LARGER THAN LIFE

Mazda’s all-new 2 hatch is lighter, bet­ter look­ing and is packed with tech­nol­ogy. But is it still as fun to drive, asks wheels’ Sony Thomas

Friday - - Motoring -

From rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity un­til less than a decade ago, Mazda has sprung back into the lime­light with an im­pres­sive line of in­ge­niously en­gi­neered cars and util­ity ve­hi­cles. From the strik­ingly good-look­ing 6 saloon and the peppy and prac­ti­cal CX-5 and CX-7 crossovers to the 3 hatch­back, Mazda’s line-up of new mod­els of­fers clearly more so­phis­ti­cated and fea­ture-laden al­ter­na­tives to reg­u­lar Ja­panese cars in the mar­ket. How­ever, it’s ob­vi­ously a bit of a chal­lenge try­ing to squeeze the same win­ning prin­ci­ples of Kodo de­sign lan­guage and Skyactiv en­gi­neer­ing into its small­est and cheap­est car, the 2 hatch­back.

We loved the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tion of Mazda’s su­per­mini for the fan­tas­tic fun-to-price ra­tio it of­fered. But since that car owed much of its dy­namic abil­i­ties to the plat­form and en­gi­neer­ing it shared with Ford’s Fi­esta, it would be in­ter­est­ing to see how this all-new model with Skyactiv ev­ery­thing matches up.

Well, one look at the tech sheet and you can see that the Ja­panese car­maker has got the fun­da­men­tals right. At around 1,050kg, it is much lighter than be­fore and weighs less than most of its com­peti­tors. This is mainly thanks to the Skyactiv con­struc­tion, which has a sim­pler frame lay­out and uses high amounts of high-ten­sile steel. This has also con­trib­uted to in­creas­ing the car’s tor­sional rigid­ity by 22 per cent.

Mazda also claims the adop­tion of a Skyactiv chas­sis has re­sulted in a quicker steer­ing gear ra­tio. While all this makes the 2 a lithe and sprightly lit­tle su­per­mini, the steer­ing could do with a lit­tle bit more feel and load, es­pe­cially when tak­ing corners at speed. But the steer­ing’s light­ness makes pot­ter­ing around town and slot­ting into tight park­ing spa­ces a breeze.

The new 1.5-litre Skyactiv G mill is a revvy four-pot that eggs you on to

drive hard, but the re­sponse isn’t as sharp as the en­gine note would sug­gest. While it’s smooth and re­fined when cruis­ing along, push­ing it hard seems to leave the new six-speed au­to­matic ’box con­fused as it keeps hunt­ing for the right cog while sound­ing un­pleas­antly high-strung and coarse. The best way to get the most out of this en­gine is to take con­trol of the gearshifts via the pad­dle shifters.

Mean­while, Mazda has spruced up the 2’s looks by ap­ply­ing the same styling lan­guage as the rest of its range. In fact, with the trape­zoidal fam­ily face, the sharp creases along the sides and a waist­line that kicks up to meet the lung­ing roofline at the rear, it looks very much like a mini-me ver­sion of the Mazda 3 hatch.

The styling flour­ish is car­ried over to the in­side as well, with the dis­tinctly up­mar­ket cabin clothed in leather and car­bon fi­bre-look plas­tic trim, point­ing to Mazda’s as­pi­ra­tions of be­ing a brand that strad­dles the mass mar­ket and the pre­mium.

How­ever, de­spite be­ing a notch above all its Ja­panese ri­vals in terms of fit and fin­ish, the 2’s cabin does not feel as well-built or ro­bust as that of a Volk­swa­gen or Audi of­fer­ing. But then, you’re pay­ing only about Dh58,000 for the top-spec model, which also comes packed with loads of class-lead­ing tech­nol­ogy like head-up dis­play, a 7.0in touch­screen, great smart­phone con­nec­tiv­ity and cruise con­trol, among other things.

Although Mazda says the car’s longer wheel­base has freed up more space in­side, the rear seats are still bet­ter left for kids or re­ally short adults, es­pe­cially with two six-foot­ers up front. In its latest it­er­a­tion, Mazda’s su­per­mini is still a tremen­dously fun-to-drive car. And with prices start­ing at Dh47,900 for the base, it’s po­si­tioned in the same bracket as most of its Ja­panese ri­vals, which are more prac­ti­cal, but not as deft.

This is a sen­si­ble choice for youths or young cou­ples look­ing for an en­gag­ing set of wheels that won’t burn a hole in their pock­ets.

With the trape­zoidal fam­ily face and sharp creases, it looks very much like a mini-me ver­sion of the Mazda 3 hatch

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