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10 November 2023 · Mazda Australia News

Licensed To Thrill

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THE NEW MAZDA2

By Hannah Tattersall

As I slip, slide and skitter my Mazda2 around a slick figure-eight course inside a warehouse in Melbourne, it strikes me that I’m effectively starring in a crossover episode of Top Gear and Heartbreak High.

For the launch of the new 2, a vehicle largely targeted at younger drivers, including those with L and P plates, Mazda thought it would be “fun” to put us through a series of driving exercises, which effectively add up to being asked to resit our driving tests.

I’m not sure about anyone else’s memories of that day, but “fun” wouldn’t be the first word that comes to my mind.

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My Mazda2 GT’s new 16-inch rear wheels have been encased in an aftermarket nylon cover to reduce grip and turn them into skid tyres. As I pick up the pace and steer around a set of traffic cones, my riding companion, driving master Chris, cheerily reefs on the handbrake, locking the wheels to induce a savage sideways slide.

What this exercise is supposed to be teaching me is how to manage an oversteer slide effectively: where to look, where to steer, how to correct the slide by pointing your front wheels into it. In this scenario, which let’s pretend is ice on the road, I’m going too fast for the conditions. I’m expected to recover by steering into the slide with a refined level of smoothness, while slowing the car down.

Do I succeed? Not so much. I lose control of the car and, with a loud squeak skid, in the opposite direction to the one intended, theoretically plunging my Mazda2 off the cliff top and into a pile of fresh powder below.

Luckily, in reality I’m still in a warehouse in suburban Scoresby

After that adventure, I’m put through a go-to-woe acceleration and braking challenge in which I race as fast as I can against another Mazda2 down a short runway, before braking and coming to a stop within another set of witch’s hats.

Then there’s reverse and parallel parking – but with eggs on cones which fall off if you reverse too far (one of my reverse parks results in enough broken eggs to make a mid-sized omelette) and I also have to change a tyre as fast as I can, which I don’t think I’ve done since my dad taught me how to use a hand jack as a teenager.

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I’m also put through a classic student P-plater driving test, with Formula One Safety Car driver, and the mastermind of this whole drill, Karl Reindler firing questions at me while I navigate faux roundabouts and stop signs.

I feel as nervous as I did the first three times I went for my Ps. Yes, it took me three goes.

That was 25 years ago. It’s kind of crazy but in Australia, once you pass the practical test, you don’t need to sit it again until you turn 85.

If we were forced to resit the test in our 30s, 40s and 50s, I’m sure many of us would fail – and subsequently lose our licences.  And maybe that wouldn’t be a bad idea in some cases.

According to LTrent driving school in Sydney, common factors that contribute to test failure include neglecting to perform head checks on blind spots, incorrect or insufficient use of indicators, disobeying traffic signs, signals, or road markings, failing to make complete stops at red lights or stop signs, engaging in illegal manoeuvres or acts, and driving at excessive speeds, or driving too slowly.

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I check my mirrors, make a big deal of looking over my shoulders and into my blind spots, and then we’re off. “Can you just hold my phone for a minute,” Reindler says. A-ha! I’m not falling for that one. “No I can’t actually, I'm busy driving.”

Reindler asks me the rules on driving in thongs, barefoot, and how many hours driving one has to log before they can go for their test (in the Northern Territory it's none). There’s even a maths question. We cruise along at 20km/h before accelerating to 60 and back to 20. There’s a roundabout and a stop sign.

The Mazda2, which just might be the perfect car for someone who’s learning to drive, and particularly to park, handles it all with aplomb. It’s a vehicle that’s easy to manoeuvre and feels light to drive.

As Mazda points out, it’s an easy car to see out of, a difficult one in which to confuse the throttle with the brake, and the steering wheel is in a dead-centre position, which is not always the case these days.

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First introduced in 2002, the entry-level 2 is the smallest passenger car in Mazda’s Australian line-up and is marketed towards younger drivers – 70 per cent of whom are women – and families looking for a second car (perhaps to teach their children to drive with).

The 2023 model has undergone a bit of a facelift. There are two new paint colours: Aero Grey Metallic and the eye-catching Air Stream Blue Metallic and more availability of the Mazda Takuminuri paint finishes in Machine Grey and Soul Red Crystal Metallic, a zippy little number I drove earlier in the day from the picturesque town of Emerald to this Scoresby warehouse.

There are new grille styles on the front, a carbon-fibre-style roof finish and the aforementioned 16-inch alloy wheel.

The nylon covers on the tyres are unfortunately just an add on for the purposes of the media launch – you can’t order them as an optional extra, I checked.  

But even when driving fast – like in the acceleration and braking challenge, or in another test where we’re timed to reverse through a series of traffic cones before reverse parking in a makeshift “garage” (I’m getting mine renovated so it’s fine when I hit the door) it feels very safe and secure; you always feel 100 per cent in control of this little car.

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Well, except when you’re driving on ice. While every passenger vehicle in Australia since 2013 has been fitted with stability control, as Reindler explains: “Very little education is done on stability control and how to manage a slide. In Victoria you do 120 hours of driving to get your licence now, and not once do you ever have to actually deal with a car that breaks traction due to ice on the roads.”

Maybe we should all be retaking our driving test? Or at least be faced with some hypothetical risk scenarios every now and then. As well as being educational, learning to control a car in a slide, is actually rather fun. Another word that perfectly describes the Mazda2.