By Margret Hucko
Sleek, stylish and futuristic. If we had to choose three words to sum up Mazda's current 2, none of those would spring to mind. All that is about to change, however, as they perfectly describe the Sassou concept, a car which gives a clear indication of what to expect from Mazda's next-generation supermini.
Following strong additions to the line-up including the new MX-5 and 5 people carrier, a small model that can mix it with class leaders is crucial to Mazda's ongoing success. Charged with catching the eyes of future supermini buyers, the Sassou show machine is hugely important to the Japanese firm, so we took the opportunity to climb behind the wheel and deliver an exclusive first drive verdict. One thing that's clear from the outset is that this car has been designed to appeal to young customers. Styling boss Peter Birtwhistle was on hand to answer our questions, and he was keen to stress that his team had the 2's target market in mind when penning the Sassou. After extensive research, which included discussions with Birtwhistle's 16-year-old son about how the model should look, the final result is a handsome hatchback.
The concept was unveiled at last month's Tokyo Motor Show, and bosses have told Auto Express that the shape will be little changed when the new 2 arrives in showroom-ready trim. With a sharp nose punctuated by angular headlights and an RX-8 style grille, the car is striking from the front. Similarly shaped lamps feature at the rear, while the wraparound screen resembles that of Alfa Romeo's new Brera. Seen from above, the shape is emphasised further by a huge glass roof extending back behind the screen. This gives a light, airy feel to the four-seat cabin.
Many of the features are said to have been inspired by thin Japanese sliding screens known as Shoji. These are used to separate and add privacy to the country's traditional open-plan homes, and the idea gives a unique translucent appearance to many of the Sassou's panels and surfaces. The effect is similar to that found on the cases of some Apple computers.
These translucent panels come into their own in the dark, when red light is projected through the plastics to create unique patterns and lines. The driver sits behind two dials, with one other large circular read-out in the middle of the dashboard. Rather than use a conventional key, you then have to insert a USB stick into the centre console to start the engine. In using the data storage device, your own personal settings can be saved on to the key, so your favourite seating position and CD, and even your satellite navigation route to work, can all be automatically loaded.
As many mechanical parts are shared with Ford, the early indications are that the new 2 promises to be an entertaining driver's car when it goes on sale in 2007. In keeping with Mazda's engineering policy, a direct steering feel and sporty handling are priorities. To emphasise its raciness, the Sassou has a six-speed sequential box, with ratios selected via steering wheel-mounted paddleshifts.
After our exclusive driving session, we can safely say that Mazda is on the right track to creating a supermini which is ready to climb the sales chart. The Sassou really is one '2' look out for.
With great styling, an innovative cabin and bags of potential, the Sassou concept gives high expectations for the next 2. Building on the strengths of the 6 saloon and 5 MPV, the new supermini should be a fine handling hatch with the quality to match class leaders. If the production car retains the distinctive looks and hi-tech details, Mazda could finally boast a top-class supermini.
At a Glance
* Mazda's next 2 will draw heavily from the Sassou concept, and have a sleek and stylish shape. It will possess all the practicality of a car in the supermini-MPV sector, but come with the looks of a sporty hatch.