Ford Fiesta vs Mazda2: CHAL’s favourites face off

Image of James Fossdyke
Author: | Updated: 15 Jul 2015 13:22

Within moments of driving the Mazda2 earlier this year, the question arose of whether we prefer it to the Ford Fiesta.

We’ve been tussling with the problem ever since, so in a bid to settle it once and for all, we’re putting them head-to-head. With the two cars kitted out in our favourite guises – Fiesta Zetec S Red 140 and Mazda2 Sport Nav 115 – to make it as fair a fight as possible, we’ve got about 1,000 words to make our minds up.

Exterior

Ford Fiesta Red vs Mazda 2 Sport Nav Front (5)

Fantastically brash. That’s our favourite way of describing the Fiesta, which – let’s be brutally honest here – is something of an Essex boy’s dream.

There’s something endearing about that though, and it’s the same thing that makes us look at Lamborghinis and say ‘wow’. We like drama (read big wings, black chicken-wire grilles and red paint) so we like the Fiesta.

If you disagree, however, and think the Fiesta is for uncouth louts who hang around industrial estates in Braintree of a Saturday night, you’ll be more than happy with the Mazda.

It’s handsome in an understated way, especially in the Soul Red Metallic of our test car, and its curvaceous design is enough to turn more heads than you might imagine.

Interior

The Fiesta may be great to look at from the outside, but it’s starting to show its age in the cabin, with swathes of dark plastic, a fiddly, fussy centre console jam-packed with buttons and a tiny black-and-white infotainment screen. It’s all well put-together though, with no disconcerting sounds coming from any of the trim.

Ford Fiesta Red Edition Interior (1)

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Sit in the Mazda, however, and it’s like you’ve been thrown into a game of opposites. Smart leather lines the cabin and there are more toys than you can shake a stick at, but the flip side is the build quality, which trails the Fiesta.

Grab hold of the Mazda’s centre console, give it a shove and watch the whole lower part of the dash shift, or enjoy twisting the gear lever around until first appears to be somewhere in the bottom right-hand corner of the gate (NB: starting in sixth doesn’t work, even in an engine this versatile, but more on that later).

In terms of practicality, it’s pretty even, with both cars hiding 280-litre luggage bays behind their tailgates and offering reasonable rear passenger space. The Mazda should edge it thanks to its rear doors, but the pale leather/dark mesh upholstery cancelled that advantage out. We’d give it a lifespan of 3 minutes of family use before it looks awful.

Mazda2 Sport Nav Interior (2)

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On the road

Putting a car with a 1.0-litre engine against one with a 1.5 might sound about as cruel as asking an 11-year-old to get into the ring with Lennox Lewis, but bear with us, because this Fiesta’s 1.0-litre engine is pretty punchy.

With 138bhp, it’s actually 25bhp more powerful than the 1.5 in the Mazda, and performance is surprisingly similar. Both sprint to 62mph in about 9 seconds and top out at around 125mph, but the power delivery is very different.

At low revs, both are low on grunt, but once your foot gets closer to the firewall the power arrives. In the turbocharged Ford it comes in a big, satisfying lump that suddenly makes the scenery hurtle past at an alarming rate before dissipating come change-up time.

With the 2, the delivery is much more progressive. As the revs build, so does the power, and though the close-ratio gearbox means the ‘shift up’ symbol will protest, it’s best to take it right up to 6,000rpm. Then you’ll get the best of the fruity noise and all of that power surge.

Mazda2 Sport Nav Rear Static Road

Read our first drive review of the Mazda2

The Fiesta isn’t devoid of aural stimulation either, with a throaty and endearing, yet still sporty, rendition of the off-beat buzz created by all three-cylinder engines.

It’s a dead heat in terms of get-up-and-go then, but the Fiesta starts to pull ahead through the bends. With the sport suspension fitted to this Red Edition model, the Ford is even more joyous to drive than the standard car.

Slinging it through the corners is really good fun, thanks to the excellent body control, low weight, wonderfully well sorted steering and impressive amounts of grip. Nothing this side of £20,000 handles this well, except maybe the Red Edition’s big brother, the ST.

It’s unfortunate for the Mazda that it has the Fiesta to compete with, because it’s seriously impressive too. It’s quick to respond to commands from the helm and the gearbox is slick, but the steering is a little too light for our taste and because the car’s quite tall and devoid of solid springs, there’s a bit more body roll.

The 2’s more comfy than the Fiesta, though, with the combination of pliant suspension and higher-profile tyres soaking up the bumps much more effectively.

Running costs

Ford Fiesta Red vs Mazda 2 Sport Nav Rear (1)

The two different approaches to engine design have yielded very similar results in terms of fuel economy. Officially, the Mazda will return 56.5mpg and 117g of CO2 per kilometre, which doesn’t sound particularly impressive next to the Fiesta’s 62.8mpg and 104g/km, but the official figures don’t tell the whole story.

Despite spending most of its time on test with us shuttling around town, the 2 returned over 46mpg, while the Fiesta managed just 44mpg, even though it had been on a 400-mile journey almost exclusively on motorways.

To us, it’s evidence that a) the European emissions and economy test needs a serious overhaul and b) downsizing engines is a bit of a con used by manufacturers to negotiate said test.

That said, you can’t argue with the official CO2 emissions, because they govern the tax you pay. As a result, the Fiesta’s going to be the cheaper company car and it’ll cost private motorists £20 a year less than the Mazda. Chicken feed perhaps, but you’d rather have it in your pocket than anyone else’s.

They’re pretty even on purchase price too. With cruise control (£150), climate control (£275) and a few other choice options on board, the car came out at £16,820 – just under £1,000 less than the Mazda, although we’d have left the £800 scuff-o-matic Light Stone leather at the dealership to bring the prices much closer. We would, however, have given our right arms to keep the gorgeous Soul Red Metallic paint (£650).

The verdict

There’s certainly more than one way to make a great supermini, and we’d be happy to have either of these cars on our drives. The Ford is more fun, the Mazda more grown up. The Fiesta is better built, the 2 is better equipped. We could go on, but there’s no point.

Ford Fiesta Red Edition Front (2)

We think these cars will appeal to very different markets – those after a runabout to either downsize from or compliment a big executive saloon will want the Mazda, and those looking for a fun-to-drive, sporty hatchback will have to have the Fiesta.

This a test of which we prefer though, more than of which is best, and the Fiesta wins out by virtue of its sporty handling, more athletic looks and better build, as well as the fact that it’s cheaper to lease.

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