Let's look at a S$65,000 or thereabouts car (depending on the COE of course) that had recently been launched and see whether its any good to drive it or not. The car in question is the Mazda 2 Sedan 1.5 automatic. Yes, the hatchback has been around for two years and it has basically taken Mazda that amount of time to come out with a sedan version of it for the sedan loving Asians.
I think one of the reason people in this region like sedans is because it looks a little more dignified and bigger looking than something without a boot. Actually the real reason we Asians like sedans is the fact that we like to carry durians, belacan (fermented prawn paste) and many other naturally bad smelling good food that we tend to love eating so much. A boot would separate the smelly food from the passenger cabin where unlike a hatchback a piece of cardboard acting as the parcel shelf only separates the passenger cabin from the boot space. Of course you still get the smell of durians in a sedan as its not really air tight, but it is lessened compared to a hatch. Ergo, this is the reason Asians prefer sedans over hatchbacks.
Anyway the Mazda 2 Sedan is a hatchback that has been redesigned to have a boot instead of a hatch. Hence the sheet metal from the B pillar rearwards is redesigned. Wheelbase is similar and the rear legroom is as per the hatchback, therefore adequate. If you're looking for Toyota Camry like rear space within this category you're expecting too much.
Now when it comes to the styling of the car it is of my opinion that Mazda have been pretty successful in the conversion from hatch to sedan (with a boot that would fit baby strollers with ease). It does not look like a dumpy, unbalanced and ugly looking 2nd generation Honda City or a dumpy, unbalanced and ugly like the new (basically for China) Peugeot 207 sedan. Hey, they are both hideously similar so they deserve the same description. Both are really bad looking hatch to sedan designs. Period.
So it looks good and even after adding the boot the car is still light, weighing only 30kgs heavier than the hatchback version. Mazda still designs their cars light even with all the usual safety equipment, and this helps in how the car handles. Lightness also helps with the performance of the car too. The 103bhp 137Nm engine provides ample propulsion for this 1051kg sedan. But when you compare this against the 1098kg Toyota Vios (109bhp 141Nm) or 1130kg for the Honda City (120bhp 145Nm), the weight advantage is negated by the extra power/torque of the other cars. But the good thing is that the lighter weight allows the Mazda to burn less petrol in order to achieve the same level of performance as the heavier Vios or City. So you would seem to be the more eco-friendly person if you drove a Mazda 2 over the other two.
However any small, built to a price sedan is going to have merely adequate performance. But if its main purpose is to spend most of its life in an urban environment, with maximum speeds hovering around the 70-90km/h mark the Mazda 2 does this pretty well. The controls are like the Mazda 2 hatchback and nothing has changed. The seats are good and I could find a nice driving position pretty quickly. It is like anyone can can jump in and drive it fast straightaway without any problems. The ride is pretty good on the 195/45/16 tires (the version I tried had this specced), the car turns on a dime and the electrically assisted steering has some feedback and feels pretty natural most of the time unlike some other wheels of the same type.
The car has pretty good road manners at urban driving speeds and when you up the ante and do some high speed driving the Mazda 2 sedan still delivers. It is agile and it does handle well with this rim and tire combination. If you take sharp corners at around 80km/h it feels very neutral. You could make steering correction at speeds above 120km/h and it does not get unsettled. Front end is high and it will mildly understeer in-extremis but it is quite throttle adjustable at the limit. However the lack of grunt or pulling power somewhat limits this. This may be due to the fact that the car had less than a thousand kilos on its clock and you can't really expect a small family sedan to do wonders with only 137Nm of torque.
But couple this lack of torque with an unintuitive autobox its not so nice if you're into spirited driving. When left to its own devices the 4 speed automatic gearbox somehow likes to be in a gear higher than what I would have liked in mid-corner. It doesn't shift down fast enough on full throttle after you are done braking and when you want to get back on the power. It isn't as intuitive as some other gearboxes as it does not shift down when you wish it would. So you're out of the power band and performance suffers mid-corner. So if you want to be in a lower gear, you have to shift down manually before the corner. This is the only way to overcome this slightly slow transmission if you want to do some spirited driving.
The ride doesn't suffer at high speeds and even with that torsion beam rear suspension it does not unsettle easily over large bumps. This is one happy handling small sedan. Oh yeah, the brakes are adequate for the car. I have no complaints except that I would like better pedal modulation. But that's nitpicking.
So does it have any faults other than the presumed lack of torque and the sedate gearbox? Engine noise and wind noise. Too much of both intruding the passenger cabin at high revs. If you're a sedate (read very conservative and slow driver) these and the earlier mentioned slow acting gearbox wouldn't be a problem as you'd never even hit 4,000rpm in this car. But cross the 4,500rpm threshold, things get pretty loud and trashy. Maybe this is down to keeping the car light or down to a cost until it lacks more soundproofing. Aside from engine noise, at speeds above 120km/h there is a noticeable amount of wind noise around the A-pillars, so high speed cruising in this car isn't too quiet. This could be down to lack of aerodynamic development due to cost or the car I drove had faulty seals.
If you want a comparison on comfort, ride and handling, the Suzuki Swift 1.5 has better Noise, Vibration and Harshness suppression as well as better driving pleasure, which I put as one of the two most important criteria in a car (the other is the looks and/or character of the car). I would personally choose the small Suzuki hatchback over this sedan. But this Mazda has above average handling and also a boot. So you can smell less of the durians you may be carrying. And that may be all the reason you need to try a Mazda 2 Sedan before making a decision.
Actually you could try a Honda City, Toyota Vios or any other car in and out of the price range. But that is another story altogether.