When the Mazda3 first came out in 2004, everyone wanted one. Well, at least a good number of people my age wanted one. It was a class shaker, a model that showed that a compact car can be sporty, practical, affordable and fun.

Can the new Mazda2 do the same?

Strictly speaking, it took quite a while for the Mazda2 (or Mazda Demio in other markets) to officially arrive, especially since this 3rd generation model has been in production and on sale in other countries since 2007. Mazda waited until their new plant in Thailand was complete for the production of the Mazda2. Is the wait a bad thing? Well, no, because in that time, the Mazda2 has already undergone a redesign and garnered the World Car of the Year Award (WCOTY), besting some very stiff competition.

So what do you get for PhP 795,000? Well, for starters, you get a great looking little subcompact car. Perhaps it's the petite dimensions, or the smiling 5 point grille or even the cute looks, but there's a sporty, friendly atmosphere around the Mazda2. The design looks taut and ready to go, great points for a light, fun car.

Cheerful as the exterior may be, when I finally stepped inside the 2, I was left wanting. Don't get me wrong, there's a great feel about the cabin's aesthetics, but the compromises associated with an econo car seem more obvious in the Mazda2. The dash, while looking nicely grained and textured, is very rappy and plasticky. The aircon vent louvers seem to close on their own with every bump and, though I never usually use them, having only one cupholder proved tricky when stopping at a McDonald's Drive Thru.

I have to admit, somehow after driving the Honda Jazz/Fit, I was spoiled by how they maximized the space from such little real estate. Since the Mazda2 measured almost the same in terms of length and width, I was expecting the same, but instead the cabin is rather cramped, especially for rear legroom.

Thus, the Mazda2 still a mini-car through and through, and drives like one. Actually, it drives very, very well, and that when this little car begins to make sense.

Remember the original Mini? That's what the 2 reminds me of. A car that's light, ingenious, fun and direct. In fact, Mazda engineers paid great attention to keeping the 2 as light as possible via a thorough weight saving program, and thus has shed almost 100 kilos off the previous model. The lightness is reflected in the drive, thus car zips through traffic with ease and high levels of nimbleness.

The lightness of the 2 is also ideal for the powertrain, as the 1.5 liter MZR engine under the hood is not exactly groundbreaking. As far as power and torque are concerned, the engine produces 103 hp and 135 Newton-meters of torque, but those figures are a decent match for the car's mass. The 4-speed automatic transmission is quite good too, almost reacting intuitively to my right foot. It kicks down a gear when I want quicker acceleration and holds high gear to more efficient cruising when I need it to.

On an open road, the greatness of the Mazda2's dynamics easily transforms what can undoubtedly be perceived as a mere city slicker into a true driving machine. Turn the car and the 2 responds quickly, changing directions with ease. The cockpit's driver-centric nature also shines through and the steering, which is electrically assisted, offers quite a bit of feedback from the front tires. It's no performance car, but its directness and the way it takes on turns inspires confidence.

Another surprise about the 2 is its high levels of silence and refinement even in pockmarked city streets, something very uncommon of a car with a short wheelbase, and is even quite stable and confident at highway speeds.

In a highly commercialized age when everyone demands more size, more space and more power, it's refreshing to drive something that pays attention to what a real driver's car is supposed to be. It might not make as much of an impact on a market dominated by the Jazz, Vios and City as its creators may like, but for those who choose to get the Mazda2, well, I know they'll be enjoying it the moment they drive out of the dealership.