazda 2 is up against plenty of solid rivals. In Australia, it’s competing with the Kia Rio, The Toyota Yaris, and the Volkswagen Polo, while it’s getting undercut significantly by the ultra-cheap MG MG3. In Australian dollars, the Rio can be driven away for as little as $23,590, while the Yaris starts at $28,190. The Polo is a more premium option starting at around $33,287 for the same metric. The Chinese-built MG3 is, by comparison, a budget queen at just $19,990, albeit with a slightly lacking feature set and a cheaper-feeling interior. The Mazda 2 is towards the medium to premium end of the subcompacts in price, starting at $26,361 in 2024, or $28,441 for an auto.. It makes up for that by being nicely appointed, and it has an appropriate look and feel to match. Still, paying close to $30,000 for a subcompact is… kind of lame, and indicative of just how badly inflation has hit in the last few years.

I’d probably rather see an MG3 in my driveway for the oddball factor, but I suspect a lot of teens would prefer a “name brand” car like the VW or Mazda. If you’re seventeen and your parents are buying you a new car, let me know what you’d go for. We like to stay up with the youth trends here at the website where the cofounder makes art on a 40-year-old computer.

Mazda 2 Learner
Mazda’s own press shots support the idea of it being an ideal car for new drivers. Credit: Mazda

I found the Mazda 2 interesting in the same way as visiting a friend’s family home and sitting down for dinner. It was a taste of something I’d usually never go for, and a look at how other people live their day to day lives. As an enthusiast, the Mazda 2 offers me nothing, except perhaps a smart backup for a fleet of dodgy project cars. 

At the same time, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it as a good car for a new driver or someone looking for an affordable new commuter car. The Mazda 2 is a great appliance for the kind of person who doesn’t want to think about driving at all. It makes driving transparent, easy, an afterthought. The fact that it looks good doing it is an excellent plus for the people charged with selling it.

Barring any surprises, it’s hard to go wrong with a simple commuter that’s easy to drive and cheap to run. In the Mazda 2, the company has done well at screwing together a subcompact that feels a cut above the economy cars of yesteryear. It may not be the car for me, but the Mazda 2 is a good car. 


(Image credits: Lewin Day, Mazda where stated)

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5 months ago

I have just come to the realization that the Australian license (licence, whatever) plates have the optimal dimensions for cars. American and Japanese plates are awful too thick and out of place, especially on the front bumpers of cars, both classic with thin chrome bumpers, and the most recent ones where the bumper bar is concealed. Nobody wants a fat plate looking like it blocks airflow and character lines in the grill. Euro plates are a bit too long because of all the fiddly bits they put at the end.

As for the Mazda, I wish we still had sub $20k USD cars in the states. Cars at that price range don’t have to be the penalty boxes we believe they are. Yes, maybe you only have wired CarPlay/Android Auto on your slightly larger than cell phone screen. Or no adaptive cruise control. I drive a 17 year old car, so obviously IDGAF about most of that. I’d get the Mazda2 in a manual, just to increase the joy factor a touch. I’d also find some discreet vinyl stickers to place on the back seat windows, right above the door handle that say, “Not meant for human consumption” and either strip out the back seat in it’s entirety or at least take out the bottom cushions and make some storage bins to stash stuff and fold the seatbacks on top. And take out the cargo cover.

Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
Carbon Fiber Sasquatch
5 months ago

As someone who loves little hatches and Mazdas, how does one go about getting a Puerto Rican example to say…Ohio?

Urban Runabout
Urban Runabout
5 months ago

Oversized Checked Luggage.

5 months ago

For a while a version of the Mazda 2 was made alongside the Ford Fiesta in Mexico as strange cousins. It was weird as few parts were directly interchangeable.

Craig Simpson
Craig Simpson
5 months ago

We have a 2017 Mazda 2 with the six speed manual, and whilst no enthusiast car, I agree with others here, it can be a hoot to drive. It is not exactly blessed with gob-fulls of torque, which means revs are your friend, and a rev happy manual with low weight is always good fun. I live about 1km from one of the best stretches of winding gorges in Sydney, and there is fun to be had in that little thing.
My daughter learned to drive on it, and we took a holiday for three in it so that she could get driving practice in (certain number of hours required in Aus on your learner’s permit before you can go for your test to get provisional licence) and it was fine packed to the gunwales and with a massive roof box on top. Ours pre-dates the Apple and Android availability, so my daughter is planning on getting the infotainment updated to provide that, at which point it will probably be bought by her when she finishes study and will go for years yet.

And also a plea for those of us not in the US, please, please, please provide both metric and imperial measurements (in brackets, in a table, I don’t care) as to be blunt, gallons means nothing to me, footlubs not much more, miles I mostly understand and horsepowers only because my old Beetle is measured by them because it sounds more impressive.

Otherwise, love the review of an everyday car.

5 months ago
Reply to  Craig Simpson

Wait, you understand little about ft-lbs of torque? Shall we introduce you to a fine gentleman who has recently blew his main circulatory hose… You can witness his genius on the old lighting site, where he invents a new method of measuring torque:
Perhaps the fine gentleman dissected his aorta via repeated testing of his nrp theory.

5 months ago

Not just a starter car, most of the older ladies I know drive little things like this in the UK. My mum bought a Mazda 2 new in 2008 and is still driving it. It’s fine, albeit the fuel tank is tiny, so it has to visit the petrol station too often.

The Dude
The Dude
5 months ago

While this does appear to be a fine, reasonably priced car, it also has to compete with used cars. And today’s cars are nicer and (generally) built better/last longer than ever. And aren’t we supposed to be preaching the merits of buying used?

So, if I have a budget of $17.5k, am I going to buy this or a used 2018 Corolla w/ 20k miles I found searching the internet for just a few minutes? My money is likely going towards the used Toyota, though I can see why someone might opt for the new Mazda at the same price for the piece of mind of having a new car.

Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
Bongo Friendee Harvey Park
5 months ago

It’s a little eggy in the rear.

I love that it has an analog gauge and physical plastic dials and buttons for controls.

Cute little bugger, especially in the light blue next to yellow shirt gal.

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