Hatchback is a real entertainer

SMALL engines and automatic gearboxes can be a marriage made in hell; sounding like a shouting match that’s going nowhere, slowly.

Not that the combination of potential economy and an easy no-gearchanges life hasn’t kept little autos selling reliably well for years.

It’s just that sacrifices usually have to be made in the process. Like accepting that the need for a brisk getaway will be accompanied by an engine sounding like it’s heading skyward through the bonnet at any moment.

So I wasn’t perhaps expecting too much in my first drive of the now auto-equipped (and small) Mazda 2 hatchback.

With slick manual gearbox on board the car has won a reputation as one of the entertaining small cars for keen drivers and I worried that bolting on an auto would spoil the little one’s charm.

There as no need to worry, as I happily discovered within a few yards of setting off.

The new gearbox might contain only four forward gears (when five is common, six is nothing to write home about and eight – yes eight – speeds are offered on some expensive cars these days) but it lets the Mazda 2 retain most of its pep.

You do need to learn not to press the accelerator pedal too far down, or the engine will buzz noisily ahead of the car’s acceleration, but a little restrain keeps proceedings nicely muted.

And best of all, letting the gearbox make the changes for you allows the driver to appreciated the charm of the car. It’s up there with the Ford Fiesta in the fun stakes (high praise indeed) and miles more enjoyable than a great slew of the opposition.

Firmish suspension can turn a bit stiff on the worst of British roads but mostly the car copes well and lets you relish the next wide open bend, where its lively personality will have you smiling every time.

Inside, the Mazda 2 shares the marque’s DNA, which means a cockpit that many drivers find reassuringly logical and easy to understand and which a few will describe as dull and undiluted black. I like its semi-serious nature and the way everything feels built to last.

You pay a reasonable price at the pumps for doing without a clutch pedal; the official average consumption of the auto Mazda 2 is a modest 3.9mpg worse than a car with the same engine but a manual gearbox.

Top speed and acceleration are a little worse too although it’s a lot easier to make the auto-Mazda accelerate hard; just push the right-hand pedal.

The automatic model joins a range with a choice of four engines (three petrol, one diesel) and four trim levels. Prices start at £10,305 and every one has air con, along with reduced fuel consumption and lower CO2 emissions, to the benefit of your pocket and the environment.

For a limited time there’s a Tamura special edition (£11,940) that combines an 84 horsepower, 1.3 litre petrol engine and 5-door body with standard gear that includes front fog lamps, rear electric windows, climate control, Bluetooth phone kit and some sport body add-ons.

You can’t have it as an auto, though. Me? I was rather charmed by the ken spirit of the model that changes gear for you. Maybe it’s advancing age making me lazy, but I rather think Mazda has simply produced a variation on a compelling theme.