First drive: 2016 Mazda 2 Hatchback in the UAE
Mazda has been on a roll lately, unveiling a series of desirable cars in various segments that make their rivals feel lacking. The latest segment they’re tackling is the sub-compact hatchback market, a niche that the previous-generation Mazda 2 was itself found lacking. But is the all-new model any better against the likes of the Toyota Yaris and the…uhhh…Toyota Yaris?
The 2016 Mazda 2 gains a more premium new look, about as much as you can make a cheap hatchback look premium. In fact, with 16-inch alloys, chrome grille elements and LED headlights in our top-spec trim, you’d think it’s gunning for the Mini. However, with prices topping out at only Dhs 59,000, it’s no more expensive than the Toyota Yaris.
Inside, the cabin styling is outstanding, with a BMW vibe thanks to the clean lines, contrasting colours and fancy tech. There’s clever use of actual padded stitched-leatherette elements on the passenger-facing part of the dash, on the knee bolsters and on the doors, unlike the fake hard-plastic molded embarrassment in the Toyota Yaris. There’s also colourful stripes on the seats, a basic heads-up display, a single-zone auto a/c, cruise control, keyless start, drive-mode selector, 2 USB ports, Bluetooth, and a dial-controllable touchscreen with sharper graphics than a Range Rover. On the safety front, there’s front and side airbags as well as four-wheel disc brakes, unlike the rear drums on most rivals. While there is still an abundance of hard plastics in the cabin, there’s no other car in this segment that offers such a premium ambience at this price.
So how the heck is Mazda managing to offer so much more than a Yaris for the price of a Yaris? Well, for one thing, the Mazda 2 is built in Thailand just like the Yaris, although that’s no bad thing as the build quality is as good as the Japanese. Where it’s lacking is space. Up front is fine, but the rear feels cramped, and taller folks will never even fit. The boot is also very small, enough that we chose to skip using this car for a grocery run as we were afraid Baby Mash’s pram would use up all the space. A Yaris hatchback offers a fair bit more space, in the back and in the boot.
What the Yaris can’t match is the Mazda’s overall driving feel. While the Yaris feels reasonably comfortable and handles reasonably well, the Mazda rides smoother and handles better, especially when pushed. The mildly-weighted steering doesn’t offer particularly notable feedback, but it’s responsive, as is the brake pedal. At the limit, the Mazda can be played with to make it turn harder, while a Yaris just goes into terminal understeer.
The 1.5-litre engine also hits above its class, offering more of a kick than its 108 hp rating would suggest, which we suspect is thanks to its new 6-speed automatic. You still have to thrash it in many cases, and you still have to contend with above-average road and wind noise, but it’s no worse than the Yaris.
Still, if you regularly carry a full load of four or more passengers, you are clearly better off with the ubiquitous Yaris, a car that’s larger on the inside than anyone would ever guess. But if all you really want is a daily commuter car and usually have no more than one passenger, then hands down, the Mazda 2 hatchback is the only good choice in this segment.
For UAE prices and GCC specs, visit the Mazda 2 buyer guide.