If you’re looking to spend $15,000 to $20,000 on a used car for around town and the occasional country trip, an alternative worth considering is buying new from the current crop of impressive light cars.
Today’s light cars are not the tiny buzz-boxes of the past that needed a shoehorn to get into the back seat. They’re grown-up, are solidly built, with comfortable, clever design and significantly more cabin space than yesteryear’s models.
For similar money to a used car, you can find a new model with a suite of desirable safety features and the peace of mind you get with a full new-car warranty for three, five or even seven years, depending on brand. It also eliminates the chance of buying someone else’s problems, or tyres and brakes that are already worn and ready for replacement.
‘Both the Jazz and Mazda2 are good city-focused performers.’
Two evergreens that spring to mind are the Honda Jazz and the Mazda2. For an affordable $14,990 plus on-road costs, you can get into the entry-level Jazz VTi five-speed manual hatchback or the Mazda2 Neo six-speed manual which comes as a hatchback or sedan. An automatic transmission adds $2000. In the Jazz, it’s a CVT-style auto, while the Mazda2 uses a conventional six-speed auto featuring the company’s SkyActiv design.
We couldn’t match transmissions in our test cars, but the VTi manual Jazz and Neo automatic sedan still provided a good feel for the cars’ character and ability.
Both these well-established models were upgraded in 2017. Mazda made autonomous emergency braking (AEB) standard across the range, and higher-grade models added extra class-leading safety features such as blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
Honda refreshed the Jazz with minor but worthwhile styling and technology upgrades, with the biggest change being a seven-inch touch-screen audio system.
‘Jazz’s light clutch pedal and precise shift action makes changing gears a breeze.’
Equipment levels in the VTi and Neo are basic but better than might be expected, with each offering slightly different features. Both have a five-star ANCAP rating and the Jazz gets a reversing camera – a handy feature missing in the Neo. Mazda2 is one of few cars in this class with AEB.
Each company employs its own, proven 1.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine. Honda uses the same engine across the range, while in the Mazda line-up, Maxx models and above come with a slightly higher level of tuning. In keeping with the job description, both the Jazz and Mazda2 are good city-focused performers, each with slightly different driving characteristics.
In typical Honda fashion, the 1.5-litre engine does its best work high in the rev range, with low gearing in the manual transmission designed to keep the engine operating in the sweet spot. Around town the Jazz feels nippy and responsive, but you do need to swap gears regularly. This is not a problem with the Jazz’s light clutch pedal and precise shift action, which make changing gears a breeze.
‘Mazda2 is considered one of the best-handling cars in the class.’
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On the open road, the Jazz easily maintains highway speeds and cruises comfortably, although the high revs are noticeable. At 100kmh in top gear the Honda engine was revving approximately 1000rpm higher than the Mazda unit. At times we found ourselves looking for a sixth gear.
Despite its high-revving engine, the Honda’s fuel consumption is respectable. ADR testing suggests the manual version will return a respectable 6.2L/100km. In real-world use, our Jazz averaged 6.8L/100km.
The Jazz’s city-centric focus comes to the fore with light steering and nimble handling making it extremely manoeuvrable and easy to drive. At higher speeds, the ride becomes a little unsettled and moves around, particularly on second-class country roads. It doesn’t have quite the same surefootedness as the Mazda2, which with precise steering and Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control Assist is considered one of the best-handling cars in the class. Its ride is a touch on the firm side but still fairly compliant.
‘For cabin space and functionality, the Honda Jazz is undisputed class champion.’
Although the Mazda2 engine’s maximum power and torque figures are a fraction below the Jazz’s, they are developed earlier in the rev range. The Mazda tends to feel stronger in the low-to-mid range with a broader spread of performance. Coupled to a well-matched six-speed automatic, it is responsive and easy to drive in the city and and on country roads.
The Mazda2 never seemed to be working quite as hard as the Jazz. With an ADR fuel consumption of 5.5L/100km it’s more frugal, as supported by our real-world testing where it averaged 6.0L/100km.
For cabin space and functionality, the Honda Jazz is undisputed class champion. It has wide-opening doors for easy access, excellent all-round visibility, and amazing leg and head room in both front and back for such a small car. Taking things to the next level, Honda’s ‘Magic Seats’ can be folded every which way to give 18 different passenger and load configurations.
Although Mazda2 doesn’t match the Jazz, it’s still one of the roomiest cars in the class. Rear headroom in the sedan is a touch tight and old-style boot hinges intrude on the luggage space.
The build and finish of both cars is pleasing for vehicles of this price. The Mazda’s trim has a slightly better-quality look and feel but the Jazz’s presentation is bolder and more modern.
Both now have five-year warranties.
Even in entry-level form, the Honda Jazz and Mazda2 have plenty to offer. Picking a winner will depend on your needs and personal tastes. For those wanting space and cabin versatility, it’s hard to go past the Jazz, however, Mazda2’s all-round ability and the added safety of AEB makes it our choice in this comparison.
HONDA JAZZ VTi
$14,990 + (est) $2000 on-road costs. Model price range $14,990 to $22,990. Premium paint $495.
$16,990 + (est) $2000 on-road costs. Model price range $14,990 to $23,680. Premium paint $300.
If you're looking to buy a used car, make sure you check out RACV's Used Car Buyer's Guide. We've taken a look at the 4 best used cars for around $10,000, taking in to consideration Fuel Consumption, Safety and a range of other options.