Head over the hills and far away (for just £13)

Mazda2 1.4 MZ-CD TS £10,495
Acceleration: 0-62mph 15sec
Maximum speed: 100mph
Average fuel consumption: 62.8mpg
Insurance group: 3E

My first thought was, fantastic, we'll be driving to Wales in a hearse. The Mazda2 is a funny-looking creature. Svelte at the front and tank-arsed from behind. Obviously it differs from a hearse in several key respects, but from certain angles - what can I say? - it looks funereal.

It's not just me; my boyfriend thought so too and, at a guess, so did the couple who gawped at us as we drove through Rhosili, a wee Gower village overlooking a far-from-wee stretch of spotless golden sand in South Wales.

Still, if you have no aspirations to coolness (and by cool I don't mean the desire to drive a sports car, just a desire not to be laughed at), then you could well find your match in Mazda's addition to the "supermini" market. (As for the "supermini" tag, face it, fellas: it's not super, it's not mini. The Mazda2 is a medium-sized car with a roomy derrière - it's like J-Lo trying to squeeze into a pair of Kylie's hotpants.)

Looks aside, the 1.4-litre diesel model that I drove has got plenty going for it, not least its astonishingly small appetite - London to Wales and back again for just £13 (we left with a threequarter-full tank and returned with a quarter left over). It's spacious inside, with room for some little 'uns in the back should you wish to stash a few there, and plenty of scope for the vertically unchallenged.

It's good on the details, too: the interior is peppered with useful cubby holes for storing CDs, drinks, mobiles and road maps (though the maps stayed fairly permanently spread out in front of us).

We had a minor Knight Rider moment whenever we turned the engine on and the super-sleek stereo system flashed us a "Hello" on its display. Still, when we shot past the exit for South Wales, not once, not twice, but a possibly record-breaking three times, I was grateful our silent host hadn't yet mastered Kit's level of sarcasm.

As for the car's back end, it may be ugly but it's not without merit. The hatchback-style boot is low-slung, with a handy protruding lip - struggle with those Ikea flatpacks no longer (at least until you get them home and try to put them up). What's more, the publicity blurb claims the Mazda2 can house two mountain bikes without the need to take off the wheels.

I was about to test this theory in the few minutes before I had to return the car when I discovered that I had run the battery down by leaving an internal light on. No electricity, no way to open the boot...

After jump-starting the car, I had time to shove the seats down and survey the space before the man from Mazda took his charge back home. Conclusion? Two kids' bikes would be feasible, but my town bike would not fit without a wheel coming off. Not a tragedy, but a point worth making.

Another boast of the Mazda is its "anatomically correct" seats, which allegedly provide "fatigue-free seating". Hmm. Maybe I'm not anatomically correct, because I was squirming all the way to Wales in an attempt to get comfy.

Some relief was provided, however, when the Bank Holiday queue mysteriously dispersed at Bristol, leaving us to enjoy Gower in relative solitude, and to try out the Mazda on various types of country road. We aborted our 0-62mph test after reaching 20 seconds and not many more mphs. OK, I'm exaggerating, but the Mazda2 is not exactly a goer. It'll get you there all right, but don't bother chivvying it. On gentle hills, I could feel myself leaning forward as if to offer encouragement.

It also makes that unsexy diesel grumbling noise all the time, which - even coasting along the motorway in fifth - makes you instinctively reach for the gear stick, convinced it's stuck in fourth and complaining. Earlier, crawling through London during the Bank Holiday exodus, it had a habit of stalling when idling. I guess diesel takes some getting used to (or not - there are always the petrol-engine Mazda2 models to choose from if you can't face the switch).

Think of the Mazda2 as you would your first house - practical, a bit bigger than the usual rabbit hutch, aesthetically challenged but bearable - and you probably won't be disappointed. Just don't drive slowly past churches.

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