“Dammit man, I just bought a Mazda 6!” Sorry, Alex.
We drive around for a bit, the wheels team jumping in and out of different cars while others scout for photos and drone footage, and at a fuel stop somewhere north of Manama the mountains loom larger. Al Tawian village and the ‘Road to Nowhere’ can’t be far now, and there is tension during this fill-up as the exchanges take place. It’s funny, sadistic, to watch the face of a man swapping his Lambo key for a pick-up truck key. The wrinkles of his expression spell misery. For the first time today, the Audi’s flick-fob is suddenly in demand too. It’s not a Quattro model, but it’s hot enough and Imran’s convinced plenty around him that the car is a great steer — he tested it last July. It’s got a 180bhp 1.8-litre turbo engine, which granted isn’t nearly as much as all the saloons with their V6s and 300 horsepower. But have you driven an Altima? A Malibu? Good. Don’t.
“With all these i8s, M3s and Californias running around, it’s time for something a little more sensible. I’ve just been thrown the key to the A3 Sedan and it doesn’t get any more sensible than this. But that can often mean boring, and the models it goes up against are — for example, the 2015 Accord and the Hyundai Genesis. None of those are here because the Audi, dressed in that S-Line body, trumps the lot without even trying. It feels nice and tight on the move and is practical too. That’s why it’s here as our best saloon. If you want to be a snob and buy it for the badge alone, I have two words for you: do it.”
- Imran on the Audi A3 Sedan
Even though it’s a 1.8 the badge on the back says 40 something. It’s got to do with Audi’s insecurity at its puny badges compared to Mercedes’ and BMW’s big, three-digit designations that just scream “I’ve got more numbers than you!” You can thank narcissistic Chinese buyers for Audi’s badging strategy emigrating here.
Not everyone leaves this petrol station happy, and some hit the gently winding road towards the hills sulking over a Renault or Mazda steering wheel. Most of us forgot it was even there, the Mazda. Our Hatchback of the Year somehow always managed to disappear into the background and blend into obliviousness. So much for Kodo ‘Soul of Motion’, but it isn’t easy to stand out in this crowd. Yet every time one of us does notice the lonely Mazda sitting in a corner vacant, and then takes it for a spin, they come back with a grin. “I was expecting a raspy, typically Japanese GCCspec engine and a lethargic automatic gearbox but this thing is peppy, smooth, happy and eager,” says Jonathan.
The interior is sombre but great, with an excellent infotainment system and a
clutter-free dash with nothing but three climate control dials on the centre stack. There is a head-up display in here too, although it’s too small and hard to see if you’re taller and sitting up straight.
The rest of it is brilliant, Mazda’s Skyactiv malarkey really paying off with a revhappy 2.0-litre engine and a stiff chassis, communicative handling and steering and a fine ride. It’s an easy choice for this award, fending off the Volkswagen Beetle and the Toyota Yaris. I’m glad the Mazda’s rightfully surfaced, and I notice some of the judges prodding and poking around the car and nodding in approval. And I notice Kinan fretting over the Renault Captur’s mesmerising drawer-type glovebox.
"Mazda has come a long way from its days of dull, listless cars with the Skyactiv technology and “Kodo” design language breathing new life into its products. This new 3 is a huge improvement over the previous one, with its aggressive styling complemented by class-leading technology and great driving dynamics."
- Kinan on the Mazda 3
That’ll be the Compact crossover of the Year, and if you think about competition alone, the Captur arguably fought the hardest battle of all to be here. Chevrolet Trax, Ford Ecosport and loads more small cars and crossovers that I can’t think of right now, and still the diminutive Captur comes out on top. What figures? Anyone who pays any attention to the Captur falls for its charms. It’s a bit idiosyncratic, typically French in other words, but you can’t ignore the price (a loaded car with satellite navigation and dual-zone automatic air conditioning is well below 70 grand) and practicality on offer.
There is so much room in the back, even before you slide the rear bench back. Yes, it slides back as one, and drops 60:40. Kinan’s still opening and closing the glovebox drawer. Then there’s the two-tiered boot floor; everybody loves that feature. I wish we didn’t have the truck so we could load this thing up. The Captur just feels like the sort of car that really wants to please. It’s always putting its hand up, “Ooh, me, me! I can do that, please can I do it?” This morning there was pointing and laughing at whoever picked the Captur’s key out of the hat, but now there’s respect. This is the only car of its type with a twin-clutch six-speed transmission, and we commend Renault for offering this frugal 1.2-litre turbocharged engine (you practically cannot make the Captur consume more than eight litres per 100km) while other manufacturers arrogantly continue to dump outdated powertrains and drivetrains on to the Middle East.
Later in the evening, Jonathan even elects to drive the Renault all the way back to base. It would be an extreme contrast to the car he’s in now.
"After a day spent enjoying the delights of some of the world’s most expensive and exotic supercars, how could the diminutive Renault Captur compare? Extremely well, as a matter of fact. The Renault Captur is just about the finest example of the art of modern carmaking as it is possible to get. Everything that is fitted works well, nothing squeaks or rattles, and though light in weight, it all feels extremely well put together. The engine is small but always willing, and never gets noisy or runs out of excuses. If your budget is real-world, then
this is where you should spend it."
- Jonathan on the Renault Captur