WHEN the history of the internal combustion engine (ICE) is written, Mazda’s SkyActiv programme will probably go down as a valiant last stand against the onslaught of electrification.

SkyActiv is the umbrella term for a number of technologies all designed to make ICE powerplants as fuel-efficient and environmentally acceptable as possible.

Initially, SkyActiv was sold on the premise that the buyer could have a petrol engine with the fuel economy of diesel but, in time, the same tech was applied to diesel engines in Mazda’s line-up as well.

SkyActiv engines tend to have greater capacity than the competition (the 1.5-litre engine used in the Mazda2 Sport is 50 per cent larger than the power units found in other superminis) but that doesn’t stop them from being incredibly economical, giving the lie to the belief that the way to better fuel consumption is through increased size reduction.

The Sport powerplant has a useful 90PS on tap (more of which later) but it still returns combined fuel consumption of 56.6mpg.

On the motorway, I achieved 67mpg and that wasn’t taking it easy.

You might be forgiven for thinking 90PS (88.7 bhp) in a small car gives the little Mazda true warm hatch potential - and it does, of sorts.

In common with many Japanese engines, the Mazda2 loves to rev. It’s as smooth as butter to the red line and doesn’t run out of steam before it gets there. So, when you are in the mood, the Mazda is fun to thrash across country and you can have lots of fun without breaking the speed limit.

The downside is mid-range - or, specifically, the lack of it. On the motorway, the little Mazda loses momentum surprisingly easily in sixth gear. The merest hint of an incline requires a down change to keep the speed up. Sometimes I found myself in fourth to maintain the car’s pace relative to other cars around me.

This is ameliorated to some extent by the sweet gearchange and the engine’s smoothness which means even high revs don’t turn the cabin into a tiresome place to be, but sixth gear is very much a cruising ratio for flat roads only.

If you are regularly ploughing the motorway the higher 115PS state of tune offered by Mazda may feel more at home.

At least keeping the revs up doesn’t have a detrimental effect on fuel consumption.

Yeovil Express:

It’s a good-looking supermini, the Mazda2 Sport thanks to neat proportions, Mazda’s ‘Kodo’ design language which uses sweeping lines in the bodywork to create a sense of movement and chunky alloy wheels which fill the wheel arches.

The Sport trim is near the top of the range so you get a full complement of goodies including all-around electric windows, automatic climate control, rain-sensing windscreen wipers, automatic headlights, keyless entry and rear parking sensors.

The LCD screen for the infotainment is quite small but I prefer Mazda’s click wheel control system to the frantic touchscreen stabbing required by other superminis. It’s easier to find what you want and DAB radio station selection is a doddle.

Yeovil Express:

Full Apple CarPlay integration (wireless and USB) is included and you can access Siri from a button on the steering wheel. The Mazda2 has plenty of USB plugs but they are the older USB ‘A’ type so owners with the latest mobiles may need a USB A to C adaptor.

The instruments are simple - a big speedo flanked by smaller digital rev counter and fuel gauges - and very easy to use. There’s no massive digital instrument pack and the car is all the better for it - how long before manufacturers realise that colour LCDs may look great in the daytime but are just too bright when it is dark?

Yeovil Express:

Mazda prides itself on doing things a bit differently from its rivals and that ethos is at play here. The Mazda2 uses a larger capacity engine but returns far better mpg than virtually all its rivals.

The Sky Activ tech works brilliantly - if this is the swansong of ICE then it goes out on a high.

Ratings: PERFORMANCE: Not much mid-range compared to forced induction rivals but very smooth. ** CABIN: Comfortable and well thought out. **1/2 PRACTICALITY: Some rivals offer more space but you can carry three adult passengers.**1/2 VALUE: Built with the precision of a Swiss watch, the Mazda2 holds its value very well. ***

Specifications:

Price: from £16,575.

Engine: 1.5-litre/4-cyl.

Max power: 90 PS.

Max torque: 148 NM.

Top speed: 114 MPH.

0-62MPH: 9.1 seconds.

Test MPG: 61.3 mpg o/all.

SUMMING UP: A small car that’s cheap to run and fun to drive. Probably the pinnacle of normally-aspirated engine technology.

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