As regular readers would know, this section of the mag has seen million-dirham supercars share garage space with hefty utility vehicles and cheap city runabouts. The idea is to try to get a mix of cars that cater to varying tastes and budgets. So as the Toyota Land Cruiser and the Volvo V40 depart from our long-term fleet, we’ve replaced them with a diminutive Mazda 2, which will soon be joined by another vehicle from a completely different segment.
It’s small, it’s economical, but the Mazda 2 is no ordinary hatchback. In fact, it’s in a different league compared to its rivals in the class. Over the years, carmakers in the sub-compact segment, especially the Japanese and Korean, conditioned us to expect nothing more than basic boxes on wheels offering bare minimum features and a joyless driving experience. While the previous Mazda 2 was no exception to this (although it was decent to drive) the current model has dramatically transformed perceptions and altered expectations in the segment, piling the pressure squarely on rivals.
Looks are now in line with the design language seen in larger models in the range, which is another way of saying it’s one of the best looking cars in the price band. But where it actually blows the competition out of the water is the decidedly upscale cabin that is awash in leather and soft-touch materials; something that’s been unheard of in sub-Dh60K car. Add to these a lightweight Skyactiv construction, a quicker steering gear ratio and a six-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters (a bit pointless, though) mated to a 108bhp 1.5-litre four-pot, the Mazda 2 is also one of the liveliest of hatchbacks around.
It is this splendid combination of good looks, relatively upmarket interior, sprightly dynamics and a low starting price of Dh47,900 that resulted in the Mazda 2 being voted the Best Compact of the Year at our 2016 Car of the Year awards. But as you may have noticed before, when we live with a car on a day-to-day basis, impressions can change, sometimes dramatically. We have two months to see if that happens with this Japanese bantamweight. More next week.