The Mazda was picked over heavyweights such as the Holden VE ute, Subaru Impreza, Ford Mondeo, BMW X5, Mercedes C-class, Lexus LS460, Audi R8, Toyota Highlander, and Audi TT Roadster as best new car released over the past year.
Autocar editor Paul Owen said it was an emphasis on saving weight that swung the decision of the five judges in the Mazda2's favour.
"Mazda's engineers obviously know that every gram saved is one less that engine has to motivate, one less that a chassis must control in corners, and one less that the brakes have to arrest. They designed the new Two with this always in their minds, and the result is a car that effectively demonstrates that less really does equal more.
"Our judges were highly impressed with the way this car performed throughout the two-day judging process. It is a car that makes no apologies for being small, and combines a fun driving experience with the usual low cost of ownership that we associate with frugal superminis."
While it is the first time a small car had been named Car of The Year Owen said that rising fuel costs did not influence the judges.
"Sure, the Mazda2 earned the highest score of the ten finalists for environmental impact, but winning this award required it to do a lot more than that. It needed to be a delight to drive on the road, and a thrill to chuck around on the track. In short, it needed to exhibit the pizzazz that most ‘sensible' cars lack."
The award for the Best Technology of the Year went to Hyundai New Zealand for making an Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system standard across the local model range.
"There were plenty of new technologies released this year, but most had an emphasis on in-car entertainment or convenience. With this bold marketing step, Hyundai have set an example that we hope the rest of the New Zealand motor industry will follow. Stability control systems are proven life-savers on the road, but they need to be made more accessible to consumers to have an effect."
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