Scour the adverts and dealer websites, and you will soon discover that the choice of cars in the sub-Dh60,000 price bracket is actually quite depressing. And let me make something clear from the outset, loads of kit alone doesn’t necessarily constitute a great car — at least not for petrolheads. Granted, in the bread and butter segment what matters most is convenience and safety, and while I fully understand the importance of the latter, I do not agree that just because a car is cheap it has to be terrible to drive. Our long-term Mazda 2 is a masterclass in how to build a budget runabout for the keen driver.

Our top-spec R grade model retails for about Dh62,000 and you have to pay another Dh2,000 if you want a sat-nav — that’s a fair amount of money for something this small. Then again, a similarly sized Ford Fiesta — and the only other car that’s good to drive in this segment — starts at Dh65K and tops out at an eye-widening Dh82K!

The base S grade 2 costs just Dh47,900 but you get pretty much nothing (it comes with steelies and drum brakes). The next step up is the Dh53,900 V trim, which adds Bluetooth, 15in alloy wheels and reversing sensors, but leap up to the full-options variant and you get loads of extra kit, such as paddle shifter, head-up display, disc brakes all around, bigger 16in wheels and, importantly, additional side and curtain airbags (other versions just get two front airbags).

But irrespective of the model, what is consistent is the car’s sublime driving dynamics. And I don’t use the word sublime lightly here. The 2 is the kind of car that makes everything in its class look lazy in comparison. Switch to Sport mode, flick the gearbox into manual mode and the six-speed auto will bounce off the red-line. It even lets out tiny throttle blips on downshifts, pretending to be all grown up and a serious performance car — it’s endearing and makes you genuinely look forward to driving it.

Of course, there are problems. I don’t think that you should have to pay extra for the sat-nav; it ought to be part of the trim. Rear legroom isn’t great and the lack of things like keyless entry seem an oversight.

However, there isn’t any other car in its class that has this much character. And that’s not something you can put a price on.

The progress

Week 3 The engine, despite its diminutive capacity, is zingy and revs with unexpected enthusiasm, too.

Highs One of the best cars to drive in its class.

Lows Where’s the lock-unlock button?

Week 2 The Mazda 2 rises to the occasion when dep. ed Sony has to help a buddy carry an unfeasible amount of cargo — albeit with the rear seats down.

Highs More carrying capacity than you’d expect.

Lows Rear-passenger room.

Week 1 The Mazda 2, which emerged the Best Compact at our annual awards with its mix of good looks, upmarket cabin and sprightly dynamics, joins the wheels long-term fleet.

Highs Arguably the best car in its price range.

Lows None so far.