COAL: 2016 Mazda 2 – Five Years of Stress Free Motoring.

This week was supposed to be about the replacement for the Jaaag, but since I’m trying to go chronologically the next car in the timeline is my current daily, which you see right here. By the end of 2015 I had been using the good old Hilux as my daily for 7 years and was thinking about making a change.

The old workhorse was still doing fine, but I felt like the time had come for something a bit smaller and more comfortable, possibly with some modern In Car Entertainment options. The business was doing well enough that I could realistically see about getting a new company car, which was exciting because this would be my very first brand new car. So, with a budget of 5.5 Million Rupees ($36,000), I started looking around for what was available. At first, the options were honestly not great. I had a look at something called a Tivoli, which was a SSangyong product assembled locally and was sort of a smaller Kia Soul.

Nothing remotely Italian about it.

It appealed because of the quirky design and high option load, but was quite dreary to drive, and I wasn’t too sold on the quality of local assembly, so I passed on it. Another seriously considered option was a Toyota Corolla Axio (JDM Corolla) Hybrid, but the driving experience was even worse than the Tivoli, and I didn’t particularly want to be mistaken for a cab. The final contender discounted was the Mitsubishi Lancer, which was still a sharp looking car, a decent enough drive and quite spacious, but was really feeling old by 2016.

It was a 9 year old model by 2016, and felt every one of those years.

It had begun to look like there really weren’t any options and I might end up with a Corolla after all, when I remembered that Mazda had recently launched some new models and decided to take a look. My mother had recently bought a lightly used 2014 model Mazda 6 and that car was absolutely lovely. The 6 was well out of my price range but I figured the 3 would probably be a good option. So I went to our local agent for Mazda and had a good poke around the 3, it was pretty impressive but for some odd reason the Sri Lankan market Mazda 3 did not get Mazda’s latest generation Skyactiv engines and gearboxes like the rest of the world did, but was instead saddled with the previous generation’s 1.6 litre four pot and four speed automatic. That was a decent enough powerplant for the time, but things had moved on. The sales people could not really explain why this was, but they did tell me that if I wanted the Skyactive drivetrain, I could always go one size smaller and look at the 2, which they had available in both sedan and hatchback forms, and well within my budget. So I took a test drive, and almost immediately decided that this was the car that hit the sweet spot; it had a very eager engine and a superb six speed auto box, quick steering and agile handling, and most of all it just felt alive on the road like only a well sorted small car can. The brochure referenced the Miata several times and claimed that even Mazda’s entry level model channelled the spirit of their sporting superstar, and for once it didn’t actually seem like total marketing BS. I really wanted to get a manual gearbox, but unfortunately they were not allocated to our region, so the six speed auto it had to be. Though I liked the look of the hatch, the extra cargo space (and crumple zone) provided by the sedan seemed like a good bet, so I placed an order for a black sedan and took delivery of it in March 2016.

Yes, was pretty pleased with the thing.

The agent advised a break-in period of 1500 km so I was extremely impatient for the first few weeks, but also very conscientious about keeping it under 2500 rpm and not maintaining constant speeds etc. I eventually ended up doing a few aimless drives just to get the mileage up past the 1500 km mark. On of those drives I picked up a 4 inch long nail in the sidewall of my left rear tire and did not notice it for several Km. By the time I noticed the problem and pulled over the tire had been internally damaged, so I needed a new one. This was the point that I found out that tires used in my new car (185/60/16 Dunlop low rolling resistance tires), were a size that was completely alien to Sri Lanka, and not a single dealer had any in stock, or could tell me when they’d be getting some! This was a really unfortunate situation and I was completely stuck. After giving it a bit of thought, I decided that the best bet would be to put a new set of tires on the car in a more common size. So it ended up with 205/55/16s, which are a much easier to find size, and I went with more performance oriented Toyo tires. I’m quite sure there was a fuel economy penalty, but they made a major difference to how the car felt and how it gripped, and to my eye it just sat much better on the wider tires than before.

Since then, pretty much all that’s there to report is that it has been doing a fantastic job of being there in the background, quietly doing its job. It’s kind of like a great butler; quiet and super efficient, doing whatever asked, no fuss and no mess. The five years from 2016 to now were where some of the biggest changes in my life happened; I finally decided I would fully commit to the business rather than exist with one foot out the door because of the pilot dream and my girlfriend of 7 years and I came to the painful conclusion that we wanted different things with our lives when driving home from a friend’s wedding in this car in mid 2018. Some time after that, I asked a friend who I thought was interesting out for a date and we discovered that we connected with each other on a level that we neither of us could have previously imagined, again in this car. I had enough sense to seal that deal and she became my wife wife last year. The 2 was there for all of this, doing its job and carrying me through.

Ever ready to do the job at hand

I realize that pretty much any new car would do the same, but this one is just so very nice to drive and is always up for a good time if and when I feel like it. The 1.5l Skyactiv motor puts out a claimed 115 bhp and because the car weighs just around a ton it is enough to make it feel pretty peppy. 0-100 Km/h comes up in just about 10 seconds and the motor absolutely loves to rev, winding out to the 6800 rpm redline with real gusto. The Skyactiv branded six speed auto is the ideal companion, always in the right gear and with fast and seamless shifts too. It also has a sport mode, which holds revs right upto redline and sacrifices a bit of smoothness for even faster shifting, as well as manual control which I very rarely see the need to use. The handling is very well resolved too, with excellent turn in, great body control and a real sense of fun. The only small criticism sI have is that the electric power steering is a bit over light and lacks feedback, and the car feels a little unsteady in heavy crosswinds at higher speed. All things considered it turns out Mazda really weren’t BS-ing when they said this little car is inspired by the Miata. (next week’s COAL will make it clear why I can say that with confidence)

The interior also feels very premium for a car this size. The design of the dash has more in common with the ND Miata than the bigger Mazda models, and the choice of materials is a step or two above what you’d expect, with soft touch plastics and fairly convincing carbon effect trim dotted around. It’s all held up extremely well over the last 5 years too. The ICE system does not have a very steep learning curve and is pretty intuitive, with minimal issues. It pairs quickly with phones and streams music and phone calls well, all of which is really quite useful to have. Apparently it is even possible to retrofit Android Auto/Apple CarPlay, something which I’m considering. The only major issue with the interior I’ve got is the space for rear passengers; it’s not great. We Sri Lankans tend to be on the smaller side and don’t mind squeezing ourselves into smaller cars, but the back seat is still not what we’d consider optimal for a four door sedan. The similarly sized JDM Corolla Axio (a bit smaller than the rest of the world Corolla), has far better space utilization. This car is also sold in the US as the Toyota Yaris iA, and the space problem seems to be even more acute over there.

It’s really a very decent place to be

The space issue is the only reason why I’m now considering moving the car on, car seats and all the other numerous odds and ends that parenting seems to require these days would probably not fit that well into the cramped rear quarters. Another issue is that our market only got dual front airbags, doing without the side and curtain airbags that most other markets did, and we also missed out on traction control/ESP. While I’m a firm believer that simpler is better, the rest of the vehicles currently in my garage are even older, so I’d feel better having at least one relatively modern option to safely carry the family in over longer distances especially. A 2014 or so CX-5 seems like the ideal replacement (new ones are way out of my budget, and we currently don’t have new imports anyway), so I’ve started looking around for a trade in deal. Let’s see how that goes.